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RP [YE38: Astral Reverie] The Terror


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YE 38: A S T R A L - R E V E R I E
part 1: the terror

Uncatalogued Star System

Independent Frontier Zone, 117 light years from Yamatai

During the war, the XSS Kryzyk once sank an entire squadron of Star Army gunships on a single mission. Now the Pillager-class light cruiser lay here, strewn across a rock barely double its size in a system exclusively notable, for those lucky enough to chance upon it, because of the wreck's presence amid the asteroids. Kryzyk's point defense turrets were still locked in confused targeting vectors and the once formidable main cannon was only afforded a trajectory at the dust and space haphazardly calculated by its crash landing.

But while the NMX cruiser's engines and sensors no longer glowed their sickly orange, its distinctive rear launch bay remained dimly illuminated with airlocking shields armed. Old NMX war equipment in countless states of damage and disrepair—from shuttles and landers to tanks and armor suits—littered its decks. Within, a black hulled Ke-F8 simply marked with a Yamataian civil identification number had just touched down and lowered its cargo ramp.

Five power armor-clad soldiers poured out, marching through the steam that heralded their void-cold ship's landing. The Star Army M6-2A Daisy suits they wore were finished in a dark gunmetal black rather than Nataria green used in the Rikugun, giving the group a deadly impression. Opposite the new arrivals stood three NMX-bred Nekovalkyrja soldiers and another in simple gray coveralls and binder cuffs who was flanked by two of the first. On their heads-up displays, the Daisy team could identify no less than twenty other contacts obscured in the hangar bay's shadows as they fanned out, their shouldered weapons ready to fire at a moment's notice.

The Mishhu Neko at the lead boredly tilted her head as the seconds pushed on. Her grotesque war mask gave the innocent movement a predatory quality, each serpentine motion cutting gracefully through the spreading mist like an Essian Templar examining its prey.

One of the black Daisy armors glanced around and nodded, clearly speaking to her comrades via wireless, just before another pair descended down the old freighter's ramp: A tall Yamataian man whose black-paneled Star Army working uniform and black Type 37 jacket lacked any of the usual patches or pins and the small, brooding Neko with fuchsia eyes to match her neon pink Type 33 prisoner's yukata who always stayed one pace ahead of him.

When the Second Mishhuvurthyar War ended years ago thanks to Yui-taisho's daring during the Battle of Yamatai the NMX ceased to be an effective fighting or political force. The ships of its once mighty fleets scattered, most entering the service of myriad Mishhu slave masters and warlords while others turned to piracy or adventure. XSS Kryzyk's crew suffered a far more unfortunate fate, having survived an unsurvivable crash with few of their ship's vital systems intact.

Their war never ended.

And so, by the time one of the ship's shuttles was finally jury rigged with FTL capabilities and sent out blindly into the Kikyo Sector in hopes of reconnecting with Sprufnikkamazzar's armada, there was nothing to find but an Eighth Fleet patrol group and an empire at peace. Normally, the Kryzyk wouldn't warrant too much further attention; former NMX forces get picked up or cleansed all the time. But the shuttle's lone pilot claimed her sisters' last mission was to transport a captive Yamataian war hero away from the front lines and that the prisoner still lived.

Investigators from Eighth Fleet Command handed her over to SAINT immediately. The Mishhu Neko, called Hebi, was debriefed by the man now escorting her back home: Chusa Nicholas Saiga. Within hours, a mission to establish contact with the NMX crew over short-range comms and exchange prisoners was drafted and approved. Hebi for a hero was not a bad deal for Yamatai by any means. Either the Neko's shipmates would surrender and integrate willingly once the girl told them what the universe was like or they were stuck on their rock until they did, what working parts they had now gone with the captured shuttle.

"You've made the right decision, Overseer Splurk," Saiga told the masked Neko soldier even though her insignia said she was only a Master Elite, knowing full well the Mishhu officer he'd communicated with in the hours prior was long dead.

He urged Hebi ahead with a gentle shove and the Neko Elite said nothing.

"Very lucky my unit came across her first," he lied as his counterpart sent the Yamataian prisoner over in return. She looked only as good as someone who'd been the NMX's prisoner for four years could be expected to, and the speed tape wrapped around her entire head, hair and all, simply to cover her mouth didn't help. "Doubly lucky that Hebi-chan was able to prove herself useful by arranging this exchange.

"It's a shame you hadn't the resources to treat Akiyama-heisho properly," he added as one of the Daisys ushered her back aboard the black freighter.

"I should cut you down for your insolence, Geshrin," the enemy Neko shot back, her hoarse voice thick coming through in harsh metallic tones over her combat helmet's external speaker. "That the Empire sends its most obsolete citizens proves it hangs on the verge of defeat and we will surely be rewarded for your deaths."

The closest member of the Daisy fire team snapped her aim at the Neko Elite's head and the obscured gallery of NMX infantry erupted in a howling, cacophonous laughter via the same external comms as their leader had. The other Yamataians kept their sights trained on the overwhelming odds before them.

"Maybe I'll ignore your Geshrin stink and have my way with you befo—"

A flurry of bolts erupted from the fire team's plasma rifles, forcing a tense silence as they found their marks among the shadows.

"Because those were your last two working weapons," Saiga said. Hebi earlier revealed how everything the Kryzyk but the couple of rifles had went into getting her shuttle working, and the fire team's rules of engagement allowed them to take preemptive action should the weapons be powered up. "Now, we're leaving, least we visit upon you the same terror Hyulughflar knew."

Saiga began backing away towards the old Fuushigi no Umi transport that brought them here. All around the Star Army fire team and their ship, hostile Neko soldiers encroached from their hidden places around the cargo bay. They carried an assortment of combat blades and makeshift bludgeons ranging from large spanners and pipes to inoperable rifle butts.

At the beginning of the Second Mishhuvurthyar War and before the Nepleslian Rok'Veru offensive of YE 34, the former SMX homeworld of Hyulughflar was set upon by a force of SAINT irregulars whose actions came to be known to the NMX as "the terror." In their campaign, the Yamataians rendered unspeakable violence against NMX infrastructure and populations in a quality comparable to that which the Mishhu were widely known.

"You know of the terror at Hyulughflar?" the Neko Elite stated more than asked. Perhaps these soldiers had spent too much time isolated and pent up, magnifying their genetic bloodlust or perhaps they'd been there to see the SAINT's naked display of revenge. Either way, Saiga's statement appeared to do the opposite of deter them.

The shuttle's ramp was now only a few paces behind Saiga and the soldiers he accompanied. A few of the hostile Neko had sprung forward and were killed before they'd had a chance to get both feet off the ground, each crumpling back down to the floor with a thud.

"What do you know, filth?" the Neko barked insistently as her group inched toward the retreating Yamataians. They lashed out more in anger than anything else now, having witnessed their sisters felled so easily. The Yamataians themselves inched toward their ship with three of the operators already moving aboard.

"Everything," Saiga said humorlessly, one heel on the ship's ramp. Its systems hummed and clanked with greater intensity as its crew prepared it to depart.

He didn't need to embellish. What little restraint the NMX platoon maintained quickly vanished as they rushed, the silence shifting to bestial war cries with their attack. More Star Army shots flashed out from the two remaining Daisy operators, one deploying three incendiary bursts from her Ke-M2-W2909's underslung 50mm Rapid Grenade Launcher without prejudice.

As the Neko Elite and her front line died, the last two Star Army soldiers and Saiga came aboard their ship while snapping off parting shots as the ramp closed under them. Dulled clawing echoed through the Ke-F8's bulkheads as the incensed NMX force let out their rage on the ship while it escaped back out into the void.

Not a moment after the freighter's airlock hissed shut the fire team's leader, Nitô Juni Akechi Kiriko, ripped off her helmet and let her armor-matted black hair fall down. Two frizzy locks shot from underneath her bangs on each side of her deceptively mousy face and framed the Neko's midnight blue eyes handsomely.

"Ittai nan da?" Kiriko shouted, sounding very frustrated. Other than Saiga, only the squad's grenadier remained in the cargo hold with her, and she moved without delay to join her teammates in securing their rescued war hero.

"We both know I know what I'm doing, Akechi-san," Saiga replied right as the tapping and clawing sounds coming through their hull slowed and then stopped. He rifled through a stowage area and produced a well worn white Star Army officer's cap and placed it on his head.

"No, you don't! Why do you always have to get them angry? Every time!"

"They were going to kill us anyway," Saiga defended. "You heard her: 'what's to stop me' and blah-blah-blah."

"Yeah. Right, Chusa," Kiriko shot back dismissively. "And you just had to mention Hyulughflar, huh?"

"At least I didn't say, 'we are the terror,’" he replied with a very, very wide smile. "You were there, too, after all."

By now, Akechi Kiriko's gauntleted fists were clenched as hard as her jaw was. What started as an annoyed hum grew into an irked growl welling up in the squad leader's Nekovalkyrjan throat.

"Don't—" she began, only to have her admonition cut short by a priority message from their tactical officer.

"Chuu-saaa~ Stop letting Kiri-chan flirt with you. We've got a problem," Sanzugawa Mikan called from her place in the ship's command center. "It's about our hero, get up here."

"Affirmative," Saiga said back, immediately on his way to find out what could have gone wrong. Kiriko followed, making sure to note that she hadn't been flirting with the chusa before regaining every bit of her composure.

They arrived on the bridge in no time. The rescued war hero sat in the captain's chair, flanked by the armed Daisy soldiers who'd saved her. She had turquoise eyes with long, straight green hair and managed to sit up well enough after all these years in captivity. The tape that covered her mouth had been cut, allowing the Neko to talk, but still laid stuck to her hair in a fat, ugly band.

"So, Sanzugawa-juni," Saiga questioned as he found the rescued Neko's name, "what's the matter with Taira-heisho here?"

"My name is Sakiyama Senkou," she said before Mikan could answer.

The room hung silent.

"So what?" Saiga chuckled, taken aback but unready to accept what the black hole forming in his chest told him. "A hero's triumphant return plays well no matter her name."

Nobody spoke yet. The fire team already knew what Saiga-chusa and Akechi-juni were about to learn.

"Sakiyama Senkou has never been a prisoner of war according to Star Army Command," Mikan said simply, pulling up a volumetric window that showed the Neko's personnel file. A few of the assembled fire team shifted uneasily, murmuring to each other under their masks.

"Even with your clearance, Chusa, we are unauthorized to access more of her file from this location. But please note Sakiyama-chui's current duty station."

"SARA," Saiga whispered as Mikan put the detail in volumetric focus, letting all of the others fall away while a terrible dread gripped them.

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Lokijuhygt Xhrafuklurp Zekk (Military Cloning Station 13)
Hyulughflar. Eleventh Month, 31st Year of the Empire

Saiga-shosa fired another burst into the wounded Advanced-Type Mishhuvurthyar who laid pinned under his right boot, the creature's viscera splattering violently over his MultiNet field uniform. Its tentacles flailed around him and shuddered more wildly in the moments when his point blank Type 28 submachine gun bolts bored through its tough exterior into the guts within.

The Yamataian officer held one of the beast's tentacles, pulling hard at the sloppy needle-tipped appendage. He looked frustrated but determined to sever the limb and examined the Mishhu's eyes intently, trying to gauge the effectiveness of his work. Another scalar burst aimed at the tentacle's base erupted from Saiga's weapon. The Mishhuvurthyar's mass heaved, lurched, and then died as more of its vile fluid was flung when the tentacle detached, streaking across the glass of a nearby cloning bay.

With the Mishhu's surgery complete, Saiga turned to regard Mikan as more muffled fire sounded through the dark, damp halls of the Nekovalkyrja production facility they'd infiltrated. Though this place had only risen like a pustule from the planet's surface a few months ago, its Mishhuvurthyar architecture made it seem old and timeless; living, but never aging.

Star Army Intelligence was, as a rule, an extremely precise organization. Much like a Nepleslian quack's scalpel or the needle affixed to the tip of Saiga's new tentacle, SAINT’s missions usually pricked somewhere vital and then moved on. The 482nd Strategic Operations Battalion—a unit whose name was far larger than its makeup—was more akin to a kanabo or grenade, though. It would still hurt all of those little bits, but strike at them indiscriminately.

In the Star Army they say "All Things Cost Blood." And so, just after the Second Mishhuvurthyar War started, the 482nd was formed to make the enemy pay what they owed.

Mikan stood over another Neko, holding the girl down by the red collar of her honey mustards while the shosa approached. The juni's other hand pressed her own Type 28 SMG on the NMX's bruised temple.

"No more interruptions, hakase-san," Saiga told their captive flatly, spurting some milky goo from the detached tentacle with a squeeze. "I trust you were entirely truthful before your friends showed up. There should be just enough in here to make sure, no?

"Let's go through your story one more time."

YSS Mamushi, present day

Independent Frontier Zone, 117 light years from Yamatai

Saiga glanced across the bridge to regard Mikan when the Neko who said her name was Sakiyama Senkou finished speaking. The juni had acted as his second since they were candidates at Training Activity Station Black Sands, before they'd earned the right the wear a black uniform. So even though the Geshrin chusa couldn't have a confidental conversation via telepathy, he and Sanzugawa-juni could still communicate in a way that was very productive.

"Let's go through your story one more time," he said, his eyes lingering on Mikan's for a moment before settling back on Senkou. "You were captured just after the NMX landed troops during the Battle of Yamatai. You were then put under physical sedation and forced into giving up a soul transfer backup in the field, whereupon you saw your damaged armor return to the battle. And then you were spirited away, up through all of the war and hell raining down on the Mishhu, and have been with the ship we rescued you from ever since."

The chusa eyed Mikan again, looking as close to worried as someone like him could.

"All that right, Chui?"

"Yes," Senkou tiredly replied in polite Yamataigo. She still sat at the small freighter’s operations station with her hands delicately folded in her lap. "And I am more accustomed to 'heisho' if that's all right."

"Detarame!" Kiriko spat from her place leaning along a bulkhead in back of Saiga, one of her armored greaves thudding down onto the bridge with her exclamation. "You're not really buying this, are you, Chusa?

"We aren't a bunch of tank-fresh Mindy tarts from the fleet, this is SAINT!" she continued, pointing impatiently down at the ship for emphasis. "Everyone knows we had Yamatai won from the get-go! Airlock her now, Chusa, and let the repatriation team pick up her parts when they come through later."

Senkou felt her face contort with fear for the first time in years.

"That won’t do for you, heisho, no," the chusa told Senkou, catching her before Kiriko's version of 'bad cop' got to the girl. "But Akechi-juni is right. The Battle of Yamatai went our way quickly after the NMX landed on Yamatai. And you can’t explain how the NMX crew, through all these years, never found out you weren’t the right prisoner. It’s too good, Sakiyama-heisho.

“The most believable part of, well, you, was your surprise when we told you about our victory at Yamatai a few minutes ago.”

"I don’t know, Chusa,” she said in a way that would sound like pleading if she had the senses to plead after so long in captivity. “I am not lying."

"That's true, Sakiyama-heisho," Saiga admitted, sounding too knowing for his own good. "Still, you've got to be a prisoner a while longer.”

Indeed, just because Senkou wasn’t lying did not mean she was being truthful. Countless scenarios could have brought her to this day and most of them involved her not being the real Sakiyama Senkou.

"I understand, Chusa," she said, gently pushing the frazzled green hair from her eyes as she rose to her feet. The Daisy fire team came to attention when she stood, straightening their varied postures or rising from a relaxed squat.

"Sorry for the inconvenience," he offered. "Now, Akechi-juni, have Team Tanuki secure the prisoner in our barracks."

Kiriko rolled her eyes at the order for her to leave—she'd been assigned to Saiga-chusa's squad almost as long as Mikan and was practically a sister to the Neko herself—but snapped to attention and huffed in acknowledgement.

At that, the team formed up around Senkou in a box, standing at four points flanking her in front and behind. With Kiriko already moving left to exit the bridge and the rest in tow, Saiga and Mikan were soon alone in silence. It remained that way for some time: the chusa standing there with his arms crossed in contemplation while Mikan largely did the same.

"Shall I contact the Director?" Mikan asked at the point her gaze finally met with Saiga's, signaling a mutual end to their brief ruminations. "Or perhaps S.O.F.T. Usagi."

"Definitely send Usagi," Saiga affirmed.

"Oh, you're thinking it's like that, too?"

The chusa grinned widely.

"No. That'd be too textbook, right?" he asked without expecting an answer. "But we should be careful with this nonetheless."

"Everything will have to remain a suspicion," Mikan returned as she mentally skimmed through operations manuals before picking a section to open in volumetrics to show the chusa. "Because of the possible complications that could arise from outside interference, our rules of engagement state that we may continue to pursue this independently. I will inform you when that ceases to be the case, Saiga-chusa."

"I'm sure," he admitted, recalling all of the times Mikan's attention to the few rules that bound SOFT teams had made things more difficult for them. "It'll take two hours for us to get back to Yamatai. Put Usagi on Readiness Condition 2 with orders to hold at Black Sands for further orders concerning a high-value target.

"The moment we slam 'Sakiyama Senkou' into the system and pin down where she is, even through a cleared and encrypted channel, SARA's going to get an alert and you know how well unit commanders can so easily ruin everything. Everything. That's not even mentioning the rest of our people who'd get flagged."

"Aye-aye kya-pu-ten!" Mikan said in trade through a heavy Yamataian accent, already inputting the flash message to the other SOFT team and preparing to plot their FTL route. “Mission is go!”
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Ash Bay, Planet Yamatai
Black Sands Test Range
Fifth Month, Ninth Day, 38th Year of the Empire

The craggy volcanic rock that underlies Ash Bay's coastal rainforest and gives way to the dark, sooty shoreline known as Black Sands had never, in ages past, seemed suitable for settlement or colonization. Its natural beauty always hid itself behind the land's rugged permanency and harsh tropical climate, even after Yamatai's great civilization acquired the means to tame its topography. Secrecy and legend always fit the place best, though, from long before its time as a PNUgen research and development site to the sprawling military complex it stood as today. Even the Rikugun and Uchuugun soldiers assigned to train at the camp there slung rumors about SAINT black sites and superweapons testing in the buildings just next door.

Jôtô Heisho Eikan Taeko had plenty of her own far-fetched theories about what went on at SAINT Training Activity Black Sands during its grueling courses and the scientific insanity occurring down in KFY's old vaults. The Twelfth Legion veteran found herself surprised she was back here, though she'd never been on this part of the base, as she strode away from a grim looking Corona Heavy Gunship. Though she had the same specs as many of her Neko sisters, Taeko looked 10 feet tall in her mirrored sunglasses and cornflower blue Type 22 bodysuit. Her normally brilliant teal hair looked flat, sapped of any reflective luster under the humid cloud cover and foreboding terrain that not even the fortified Yamataian architecture did much to break up.

Another Neko, Fuji Izuko, who wore a straight blonde hime cut that juxtaposed Taeko's a frame well, hopped off of the gunship and hustled behind her heisho.

Both operators wore what looked like Nataria Green Type 37A jackets cropped just under the chest. Other than the subdued Hinomaru worn on their right arm, each jacket was emblazoned with an oversize unit patch on its back. The words "Star Army Command QRF — 676th SOFT" bracketed a stylized Mindy with rabbit ears who sped to make planetfall from over a Yamatai-like planet. Nekovalkyrja service pistols were secured on each soldier's thigh and they both carried Type 30 Plasma Scatter Guns close to the chest.

The two crossed the tarmac as their ride lifted off without fanfare, returning to circle the base on over watch. They were lucky to have been cleared to land within the Ketsurui Fleet Yards/Star Army Research Administration Joint Facility itself, which was thanks in large part to their SOFT status. But from here, Taeko and Izuko had few options but to wait until word was sent from above.

It bothered the heisho that she was forced to split the team to cover SARA headquarters at Ketsurui no Iori and the Fleet Research Squadron in orbit, but little else could be done with an order that'd simply read: "PRIORITY ONE HVT. STANDBY: SARA, YAMATAI."

The tarmac flowed into an expansive courtyard of sorts. Smooth, coal colored pathways stretched between older PNUgen-era buildings that intersected fields of black sand with a tall flagpole bearing a massive Yamataian national flag over smaller ones for SARA and KFY at its center. Sprawl of the Uesureyan rainforests crept at the edges of everywhere not immediately in use, adding shadow to the already sapped palette. The pair's chosen path ran east to west through quadrangle's middle and opened up to a view of Ash Bay silhouetting the Yamataian banner, still glorious against the grim sky.

Taeko and her companion were making quick progress to approach and hold at the Research Administration Building when new orders came unexpectedly, just as expected.

"Usagi Team, this is Mamushi 2 speaking," Mikan's voice crackled over comms. "Your target is Sakiyama Senkou-chui: Group Leader, Mindy Test Team."

Senkou's face became known to Taeko and Izuko when it was transmitted directly to them along with access clearances, target information, and geo-location vectoring. She was the same Senkou as the one retrieved from the XSS Kryzyk but more filled out, boasting the same athletic warrior's frame expected of SOFT operators or Kersurui Samurai. Her eyes were different in the picture, too; very much less bright than the captive held in Saiga's brig but surely sharper and more determined.

"Impressive record," Taeko mused aloud while Mikan continued to speak over wireless. "She could get the better of me on my best day, from the looks of it."

"Born at SAFD Nataria just before the war, Sakiyama Senkou was bred to fight!" Mikan excitedly summarized, having herself only accessed the information when the YSS Mamushi reached the system's edge. "Sakiyama went on to distinguish herself and was a heisho by the Battle of Yamatai.

"During that, anou ... fateful engagement, she earned two Red Tessen for her acts valiantly—and single-handedly—defeating a company's worth of NMX invaders."

The juni's statement sounded more like a question.

"More accolades were earned ... then she's given a commission after a few tours in First Fleet. Next it's YE 36, she's testing new power armor technologies with KFY at Black Sands, and here we are today."

"Let's hope she's friendly," Taeko said back with a smile on her voice. She'd already diverted their course toward where Senkou would be, changing their leisurely stride to an urgent jog as they turned at the flagpole. "Instructions? Looks like she's already on the move."

"Usagi Team, this is Mamushi actual," Saiga-chusa said from Mikan's side on the ship, watching the same PANTHEON tracking data that showed Senkou leaving her barracks. "I'm still bringing command and Shida-bucho up to speed on the situation, so your target will unfortunately keep their PANTHEON access and privileges for now. But I've secured you the access you'll need to pursue the target and detain her.

"Until we get further information, do not approach Sakiyama-chui as a hostile. At this point we cannot risk shaming a war hero. Between you and I, however, stay on guard. Nekovalkyrja are dangerous, after all," he added with levity.

"Of course, Chusa," Taeko chriped back.

"This is Mamushi 2," Mikan cut in again. "Usagi Team: be advised, SOFT Tanuki is en route.

Izuko proceeded into the nondescript, bunker-like building that would lead them down into the vast laboratories below while the heisho lingered outside. Taeko smiled when she caught the "NO FIREARMS BEYOND THIS POINT" notice posted just near the blast doors her comrade had just passed through, taking one moment to savor her job in the Star Army.

"Usagi Team: keep your current loadouts and an ear on the channel," Eikan-heisho ordered. "We may need both Mindy and Daisy support on hand. Usagi actual, out."

"Roger," sang a subdued chorus in response as Taeko finally followed Izuko in.

A long, white hallway greeted Taeko when she stepped into the building. It was glossy and well lit and terminated at a lift bay, which Izuko had already boarded after calming down the startled santo hei who stood watch as more of a doorman than anything else. Izuko pointed at the commando's chronometer on her left wrist and tapped its face in a mocking, half serious way until Taeko was by her side.

"Heisho!" Neko-hei saluted as Taeko joined her partner, eyeing her own nervous face reflected in fisheye from the operator's aviator shades.

The door hissed shut and the lift began to move underground. A volumetric projection next to the compartment's exit showed a schematic map indicating the duo's destination, with the information updating and adjusting in real time via wireless from the soldiers themselves. Most offices and laboratories detailed on the diagram—as well as in their minds—remained unlabeled, but the locations Senkou had moved through were lit up: pilot's barracks, armory, corridors, and testing labs illuminated a bright path through the blacked out map available to Usagi Team.

Senkou kept a step ahead of them, just like the SAINT operatives aboard YSS Mamushi suspected she would, but her movements now had been clear to Taeko from the moment she learned Senkou was part of the Mindy Test Team. Tactical information feeds soon confirmed the heisho's guess: Sakiyama-chui sought refuge with her unit in its staging bay. Being in a trusted location filled with deadly next generation equipment was a good move for someone who was guilty of something.

"Sakiyama Senkou must know something we don't," the heisho told Izuko as the lift's display signaled 'ACCESS GRANTED' in green Yamataigo text with no indication of exactly where or how many floors they were underground. "This is beginning to remind me of that time on HX-13 when—"

"What the absolute fuck is this?" Izuko huffed, gesturing out of the elevator with quick head motion. The Neko's Yamataian voice carried a husky, flat Nepleslian accent to it that Taeko admired with amusement, especially when paired with the operator's blonde mane and plasma shotgun she was about to shoulder.

Four Star Army soldiers wearing midnight blue-paneled Type 31s with NSPs drawn closed in on the lift fast. They were taller and more well built than the santo hei from before—probably 33As—and wore red security brassards. Behind them sat the watch station they manned, as well as a secured blast door with military and scientific access warnings detailed in Trade and Yamataigo. The corridors and bulkheads down here were different than where Taeko and Izuko entered above. It had an older aesthetic to it, still sterile and polished but with more metallic finishes and a sort of dark refinement. Some industrial shipping crates were scattered about but little else was available to use as cover.

According to Usagi Team's tactical readouts, Senkou had just come through here.

Taeko dropped her scattergun as she rolled on her heel to take cover. By the time the weapon fell to her side, secured on its sling, she'd already palmed her NSP and set it to stun.

"Put that down! Pistols in light mode only, we don't want to kill them!" she ordered. Izuko shook her head from her corner of the lift, clutching her scattergun against her breasts.

"Heavy stun, then!"

A burst of scalar bolts passed between them, engulfing the pair in sparks and little bits of debris when they impacted the lift's back wall. Only a handful of paces separated the two groups now. Izuko shook her head more rapidly and then slid out from cover enough to slam off two shots with urgency before dipping back in.

"Cover me, Heisho!"

The sergeant didn't like Izuko's method of taking the initiative, but assented to her team assault specialist's request without question. Like lightning, she peeked out on a knee and loosed a few heavy stun bolts at the oncoming Neko MPs, striking one with enough force to throw them hard toward a bulkhead. Within the same moment, she'd switched to heavy and placed the powerful shot above where her attackers would be on their next stride.

As the heat and shrapnel poured down while the stunned guard jolted into a pile on the floor, Izuko rolled out from the lift and bounded into the group of enemies once the corridor's left wall was close enough to give her leverage. Using her momentum and Neko biology, she spun her body around in the air and held the barrel of her scattergun out like a makeshift club whose path would soon contact an enemy's head.

With her service pistol back on heavy stun and trained ahead, Taeko stood and stepped directly out from the lift. The Star Army guard closest to the heisho was still shielding her face from the little explosion caused by the heavy burst distraction. She fired point blank at the MP's waiting skull.

The crunch of Izuko's scattergun meeting one Neko's face and snap of Taeko's stun blast zipping through another's resonated simultaneously through the hall. Both fell unconscious. Their last remaining comrade—a nito heisho, judging from the insignia on her arm—was now recovered and aimed her pistol at Taeko.

Immediately, Taeko closed the three paces between them, pushing the nose of her NSP along the enemy's arm in a way that intertwined them and deflected the attack. A hot sensation warmed Taeko's back when her foe's weapon discharged off its intended mark and flashed against some crates nearby. This was over, though the Neko guard didn't realize it and hastily drew her diamond survival knife from its sheath on her thigh.

But before the Neko guard could whip the blade to plunge into Taeko's throat, the latter applied leverage to her hold and disjointed the MP's grappling arm at the elbow and shoulder. The Usagi leader knew this was only enough to daze the Neko for a second or two, however, and shoved her away.

Izuko approached from behind, NSP drawn, and put the nito heisho down with a heavy stun wave.

"Heisho! Keep up, ehh?"

Not skipping a beat, Taeko and Izuko continued on at full sprint. At the dispatched guards' station, PANTHEON recognized their clearances and opened the blast shutter. Within, the path split at a T-intersection. The wall had a simple directory etched onto its surface: Control Room to the left and Staging Hangar to the right. Above the directory sat KFY and SARA's seals beside one for the Mindy Test Team. On it, a chibi style Mindy blushed while giving the v-sign with one hand, overlaid on three blue stripes converging atop a Hinomaru red roundel.

"See, if only they'd waited," Izuko remarked, shrugging. "Now they've gone and made us feel like we're doing something wrong. Wonder what she said to 'em."

"Usagi Team, this is Mamushi actual," Saiga said, monitoring the action from the ship. "As you can see, she's heading for the hangar now. Just accessed personnel records that say the rest of the development cadre has the week off for upcoming Hanami festivities because their research is done.

"Mindy 4's are going out to the fleet in a matter of days, there shouldn't be anyone there but those guards who gave you trouble. Securing the control room will be effortless, though Sakiyama has been there so watch yourselves."

"You take the control room," Taeko ordered, jogging in the direction of the hanger without another word. The hallway sloped down after its first corner, just as it sloped up to access the control room on Izuko's side.

"Status on the target's PANTHEON access, Chusa?" Taeko inquired matter-of-factly.

"Still working on it!" Mikan squeaked instead of Saiga. "That's why they send us, though, so we don't have to go through all these rules! But we're still supposed to obey the rules."

A little hmph came across wireless and then the channel went dark again, all questions now asked and answered.

When Taeko came to the last door keeping her from the power armor bay, she didn't hesitate. There was no time to factor contingencies or ponder Sakiyama's dastardly plan. Just as she was trained to, she burst through the threshold with her weapon at the ready.

"Sakiyama Senkou, stop where you are and surrender yourself to the Star Army of Yamatai!" Taeko bellowed, shouting even before she could assess the space or slow herself to a tactical creep.

Senkou was there, motionless in front of a free standing wall erected between the staging area and launch tubes that led kilometers up to the surface. The Mindy Test Team's mascot adorned the wall and gave the beautiful Chui bunny ears from its place painted behind her. She was suited up in Ketsurui Fleet Yards' latest spaceborne mecha, her helmet clutched under an arm, that was fully kitted out with both production and test-type war fighting systems. From 20 yards away, the humorless stare she gave Taeko gave no impression she would be intimidated and surrender.

"Take the armor off, Sakiyama!" Taeko demanded, edging closer to her target. "There's nowhere for you to go, whatever's going on is over now!"

Senkou-chui remained still.

"Uhhhhhhh, we've got an issue up here," Izuko said from the control room. "She's cleared for a tuning sortie. Can't stop it—I'm not Sanzugawa-juni."

"It appears to me that I am a respected test soldier with clearance to launch," Senkou condescended from her place opposite Taeko, "and you are outgunned assassins with no authority to be here, much less stop me. But if yo—"

"Enough of the psycho crap, psycho!" Taeko told the Mindy-clad chui. "Take the armor off!"

"But if you want to stop me, you can always try the launch ramp's manual shutdown fail safe," Senkou finished, giving a grin that suggested finality as she turned to leave. Her long, green hair swayed magnificently when she walked, capturing the perfect grace present in each of her actions.

"Goodbye, Heisho. Chiharu guide you."

Taeko didn't shout again for Senkou to stop but kept the Neko in her sights while she moved around the dividing wall and into the launch area.

"Orders?" Taeko radioed when her target disappeared into the other chamber.

"I don't know why she said anything, not that she needed to, but she's right," Mikan answered. "Emergency tube locks will shut down every blast shutter between your location and the surface. If you get there in time she'll be splattered somewhere along the way."

Taeko rounded the wall and came into the launch bay to see Senkou finish affixing her helmet and take position to leave. The Mindy 4's aether plasma wings glowed steadily brighter and then flashed with unyielding intensity when the mech surged forward into its launch passage. The SOFT heisho didn't notice as she worked to visually locate the door safety controls, but the circular capacitor that laid between the Mindy's engines showed signs of life, too.

The fail safe was just at the bottom edge of the tube's opening. From her place kneeling in front of it, Taeko looked up and could see Senkou's bright point burning quickly upward to freedom. A simple set of instructions were detailed in small print next to a lever: "PULL." Nothing more to it, she grabbed the switch and pulled, forcing 450 separate armored doors to crash closed all at once.

Senkou's location on the team's tactical map fizzled and a pulsing yellow light bathed the armor bay around Taeko. A siren accompanied the change, wailing in unison with the lights for a few seconds until Taeko depressed the lever back to its original position. Then, as quickly as it was gone, the signature came back, this time from the surface.

"Looks like she teleported out just before everything closed!" Mikan reported, exhiliration holding at the edges of her voice. "That thing's fast!"
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Central Vela, Planet Yamatai
The Battle of Yamatai, 33rd Year of the Empire

Ittô Heisho Sakiyama Senkou felt nothing.

The Velanese forest's ruddy-leafed trees had only started to shed last week, but still made an ample crunch when Senkou stumbled over the crest of a small hill. Her Mindy 1H was doing more to keep her going than anything else right now, its hemosynthetic life support system activating to push her ahead and ease the fog in her mind.

Senkou stumbled again in her daze. She ignored what seemed like countless alerts from her AIES, which tracked everything from her vitals to the status of enemy forces in the area. Muffled sounds of aether and plasma and war sizzled through the air from nearby, sending raspy echoes between the thin orange trees. A smoky haze had begun to fill the air, too, as wind gave bellows to the burning military equipment that scattered the countryside.

Kyowa, she thought, a breathless gasp suddenly breaking Senkou's disorientation.

That was her mission: to defend a small city that sat between the Kawakyo Woods and Velanese Plains. Yamatai was under attack and she was deployed there to fight. But her squad, which was seconded from the Uchuugun for the defense of Yamatai, was nowhere close.

I can still defeat them! Senkou reminded herself as the situation rapidly became clear. NMX forces are attacking Kyowa City. From this position, I'll wreak havoc on their lines!

It was an odd idea, but she confirmed it in her AIES' tactical feed—she was far from any sort of fighting and held a commanding view of the battlefield. With a quick mental command, she closed the notices piling up on her HUD, noting that Star Army fleet support was making good progress in space.

That notion sent a sobering chill down her spine.

Her armored feet kept going forward, faster and faster, until Senkou's plodding step shook off the last bits of delirium and became an inspired jog that she'd effortlessly kick into a takeoff. Everything about her mind was strangely tired but her body felt more energized than it had in weeks. Once her feet left the ground, she took her CFS from zero to Mach 1.7 very quickly, speeding back into the action as impulse drove her onward.

The purple evening sky that greeted Senkou when she burst through the forest's canopy was ablaze with weapon tracers and starships. Off in the distance, Star Army Mindys clashed with swarms of brain slave-driven Battlepods, each itself ferrying handfuls of Ripper power armors that hung on to their hulls.

To the south, the Mishhuvurthyar landing site glowed brightly beside a hill that covered it from Yamataian planetary defense systems. A Ravager and its escort of six Render mecha and eighteen Flayers formed the centerpiece of the Neko advance forming in a sparsely wooded field that lay between them and Kyowa.

From Senkou's altitude, everything looked so unreal and alive at the same time. Battle maneuvers made up of hundreds of Neko swirled like waves over a miniaturized landscape. A few of the city’s low skyscrapers still twinkled through the dust on emergency power, hastily abandoned when civilians evacuated hours before. Daisy-armored defenders stood vigilantly scattered among the evacuated apartments and storefronts, waiting with the fanatical devotion one possesses when in defense of their homeworld.

Soaring high above, an Immolator flight exchanged heat with Hayabusa fresh from their carrier in orbit. Senkou's AIES identified them as part of the First Expeditionary's relief force—only the tip of a spear meant to save the capital. The Yamataian fighters were shredded by the bombers' coordinated point defense fire, but sent all but one of the Mishhu ships diving to join the other flaming wrecks dotting Yamatai's surface.

Senkou locked her Mindy's fire control system on the remaining Immolator and gently flipped onto her back so the armor's Rapid Fire Heavy Beam Cannons could take a shot. Only two friendly starfighters remained, still tearing down with guns blazing from the heavens. The 1H's cannons twitched as Senkou made minor manual adjustments; she was already on-target, but something compelled her to adjust the spread.

We got 'em! she thought, the joy of victory filling her body as the muzzles of her cannons flashed pink.

In the blink of an eye, a flurry of tight beam bursts zipped through the Immolator's wounded hull. It shuddered violently until an abrupt eruption, the explosion engulfing the two incoming Hayabusa as Senkou's shots penetrated their hulls, too. In the moment before the Star Army fighters vaporized, Senkou could see their cockpits go dark, their canopies coated with a pilot’s uniform and entrails. A feeling of satisfaction again engulfed her.

"What? No!" Senkou exclaimed aloud, blurting the throwaway communication out over an already chaotic channel. Her gaze turned to Kyowa City, soon followed by an adjusted trajectory. Fear and shame mixed with the righteous tingle already grasping at her core.

"We got 'em," remember? the Neko sergeant's conscience urged, its fortitude unwilling to let her slip away so soon after pulling everything together. She struggled to understand what was happening. It's time to finish this operation up, no?

The shooting starscape that warmed the darkening sky intensified just when a priority alert came from command: "MISHHU FLEET IN RETREAT. BATTLEGROUP RELIEF IMMINENT." The Taisho Yui and her First Expeditionary Fleet had crushed the NMX armada and were arriving to fight off the siege.

But even the best laid plans change, Senkou mused, examining the battlescape information on her AIES. That bad feeling from before had grown but so had her pride in victory, swelling her chest just enough to empty it that much more.

She read the map, finding herself with an intuitive understanding of the NMX maneuvers to compliment her Star Army training. Every dot became an enfilade or wedge, every weakness or strength was immediately obvious to her.

And I know just how we should proceed, her internal voice added, creeping with the unfamiliar. Within her helmet, Senkou's eyes stayed frozen open in a way that matched the terror crushing behind her throat. Now, let's get our confidence back.

The 1H pivoted and accelerated directly toward the NMX landing zone, riding low enough over the treetops to leave a wake as she cut through the air at supersonic speed. Ke-M2-W2908 missiles were armed and loosed and backed up by the power of her beam cannons and Saber-Rifle blinking to life.

Senkou could feel her lips tremble over locked teeth, resisting words she knew weren't entirely hers. Dreams and aspirations melted from her memory, overridden by new ambitions for her future career. As a young Nekovalkyrja, she hadn't had many to hold onto, but released a last, painful squeak over the comms channel she'd just selected.

"Say again—is that you Sakiyama-heisho?" came a frantic Yamataian man's voice. "Heisho?"

"I—I've caught the enemy by surprise!" Senkou replied, a tone of total conviction coming through after the false start. "Inbound: bearing five-eight-three-eight south by southeast! Cover me!"

Black Sands, present day
Ash Bay, Planet Yamatai

Chui Senkou Sakiyama rematerialized above the same courtyard that Taeko and Izuko had traversed only minutes before, far from the test lab launch tube's underwater exit in Ash Bay. New Turbo Aether Plasma generators kept her moving at the same incredible pace she'd maintained prior her teleportation, taking her straight out over the water on shining teal wings. Triggered by SOFT Usagi’s attempt to stop Senkou, the base below started swarming with life as security teams scurried from building to building, already too late to stop a threat that would forever remain unknown to them.

Down in the Mindy Test Laboratory, Eikan Taeko stood face-to-face with another Mindy 4. It hung from its collar plate, the chest cavity open and ready to be worn. The suit's smooth helmet seemed to stare back at the Heisho with the same intensity Senkou had.

Are you sure?” Taeko demanded.

Correct, Heisho,” Mikan said assuredly from the YSS Mamushi as it neared Yamataian planetary space.

Test Type armors are equipped with an un-networked AIES," Saiga's assistant said in that cute but almost condescending way she often said things. "If they were connected to PANTHEON like fleet armors, SARA engineering teams would trigger anti-tamper fail safes every time they tried to calibrate anything. Not to mention the security risks you get with connected systems!

You should be able to use that armor so long as Fuji-hei loads up a default profile from the control room for you. Response times will be muted compared to what you’re used to but it’s the best you can do right now.

Before Mikan was done speaking, Taeko had already thrown off her jacket and stepped into the armor in front of her.

Ryokai, Juni.

On the surface, Senkou-chui began to rise up past the clouds. Her flight path seemed to make little consideration for anything but efficiency, buzzing close enough past a landing Plumeria and the Nibasha it escorted that the latter ship rocked in the air as its pilot flinched. When the order recalling all flights was sent by Black Sands Airspace Control, she banked wide and came down close to the bay, turning back eastward.

But the rogue Neko would not return to her hangar. Instead, she zig-zagged through the base’s structural complex in the same reckless manner she'd previously been ascending, zipping past unaware guards and confused soldiers before heading inland into the Useureyan rainforest.
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Near Teisenjou City
Central Vela Prefecture, Planet Yamatai

For nearly thirty minutes, Taeko chased Sakiyama Senkou across Uesureya and Vela Prefectures. Soaring through the air and ripping close across terrain, the Heisho kept in close contact with her prey. Sometimes, the rogue soldier would drop off sensors only to be picked up again a heartbeat later as she rematerialized kilometers away after a quick teleportation jump.

The black Corona gunship carrying Fuji-hei in her Daisy kept its distance, unable to do much more than remain in reserve without an ability to follow the quick changes of pace and direction like Taeko could in the second Mindy 4 they'd commandeered at Black Sands. But follow—and survive—was the best Taeko herself could do. What few shots she could squeeze off always narrowly missed, while Senkou's shots came more regularly and managed to graze her more than once.

Not even the most skilled SOFT operative could hope to match a soldier involved with a power armor's development at their own game, especially while wearing an uncalibrated suit.

Lush, untamed Yamataian jungle soon gave way to flatter lands and nobler forests. Before long, the horizon had shifted enough times that the battle scarred Plains of Vela surrounded Taeko and her prey. In the distance, the outskirts of Teisenjou City peeked out from its crater and the four massive cables carrying enkan transport pods up through the atmosphere grew larger by the moment. Air traffic buzzed over the surface in ordered streams, mostly keeping clear from the airspace around where the cables were anchored.

There was no doubt in the Heisho's mind what Senkou's target was, now. Nor was there doubt in the minds of Saiga-chusa and SAINT team, inbound to Amatsu-Yamatai station where the Suribashi-class Space Elevators found their terminus.

"It is the time to make something happen!" Mikan's voice snapped through the comms for the first time in a while. Though it was certainly her speaking, the Chusa's demanding presence could be heard in her tone. "We won't be able to get away with weapons release if you get much closer to those elevators. This operation should be finished. Take her down now!"

Fuji-hei's gunship—now accompanied by Hasegawa-hei and Tamiya-hei from Usagi Team clad in Mindy M2-2Ds—formed up more closely to the escaping Senkou and filled up the kilometers beside Taeko in a battle line. Meanwhile, the last Usagi soldier, Fujimi-hei, who'd been responsible for standing by at the Fleet Research Squadron in orbit, joined Saiga's YSS Mamushi as an escort.

"Right!" Taeko said harshly in return. The veteran Rikugun Neko might have been angry at Mikan's insistence, given the SAINT team's current absence from the scene, but her grit was more due to the situation than anything else; she had no time to feel petty slight. Scattered settlements blurred on the ground as the chase got closer to the space elevators, looking massive as they stood reaching toward the heavens against a perfectly clear Yamataian sky.

"Usagi Team, get on the target's heels!" Taeko ordered via comms, punching in a teleportation solution while she spoke. Senkou hadn't used her suit's jump function for some time, so Taeko bet that the traitor's capacitor was recharging, which left escape unlikely.

When Taeko blinked back into existence, the space elevator's anchor lines loomed above, their behemoth construction fading into nothingness as they rose up and into space. She unfurled the newer-than-new Ke-M2-W3801 Aether Saber attached to her leg's hardpoint as soon as she could see, activating it as she swung its blade upward in a wide arc. Taeko's new spot put her directly on Senkou's trajectory, ready to strike. But while Taeko expected her blade to cleave into the stolen Mindy 4, no resistance came.

"Chikushou!" Taeko howled as Senkou sped by. Yamatai spun around her while critical condition warnings flashed across her AIES's heads-up display. Glancing down, she could see the Aether Saber tumble out of her right hand's grip, its fingers losing tension as her severed arm spasmed one last time.

The Aetheric Pulse Cannon on Taeko's shoulder roared skyward as she gave her own battle cry, instructing her armor to send the message on a direct channel to Senkou's Mindy. The traitor may have had her PANTHEON access revoked, but she'd still be able to hear Taeko's fury. She clutched her mauled right shoulder as emergency medical countermeasures deployed to stabilize her from shock, watching her shots go wide past her target. Whatever weapon on her shoulder was newer than an M2-W3001 and seemed more effective in-atmosphere, which was enough to avoid hitting the space elevator, but not enough to hit the fleeing traitor.

"Hold your fire!" Saiga-chusa communicated calmly, joined in a less mellow chorus by Usagi Team and Mikan. Taeko knew her mistake, though, and had already redirected her armor's momentum down toward the surface. Fuji-hei’s gunship did its best to climb and follow Senkou as she sped toward space, but made slow progress compared to Hasegawa and Tamiya, who blasted past to keep up with their prey.

"Gomen. I won't miss this time," Taeko said feverishly, plotting in another quick jump with a narrower accuracy tolerance than the last. Atop Teisenjou Ferry Terminal were emblazoned the Yamataigo kanji for Spirit of Yamatai, with the motto "Rising above Adversity" etched underneath in Trade and Yamataian runes. She felt more at ease when she saw it, and not simply because her Nekovalkyrjan genetics and armor's life support were making everything about life easier on her.

It reminded Taeko of her purpose.

YSS Mamushi
Geosynchronous orbit, Planet Yamatai

In orbit, the SAINT freighter had just drifted into position beneath the Amatsu-Yamatai space station. The four-and-a-half kilometer satellite dwarfed Tanuki Team's little Ke-F8, its dark form not even a spec in the shade of its lower surface. Outside, Akechi Kiriko-juni and her team of Tokutenku SOFT operators assembled in variously armed Mindy models, all customized to their SAINT agent's combat preferences. Fujimi-hei from Usagi was with them, too. The SAINT soldier named Kimigawa Kazanbai, Tanuki's sapper, wore a black M2-3A that was otherwise marked with two half-inch purple bars painted horizontally across her helmet's sensor ears and vertically down all six feet of what what looked like an old SM-1 Zesuaium Shield.

Unlike was the case with Teisenjou's atmospheric transportation services, Mikan had the time to get an order through that cleared all space traffic around the Geshrinari Amatsu, and for those aboard to hold in place. Saiga's SAINT clearance and SOFT status was enough to do that, but it didn't keep the station's commander or traffic control from pinging the Mamushi for an explanation without pause.

"Bothersome," Saiga mentioned as a communications request blinked in his peripheral vision, keeping focused on the simple tactical overview volumetric stood watching. "Sakuyahime's concurrence should be enough," he rambled, referring to the avatar of his unit's KAMI. "Or do these cushy core system assignments make them forget their 'need-to-know?'"

Mikan rolled her eyes from where she stood near a bulkhead mounted console beside him. She shifted her weight to the opposite hip and, not a moment later, stood up at attention in the instinctual way Star Army soldiers sometimes do when confronted with extreme authority.

"Chusa!" Mikan said, almost on her toes. "Priority communication level one! The—"

"Wasn't I just saying ho—" Saiga attempted, almost able to complain if not for the fact Mikan was used to getting through to him.

"The Director would like an update!" she told the Chusa as a small volumetric panel materialized from the display closest to him. It was plain black like the uniform he wore with red letters spelling out "SOUND ONLY" in Trade and Yamataigo. The channel was open. "They are interested to know why the local squadrons haven't been called in."

"Most interested, Saiga-chusa!" SAINT Director Nakaide Shida's voice affirmed happily through the cabin. The transmission came from the Vicky system, so their tone sounded a little thin, but its pace and character was unmistakably Shida's.

There was a pause in the air. Usagi and Tanuki team monitors droned on in the background, but the space between Saiga and Mikan's mutual glare could only be described as dead.

"It is a rapidly developing situation, Shida-bucho," Saiga explained, sounding very formal and courtly with the Yamataian words he chose. As far as Mikan could tell, this was his version of the cute "attention!" stance she'd just put on.

"They're not even on standby, Chusa," Director Shida countered. The way they talked was lengthy and surely left the listener patronized, but wasn't as haughty as Saiga. "While we all might want to pursue these matters like the old days, we're not at war. It’s YE 38.

"Yamatai is the most heavily defended planet in the sector. One might say the length of time this incident has occurred is unacceptable. Negligent, perhaps?"

"No," Saiga said, very plainly disagreeing. "We've already identified at least a dozen ships with soldiers stationed aboard who've served with the target. Considering Mishhuvurthyar involvement and the length of time a possible NMX agent was able to remain undetected in the Star Army means we should limit her proximity to the fleet. Somebody might help her. We must take care of the problem now. My IES and command team agree with this assessment."

Director Shida didn't follow up immediately, taking a few seconds to consider the Chusa's angle. For Saiga and Mikan, it seemed like forever while they waited for the SAINT leader's next words. The black volumetric panel indicating they were still connected was all that kept them from their work.

"Proceed, Chusa," Shida said a moment before the holographic window closed.

Mikan kept glaring at Saiga once the Director was off the line. He'd been returning her stare the whole time, too, but this was most certainly Mikan’s contest.

"Well?" she asked.

"I am not sure Taeko-san can do it," the Chusa admitted, refocusing on the situation at hand. The tactical display showed a dot for Senkou tailed by the two from Usagi Team's Mindys with Taeko-heisho's signal plummeting toward Yamatai below. Every so often, signals that represented weapons fire would dart from the friendly contacts toward Senkou's mark, but the opportunities for safe shots came very far between.

"What is Tanuki's status?" Saiga asked, making sure to switch open that team’s channel.

"All set up out here, Chusa," Kiriko checked in. "For homeworld and Empire, this ends here."

Teisenjou Space Elevators
Above Vela Prefecture, Planet Yamatai

Senkou flew her captured Mindy 4 close to the Spirit of Yamatai's anchor cable as she climbed up through the atmosphere, denying the Star Army operators chasing her any viable shots as she spun around the cylindrical structure on her ascent. Just when the Amatsu-Yamatai was close enough to see with the naked eye, Senkou would break off and position herself aimed toward the center of the nearing station. Upon both of her shoulder hardpoints sat modified W2911 cannons, similar to the weapons she'd been assigned with her 1H during the War, already armed and fixed ahead.

When only a few miles separated her from the station, she fired, sending a steady, thick pulse beam out from both cannons.

Below, Taeko maintained her downward velocity while her sensors detected the aether burst from Senkou. Not another moment could be wasted getting her jump closer to perfection. Now was the time. She blinked out of existence again.

The Heisho rematerialized right on top of her target, only a few inches above her. Taeko's one good arm ended up gripped up and over Senkou's collar, between her armor's wing and helmet. With that, Senkou's aether pulse ended immediately. It still stretched up and toward the station for a breath: two six-inch pink beams rising up to the middle of Amatsu-Yamatai, where they seemed to meet its surface and split flatly outward, dispersed harmlessly into space against Kimigawa-hei's retrofit LAMIA shield.

Senkou could have recovered from Taeko's abrupt entry were she allowed the time. SAINT had given her plenty of that, however. In a flurry, she was then set upon by Kiriko and fire team Tanuki, who pressed four activated Aether Beam Saber-Rifles easily into her torso. They were quick, and the armless Heisho’s flailing hadn’t helped her avoid further contact.

The traitor Senkou went limp in her Mindy 4, satisfied with the extent of her diversion.