Introduction To Kayoko Hyuga

[18:54] <@Minaplo> [Date: April 18th, 2048. Location: Red-Gate Spaceport in orbit above Mars, Mars Sphere, Sol System.-
[18:57] <@Minaplo> [It had been some time since Mars had ever been the 'Red Planet'.-
[19:01] <@Minaplo> [It had been in reference to the title that the Red-Gate Spaceport, Mars's largest spaceport, owed its name; yet the world that Kayoko saw through the window of Red-Gate's departure lounge was anything but red. It was now a stunning blend of rich greens, mostly in the south, and deep blues in the north, with dots of white snow-caps here and there mingling with the odd patch of brown and yellow- and a little bit of red.-
[19:02] <@Minaplo> [Humanity's 'second home' was now hosting over a billion people, with millions more coming and going every day: tourists, materials and the products made of those materials, migrants and expatriates, and of course military personnel.-
[19:09] <@Minaplo> [Many Starfleet personnel went through Mars sooner or later.-
[19:13] <@Minaplo> [For Kayoko, the reason she was here on Red-Gate was tradition.-
[19:15] <@Minaplo> [At some point over the last twenty years, it had become tradition that a captain's first posting as a commander of a starship be ferried to that vessel personally by the ship's senior navigator. If the departure was from a civilian institution, then that was even better.-
[19:16] <@Minaplo> [However, Kayoko had some fifteen minutes before the shuttle arrived to 'give the captain away', as it was sometimes called.]
[19:54] <Kayoko> Kayoko sat at the far corner of the window, shoulder touching the wall. She didn't cut an imposing figure, only a little over five feet and fine-boned, but there was an understated confidence to her posture. She didn't fidget and she didn't glance at the row of clocks lining one wall of the departure lounge. Her attention was on the view below, blue eyes avidly
[19:54] <Kayoko> drinking in topology only a few decades old. Every now and again she'd glance back to the same spot: A band of storms rolling steadily along the western edge of the Hellas Planitia.-
[19:54] <Kayoko> Her uniform was simple and black, matching the practical bun she'd tied her black hair back with. Her right hand gripped something hanging from a plain silver chain around her neck in a fist, resting the knuckles against her lips as she waited.
[20:11] <Minaplo> [A small, insistent electronic sound would interrupt Kayoko's reverie: her handpad was vibrating with a new massage.-
[20:12] <Minaplo> [On inevitably fishing it out, Kayoko would find a message from '★Emi☆': "Look Left!"]
[20:18] * Kayoko let her head loll left, expression preloaded with an eyeroll for whatever punchline was certainly waiting for her.
[20:24] <Minaplo> [There was no punchline this time.-
[20:24] <Minaplo> [Standing about twenty metres away were three people. The first was her sister Emiko.-
[20:28] <Minaplo> [Emiko was her twin, and so they unavoidably looked alike- a little taller, maybe, but that was only because of her heeled shoes. The major differences were in her hair and eyes: Emiko's hair was a shock of fine, light blue whilst her eyes were a bright red. Today, though, her hair was in a long ponytail instead of the standard drill-like ringlets she kept it in.-
[20:29] <Minaplo> [Emiko was also slightly fairer than Kayoko, having been spared the long weeks and months of constant military training beneath an indifferently harsh Australian sun.-
[20:31] <Minaplo> [She wore a simple, almost aggressively low-key blue knee-length sleeved dress.-
[20:33] <Minaplo> [Standing behind Emiko was a Japanese man of far less 'colourful' look. He was of average height, with short brown hair and brown eyes, kept behind a pair of analysis glasses he wore mostly out of habit than anything. He too wore simple clothes: white shirt, black jeans, dress shoes. This was Makoto, Kayoko's father.-
[20:34] <Minaplo> [And standing at his shoulder was a uniformed woman with short black hair, wearing heavily tinted glasses. Probably just an Intelligence goon.-
[20:35] <Minaplo> [Emiko rushed to Kayoko's side, sliding into the chair next to her; one haphazard leg came close to burying its heel into Kayoko's foot.-
[20:36] <Minaplo> ["Hiii~, Kayo." Said Emiko, a big grin on her face. "You big captain, you. Ooh, the gravity's all weird here, huh?"-
[20:36] <Minaplo> ["How're you going? Bet you're nervous as hell."]
[20:49] <Kayoko> "Slow down, dork," she said, tucking the little pendant back inside her jacket and then using her hand to give Emiko a friendly push on the shoulder. "They've got oxygen up here, feel free to breathe some."-
[20:49] <Kayoko> Her attention flicked past Emiko's shoulder for a moment, and she leant to one side to fix Makoto with a stare. "Hello Father," she said blandly, "Don't be frightened, but there's someone behind you."
[20:51] <Minaplo> [Makoto had been fidgetting awkwardly for a few moments; now he sighed. "Hello, Kayoko."-
[20:51] <Minaplo> ["We came to see you off."]
[20:54] * Kayoko leaned a little further out, eyes wide and expectant. "Mother too…?"
[20:57] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[20:57] <Kayoko> "Mhmm."
[20:58] <Minaplo> [The woman at Makoto's shoulder stepped swiftly passed him and tore off her glasses. A pair of red eyes stared out from behind them.-
[20:58] <Minaplo> [And then it was almost like a mirage undoing itself before Kayoko's eyes; a second ago the woman's face had been anyone's face, a nothing's face. Now it was subtly yet unmistakeably changed- into the face of her mother.-
[21:00] <Minaplo> ["Of course, mother too." Said Chiisana Ayanami. "Hello, my floret."]
[21:08] <Kayoko> The wide-eyed look vanished instantly, replaced with a frown as she was visibly thrown off-stride. "… Well."-
[21:08] <Kayoko> "Well done, I honestly didn't expect you to come. Father, maybe, Emiko definitely, but you…? Less so."
[21:11] <Minaplo> ["Well, here I am." Said Chiisana.]
[21:14] <Kayoko> "Mm."-
[21:14] <Kayoko> She leant back into her chair and returned full focus to Emiko. "Glad you came."
[21:21] <Minaplo> ["Sure, anytime." Said Emiko. Her eyes had darted back and forth during the exchange between parents and sister, her lip bitten slightly in a mix of anxiety and anticipation. Now she was calm, her eyes on Kayoko.-
[21:21] <Minaplo> ["So, how are you feeling? You didn't really answer me earlier."]
[21:34] <Kayoko> "I know," she said airily, "But I'm fine. I'd just like to get on with it, that's all."
[21:35] <Mianplo> ["Uh-huh."]
[21:36] <Kayoko> "And this is why I didn't tell you. You never let me lie."
[21:39] <Mianplo> ["That's because lying's crap and big-bad stoic reservedness is a lie, thus crap. Go on, then."]
[21:44] <Kayoko> "It's not big-bad stoic reservedness, it's calm self-assuredness to better earn the faith of those around me. They teach you that distinction in Melbourne, I told you that you should've come with me."-
[21:44] <Kayoko> She held up a finger and let her face slide into a perfectly natural grim, walled-off mask of stoicism, before returning back to its former relaxed, confident state. "See? Very different."
[21:46] <Mianplo> ["Oh my God, you're being extra obnoxious today, little sis. Your guts must be a mess."]
[21:51] * Kayoko gave her a dirty look. "I don't know why I talk to you."
[21:54] <Mianplo> ["Um, let's see." Said Emiko, holding out her hand in a very deliberate motion. "I'm cute. I'm a great listener. I'm one of the most popular idols in the Home Systems," she said, counting off fingers as she went. "And everyone loves idols. Oh! I'm also your biggest ever fan~" She threw an arm around Kayoko tightly and grinned.]
[22:04] <Kayoko> "Pfft, your polls aren't that good," she muttered. "I'm not your agent, don't expect me to prop up your delusions."-
[22:04] <Kayoko> She hugged her back anyway.
[22:06] <Mianplo> ["Pfft, like that prick props up my delusions. I'm just about ready to drop his dumb ass and the agency too."]
[22:07] <Kayoko> "Good, that industry's weird. Go get a real job."
[22:11] <Mianplo> ["Man, this job keeps me fitter than most of your marines, don't go calling it fake." Said Emiko.-
[22:12] <Mianplo> ["And it's not weird. Except when it's run by middle-aged pervert men from the old world," said Emiko, shooting Makoto a dirty look.-
[22:12] <Mianplo> ["… What?" Said Makoto, looking helplessly insulted. Chiisana coughed, letting her firm facade crack slightly.]
[22:16] <Kayoko> "So only most of the time," she said flatly.
[22:17] <Mianplo> ["Pretty much. Producer 'floated'- haha- the idea of giving us a gig in a less-than-Earth gravity environment, short skirts, no gravity garters. We're gonna get him fired by the time you get back."]
[22:19] * Kayoko made a face. "Gross."
[22:23] <Mianplo> ["Gross." Agreed Emiko.-
[22:25] <Mianplo> [The PA sounded. "Special transit #S44-A16 to Cydonian Fleet Yards arriving in five minutes. All passengers, proceed to terminal exit S-3…"-
[22:25] <Mianplo> [Kayoko's flight.]
[22:31] <Kayoko> She looked up for a moment, took a slightly deeper breath and stood up. "Ok. That's me."
[22:32] <Mianplo> ["Ok." Emiko stood as well and hugged Kayoko, a tighter hug with both arms this time. "Seeya, dummy."]
[22:40] * Kayoko returned this one as well, eyes shut for just a second. "Seeya soon."-
[22:41] <Kayoko> … and then she turned to face her parents. "I'll see you both when the tour's done."
[22:42] <Mianplo> ["That you will." Said Makoto, giving her a small smile. "Take care out there, ok?"-
[22:43] <Mianplo> ["Yes." Said Chiisana, her expression softening. "And do keep in touch."]
[22:57] <Kayoko> "Duty permitting," she said, giving them something vaguely like a smile, and two perfunctory hugs. "Take care father, mother."-
[22:57] <Kayoko> She moved past them both and headed for the gate.
[22:58] <Minaplo> ["Kayoko." Called Chiisana out after her.]
[23:02] * Kayoko turned, looking expectant.
[23:06] <Minaplo> [The scene had shifted quite quickly in the time it had taken Kayoko to walk away: Emiko was sniffling, tears trickling down her cheeks; and Makoto was staring very dolefully at the ground.-
[23:08] <Minaplo> [Chiisana held Kayoko's gaze, however, steady and unyielding, despite the hint of moisture appearing in the corners of her eyes. "I love you. And I truly hope you understand that you're perfectly brilliant on your own terms."]
[23:14] * Kayoko stared back. At the moment the resemblance between the two was uncanny, even with the efforts Kayoko had made to hide it.-
[23:14] <Kayoko> "… yeah. Love you all too."-
[23:14] <Kayoko> She turned and moved on, just a little quicker. "Give the kids another hug for me, Emi," she called, and then she was through the gate and gone.
[23:17] <Minaplo> […-
[23:18] <Minaplo> [Kayoko walked alone to the terminal exit. The traffic had thinned the closer she was to S-3 Exit, until now it was finally her- and one other person.-
[23:20] <Minaplo> [Standing by the gate, wearing a black uniform with yellow edging, shoulder pads and strips down the arms and legs, was a young east-asian woman with black hair, dark brown eyes and a pale tone. She was a little shorter than Kayoko.-
[23:21] <Minaplo> [As Kayoko approached, she snapped to attention and saluted sharply. "First Navigator Tran Huong Hue, reporting for duty, ma'am!"]
[23:37] * Kayoko came to a stop a few paces away, taking in the enthusiastic salute before returning it with a more matter-of-fact one of her own. "Captain Kayoko Hyuga, also reporting for duty. Pleased to meet you, Navigator Tran."
[23:38] <Minaplo> ["And you as well, Captain." Said Tran, lowering her arm. "The shuttle is ready to go at your order, ma'am."]
[23:49] <Kayoko> "Thank you. No sense in delaying," she said lightly, moving past the threshold. "I'm excited to get to work."
[23:49] <Minaplo> ["Yes, ma'am!"-
[23:51] <Minaplo> [The shuttle was cramped; there was a single seat for the pilot and another six for passengers. Each seat had a belt harness, a sign that the shuttle (unsurprisingly) was not built with artificial grav.-
[23:56] <Minaplo> [Tran buckled herself into the pilot's seat, waited until Kayoko was safely stowed away, and then went through the undocking procedures.-
[23:57] <Minaplo> ["This is shuttle S44-A16 requesting clearance for departure…"-
[23:57] <Minaplo> [The process went smoothly and quickly, and before long- with a sudden stomach-jolting sensation of weightlessness- the shuttle was away, leaving Red-Gate behind.]
[14:12] * Kayoko had found a seat closest to the cockpit on Tran's left hand side, watching the pilot work as she ran through the departure procedures.-
[14:12] <Kayoko> "First posting?" she asked as the void opened up ahead of them, tucking a loose strand of hair that was now floating in front of her face back behind her ear.
[14:16] <@Minaplo> [It was the little details Kayoko would notice: Tran's hair was pulled back into a platted ponytail, but the hairband itself had apparently magnetised to the back of her uniform, stopping it from floating all around.-
[14:17] <@Minaplo> ["Yes, ma'am. I graduated three weeks ago, ma'am."]
[14:30] <Kayoko> "And straight to First Navigator. Pretty impressive."
[14:32] <@Minaplo> [The shuttle glided almost imperceptibly towards… Well, it looked little bigger than a golf ball at the moment. It was a cluster of shipyards and drydocks, built like giant fleshless rib cages enclosing the vessels within: the Cydonian Fleet Yards.-
[14:33] <@Minaplo> ["Thank you, ma'am!" Said Tran warmly. "I've been piloting ships as big as a carrier since I could walk, so it'd be embarrassing if I didn't make the cut, ma'am."]
[14:44] <Kayoko> "I take it you're a spacer?" she asked.
[14:48] <@Minaplo> ["Yes, ma'am. Grew up running the triangular trade between Gagarin, Zoroaster and Earth, ma'am."]
[14:55] <Kayoko> "Must've been interesting."
[14:57] <@Minaplo> ["It had its moments, ma'am."-
[14:59] <@Minaplo> [The fleet yards were coming into focus, going from a small dot to filling the piloting screen. Each 'ribcage' was busy, working on a ship. Some were being refitted or repaired, whilst others were clearly unfinished.-
[15:01] <@Minaplo> [But in one of the cages was a starship free of the buzzing repair-suits and builder drones. It sat serenely, its hull a light blue and built to be long, rising at the back. The Superheavy magnetic catapults- running down the centre of the ship along two 'fins'- were already distinct, as were the two large, oval AT Field projector dishes that sat at the very end of the vessel like eyes.-
[15:03] <@Minaplo> [Tran took the shuttle into the interior of the cage, letting the starship loom over them. On its hull, lit up by spotlights, Kayoko would spot, in bold black, the words: "FSS Valletta".]
[15:19] <Kayoko> It was a standard design she'd seen in persons dozens and dozens of times, but today it was imposing. She rolled her shoulders and sat up a little straighter. "Home sweet home."
[15:40] <@Minaplo> [She caught the corner of Tran's smile. "Yes, ma'am."-
[15:49] <@Minaplo> [Tran took them straight down the front spacecraft hangar; the craft entered a surface launchpad, which lowered down into the hangar itself, forming an airlock during the transition.-
[15:50] <@Minaplo> [The hangar was large, made larger by the fact that it was conspicuously under-equipped; there was maybe a wing of Kirishimas, if that.-
[15:51] <@Minaplo> [A small assembly was ready, waiting for the ship's landing; about twenty marines, plus what looked like the rest of her high-ranking officers, as well as a man with long blond hair wearing the uniform of a Solar Admiral.-
[15:51] <@Minaplo> [Uncle Alphonse and an honour guard, in other words.-
[15:52] <@Minaplo> ["The gravity is still off on the Valletta, so watch your step." Said Tran, who was already unbuckling from her seat. She flipped over it with a casual grace and floated at attention.]
[15:56] <@Minaplo> <step, ma'am*>
[16:05] * Kayoko didn't move with Tran's natural grace in zero-g, but she kept up well enough to float into place next to Tran with her own salute. "Sir."
[16:11] <@Minaplo> [Alphonse saluted back. "At ease, Captain Hyuga, and welcome to the Valletta."]
[16:22] <Kayoko> "Thank you, sir," she said, dropping her arm back to her side.
[16:24] <@Minaplo> ["On behalf of the Twiceborn Federation and the Federation Starfleet, I hereby transfer command of the Valletta to you." Said Alphonse, standing aside.-
[16:27] <@Minaplo> [A tall, brown-haired latin man with light stubble and the black uniform of command stepped forward. "Captain on deck!"-
[16:34] <@Minaplo> [There was the loud, echoing clang of near-two dozen rifles slapping against shoulder armour at once.]
[16:50] <Kayoko> This saw a very small smile creep onto her face. "Thank you, everyone," she called in a voice loud enough to carry through the hangar. "At ease."
[16:51] <@Minaplo> [The formation relaxed.-
[16:52] <@Minaplo> ["Congratulations on your posting, Captain." Said Alphonse, holding out his hand for Kayoko to shake.-
[16:52] <@Minaplo> ["I take it you'll want to hear your first orders?"]
[16:56] * Kayoko shook it quickly, though a little more gently than she might've done on Earth to avoid disrupting their positions. "Yes sir." Her attention was firmly still on Alphonse, but she used her periphery to peek at the officers around him.
[17:06] <@Minaplo> [The stubbled officer in the black uniform had stepped back into line. At first peek, Kayoko would see the ones standing at his sides: a tall, fit brown-skinned woman with dense curly light mahogany-coloured hair and bright brown eyes, wearing the white uniform of tactical; and a white-skinned, thin woman with dark brown hair tied up in a bun and a pair of coolly grey eyes, wearing the green of Technical.-
[17:08] <@Minaplo> ["We're sending you on a shakedown cruise." Said Alphonse. "Nothing major, just to the Zeruel system and back. After that, you'll be assigned to the 2nd Outer Sphere Fleet under Admiral Archibald, where the rest of your equipment will be installed."]
[17:12] <Kayoko> "We don't have a full loadout, sir?"
[17:23] <@Minaplo> ["Not yet, Captain. Starfleet Engineering's decided that new ships of carrier size and larger perform their shakedown cruises using a light loadout. That way, if something does go wrong, it won't be worsened by advanced equipment or the addition of extra moving parts."]
[17:26] * Kayoko nodded. "Right. And that's our only objective?"
[17:27] <@Minaplo> ["That's right. Just there and back. Specifically to Grand Junction Station in the Zeruel system."]
[17:29] <Kayoko> "Certainly, sir."
[17:34] <@Minaplo> [Alphonse nodded firmly. "Thank you for understanding, Captain. I shouldn't have to mention that your unofficial objective is to get home safely."]
[17:36] <Kayoko> "I had hoped so, sir."
[17:55] <@Minaplo> [He saluted again and- on Kayoko's return salute- turned and floated, AT Field shimmering lightly, toward his own craft at the end of the hangar.]
[18:06] <Kayoko> Kayoko didn't follow his flight. Instead she focused on the line of officers, examining them all with those sharp blue eyes. She was smiling now, confident."Alright. I'm Captain Kayoko Hyuga, in case you missed that. I'm looking forward to working with you all. Were there any questions, or should we get to work?"
[18:11] <@Minaplo> [A chorus of "No questions, ma'am", and a single "No questions, ma'am!" from Ensign Tran, who'd joined the lineup herself.]
[18:18] <Kayoko> "Excellent," she said. With a slight kick from her AT Field she got moving again, taking long way around the line rather than just bounding over the top.-
[18:18] <Kayoko> "Let's go have a look at our bridge."
[19:05] <@Minaplo> […-
[19:13] <@Minaplo> [The bridge of the Valletta was made up of two levels. The rear, higher level, called the Command Level (or Com for short) was designed so that the captain could oversee the rest of the bridge. Sitting in the middle of Com was a holographic map, designed to produce a map of the battlespace as well as projecting graphs and other useful metrics. A trio of small stations sat bow-ward ('towards the front of the ship') of the map. The middle station was made up of a raised, padded chair with thick arms, consoles built into each arm; this was the Captain's chair. To the right was a similar, lower and smaller chair for the Executive Officer, or XO. To the right of the captain's chair was the Warfare Station, where the Chief Warfare Officer sat; a bank of consoles sat ahead of the chair, managing the vessel's weapons systems.-
[19:16] <@Minaplo> [The Command Level curved on the edges, and on those edges lowered into gentle ramps, by which one could reach the Operations Level(or Ops for short). This area was mostly open. On the right hand side sat a bank of consoles called the Helm, where the navigator sat. Toward the back of the area- just beneath the captain's chair- sat a single chair, unaccompanied by consoles; this chair was for the Evangelion's avatar. To the right of the avatar's chair was a station for the Chief of Marines; simple and uncomplicated, as it was expected to go unoccupied for much of the time. To the left of the avatar's chair was a high-backed seat, left for the Defector Guide.-
[19:17] <@Minaplo> [Sitting off-set ahead and to the left of the Defector Guide's chair was a bank of holoprojectors. Here, when the Captain wished it, would appear the holographic heads of the Superheavy strike force as they carried out missions or were called on to survey the situation.-
[19:18] <@Minaplo> [Dominating the far bow-ward wall was a large wall-length viewscreen.-
[19:19] <@Minaplo> [At the bottom of Ops, to the left, was the Captain's office; to the right, the Conference Room. Two doors at the top of the ramps led to the stairwell, whilst three doors to the rear of Coms led to the elevators.-
[19:25] <@Minaplo> [It was through the largest rear door that Kayoko and her officers entered. The bridge was already populated by crewmembers and junior officers.-
[19:26] <@Minaplo> ["Captain on deck!" Shouted the stubbled man. The crew of the bridge turned quickly, saluted, and hovered at attention.-
[19:28] <@Minaplo> [Amongst the crew were two notable figures. The first was a very tall, lanky figure: a Defector. this Defector wore robes of bright white, contrasting with the vivid purple of his plumage. His mask was unadorned, and as of yet remained featureless. He bowed slowly as Kayoko entered, whilst his crest-feathers shimmered in a languid, harmonious pattern.-
[19:30] <@Minaplo> [The other was human. A tall black-skinned young man with high cheekbones, short black hair and vivid red eyes, wearing no uniform except a close-fitting bodysuit. Unlike the others, he was literally standing at attention, his feet planted firmly on the ground.]
[20:17] <Kayoko> "At ease." As she floated to the edge of the Command Level and made the same simple introduction to those below, she privately wondered how long it'd be before she found that tiresome. She imagined the answer was 'not long', but there were worse crosses to bear.-
[20:17] <Kayoko> "All Section Chiefs, please make sure your departments are ready to cast off. If there are any concerns, bring them to me. I'm going to speak to Commander Franco," she did not look back at the stubbled man, "and then I'll make the rounds. Initial orders have us making a run to Grand Junction in Zeruel and back."
[20:23] <Minaplo> ["Captain?" Asked the young man. "Idris El-Hashem, your Evangelion. Shall I initialise the artificial gravity?"]
[20:26] <Kayoko> "Please."
[20:31] <Minaplo> [Idris closed his eyes for a moment. Everyone felt a quick, gentle mental message. ("Initialising artificial gravity in five seconds. Please be careful.")-
[20:32] <Minaplo> [Idris was clearly not an idiot. He knew better than to turn the gravity from 0.00 to 1.00 in a single second. Instead he turned it on slowly, gradually over the next ten minutes, giving time for people to land safely and for plates suspended in mid-air to float gently to earth instead of smashing like dry biscuits.-
[20:33] <Minaplo> [Franco turned toward Kayoko expectantly as the other chiefs made for their stations.]
[21:18] <Kayoko> "Seemed like it'd be best to check our footing first," she said. She ignored the captain's chair for the moment in favour of floating behind his, giving them a bit of distance from the Warfare station.-
[21:18] <Kayoko> She extended a hand. "I imagine we'll get a better feel for one another over the next few days, but I wanted to start things off by asking for your honesty as we get started. Does that work for you?"
[21:22] <Minaplo> ["Yes, ma'am." Said Franco. After a moment he took her hand and shook it.]
[21:32] <Kayoko> "Good." She watched his face for a moment, then looked over her shoulder. "Come on, Commander. We may as well speak privately."-
[21:32] <Kayoko> With whatever combination of floating and walking the gravity necessitated, she followed the left hand ramp towards the captain's office without looking to see if he followed.
[21:35] <Minaplo> [The office was a simple affair: three straight walls, with the fourth on an inwardly curving angle. A desk and computer sat facing the door, behind which was a transparent surovite window.-
[21:36] <Minaplo> [Franco followed Kayoko in silently. He stood, hands folded behind his back.]
[21:51] <Kayoko> "Please, sit," she said, making a little gesture towards the guest chairs as she rounded the desk. She did stop long enough to admire the window, but then she took her own seat.-
[21:52] <Kayoko> "I've seen your record," she said, folding her hands in front of her, "And I respect that this posting might be difficult for you. Were that the case, in the spirit of honesty I'd prefer to know now rather than later."
[21:53] <Minaplo> [Franco sat.-
[21:54] <Minaplo> [He was silent for a few long seconds, his hands folded in his lap. "I don't like the idea of starting our professional relationship off by questioning your ability, but considering my role of XO and your wish for me to speak freely, then I confess that I have my doubts about your assignment as commanding officer of this vessel, ma'am."-
[21:57] <Minaplo> ["I'm not questioning your graduation results or the quality of your previous experience, but rather its quantity. There are plenty of officers in the service who would be worthy of being chosen as the captain of a brand new Minerva-class, and if it were up to me I would choose them over someone who hasn't commanded so much as a destroyer before."-
[22:00] <Minaplo> ["Now it's not my place to question the wisdom of Starfleet Command. I don't have all the information, and as a primogen I'm more than aware that many of our superiors received greater postings than this at a much younger age. Perhaps that factors in. Perhaps thirty years of peace has made us complacent, a little careless with our deployments. Maybe it's a case of who you know and not what. Or maybe you really are as good as they believe. I hope the latter is the case."-
[22:02] <Minaplo> ["But I do have misgivings. That said, I'm not here to undermine your command, Captain. I'll be honest with you, but I'll do it in private channels only, and I'll do my best to give you a fair assessment."-
[22:03] <Minaplo> ["But I'm not about to let inexperience endanger the lives of the people on board this ship."]
[22:16] <Kayoko> She listened to all this patiently and calmly, even seeming faintly amused by the sheer volume. When he finally finished, she clapped her hands gently together. "Of course you're not. That would be stupid, and I didn't go to the trouble of picking an idiot XO."-
[22:16] <Kayoko> "So long as you use private channels first, be as honest as you feel is necessary. I don't care for disrespect, but I don't consider any of what you just said disrespectful. Perfectly sensible questions, all of them."
[22:26] <Minaplo> ["So long as we have an understanding, ma'am." Said Franco calmly.-
[22:27] <Minaplo> ["… Am I to understand that you picked me for this position because of my reputation, then, Captain?"]
[22:30] <Kayoko> "Oh, yes," she said idly. "They tried to caution me against it, but I have my reasons."
[22:30] <Minaplo> ["Am I privy to those reasons, Captain?"]
[22:34] <Kayoko> "Not for now," she replied. "If I ever earn enough of your respect to hear your version of the Berlin story, maybe then."
[22:59] <Minaplo> ["Understood, ma'am." Said Franco blandly.]
[23:03] <Kayoko> She gave him a broad smile. "Then unless there were any other concerns, Commander, I'd ask that you go and ensure our Superheavy compliment is loaded and ready."
[23:06] <Minaplo> ["Yes, ma'am." Said Franco, standing, saluting, and departing.]
[23:12] <Kayoko> She busied herself with her computer, checking manifests (Which included the unpleasant revelation that Engineering had given her a boarding harpoon in place of an actual capital weapon) and skimming reports on her top-level officers.-
[23:12] <Kayoko> But when ten minutes passed she sighed, carefully tied her hair back with the aid of normal gravity and returned to the bridge.
[23:17] <Minaplo> ["Captain?" Said Tran. She didn't stand at attention- generally that custom was only once or twice a day, or else Helm would be up and down constantly instead of actually piloting their ship.-
[23:18] <Minaplo> ["I've cleared our departure with CFY traffic control. We're clear to go when you're ready."-
[23:18] <Minaplo> [At that same moment, Kayoko's official personal comm beeped.]
[23:32] <Kayoko> "Thank you, Ensign," she said as she passed. Once she was on the ramp, she fished out the bulkier milspec comm they were to use while on operations. Back home she wouldn't have had to resort to the device itself to check her messages, but that was that.
[23:36] <Minaplo> ["XO reporting all Superheavies accounted for."]
[23:54] <Kayoko> Something about the text that followed made her smile, and she sent something in return before tucking the screen away again.
[23:55] <Minaplo> [Standing at the battlemap was the Defector from earlier. As Kayoko ascended to Com, the Defector turned toward her, his mask's lower half twisting fluidly into a facsimile of a human mouth. "Captain Hyuga. We have yet to be formally introduced…"-
[23:56] <Minaplo> [The Defector's voice was dignified, rich and harmonious.]
[00:13] <Kayoko> "I'm afraid so," she agreed as she crossed her hands across her chest and bowed deeply. "I apologise. If it were up to me I would've met all key personnel ahead of time."
[14:38] <Minaplo> ["I understand. There's a joy in the spontaneous meeting, Captain, no harm done."-
[14:40] <Minaplo> ["Let me introduce myself. I am Calligrapher-of-the-Ultraviolet-Inks, of the first pod of the 86th generation of the House Drawing-Shadows-With-Fire. Violet Shadowfire for short."]
[14:55] <Kayoko> "Lovely to meet you," she replied. "I hope we've made suitable preparations for you and your pod?"
[15:04] <Minaplo> ["Yes." Said Violet. "We appreciate the anti-telepathic gilding around our quarters, as always. Besides, we have spent most of our lives in a tiny, bitty, cubicle-esque room on a Homeship, so we are not picky."]
[15:15] <Kayoko> "Well, at least we can offer something better than that," she said, grinning. "Have you been serving as Attache long?"
[15:19] <Minaplo> ["No. Only fifteen years."]
[15:43] * Kayoko nodded. "Well, things will be quiet for a while at least. Fourteen days in the Celestial Way, then we'll be joining 2nd Outer Sphere fleet to really begin work."
[15:54] <Minaplo> ["Indeed."-
[15:55] <Minaplo> [Violet waved a hand over the battlemap. It flared to life, showing the Federation. The Celestial Way was highlighted in red.-
[16:06] <Minaplo> ["The 2nd Fleet has been spending its time charting nearby systems. I imagine we will be asked to do the same." Said Violet.-
[16:06] <Minaplo> ["What interests me are these." He circled his hand around four of the way-lines breaking off from the Zeruel system. "These appeared only a few years ago. It isn't unheard of for Celestial Way-lines long disconnected to suddenly reconnect, but I'm fascinated to see what lies on the other side."-
[16:07] <Minaplo> ["… Unfortunately, if prudently, it seems Command wants to fortify the Zeruel system before disturbing anything that might lie beyond it."]
[16:14] <Kayoko> "That might take a while," she noted, taking a few steps around the map. "Sisu's Sphere Defense Force is pretty rudimentary."-
[16:14] <Kayoko> "Is there a consensus on what might cause the spontaneous changes in the Way?"
[16:15] <Minaplo> ["Only theories."-
[16:20] <Minaplo> ["As you are aware, we have a degree of taming ability over the Way." Said Violet. He tapped the Sol system hologram; it zoomed in to show the solar system. He circled a space station on the very frontier of the system. "This is Eleusis Gate, a Way-Line Station. It broadcasts a signal that inhibits access to the Coreward Way-Line from this side. So anyone on the Coreward Way-Line
[16:20] <Minaplo> can enter Sol freely… But they cannot return to the Line without permission from Eleusis."-
[16:23] <Minaplo> ["Practically every spacefaring state nows how to build these sorts of stations." Said Violet. "But really, we don't have any idea of the long-term effects. One theory, then, is that these Way-Line Stations can stabilise erratic Way-Lines, causing them to suddenly reconnect."-
[16:23] <Minaplo> ["But testing that would require a lot of effort, and there's too many variables." Said Violet.]
[16:32] <Kayoko> "Another question for the Library, maybe."
[16:34] <Minaplo> ["One of millions."]
[16:38] <Kayoko> "Mm."-
[16:38] <Kayoko> "So if it were up to you we'd be out exploring the new frontier?" she asked, gesturing towards the new lines in Zeruel.
[16:42] <Minaplo> [Violet folded his hands together.-
[16:43] <Minaplo> ["Yes. But many would disagree, and I believe they are right."]
[16:49] <Kayoko> "Probably so," she agreed cheerfully. "And yet… a genuine stellar mystery to explore? That would be interesting."-
[16:49] <Kayoko> "Maybe some day."
[16:51] <Minaplo> ["Yes." Said Violet, bringing the map back to the Zeruel system. "Maybe some day…"]
[17:01] <Kayoko> The next hour passed quickly, a flurry of last-minute system checks and final preparations as Kayoko spoke to the rest of the section chiefs. It wouldn't be all that long before everything was in place for the Captain to give the ship-wide announcement: "FSS Valletta is ready to cast off."-
[17:01] <Kayoko> Now seated in her chair at the top of the Command Level, she released the button for the PA and turned her attention to the lower level. "Ensign Tran, if you would?"
[17:18] <Minaplo> ["Yes, ma'am!" Said Tran. Her hands raced over the console. "Heading directly ahead, ten percent sublight."-
[17:19] <Minaplo> [The Valletta started to move. The movement wasn't sudden- a very slight jolt, a hint of vibration, but the world beyond the viewscreen began to move. The spacedock 'ribcage' began to recede from view…-
[17:19] <Minaplo> ["Clearing spacedock perimeter in ten, nine, eight…"-
[17:20] <Minaplo> [There was an odd anxiety, tension to the next few seconds, as though the Valletta might suddenly turn and dive-bomb a hapless rib.-
[17:20] <Minaplo> ["Two, one…"-
[17:21] <Minaplo> ["We have cleared spacedock!" Said Tran, a wide grin on her face. As if on cue, the rest of the bridge let out cheers and began to clap.-
[17:25] <Minaplo> [Tran turned. "Captain, I have a course plotted. Once we're a hundred km out of the fleet yard, we'll dirac jump to 15,000 km starward of Eleusis Gate, then activate the Waydrive, heading on a direct course for the Zeruel system. Once in-system, we'll jump to within 15,000km of Grand Junction. Estimated travel time is six days, fifteen hours. Because Celestial Way travel is in realtime
[17:25] <Minaplo> and we're not making any astronomic Dirac jumps, there'll be no drift between our age and that of the universe. With your approval, I'll put the plan into action immediately."-
[17:30] <Kayoko> She'd clapped along with the rest of the bridge, but Tran's question earned just the briefest moment of hesitation. Without thinking about it, she settled one hand below the hollow of her neck, and then nodded. "Permission granted."
[17:31] <Minaplo> ["Understood, ma'am!"-
[17:32] <Minaplo> [A minute or so later, the space around the Valletta shimmered momentarily, then folded in on itself, erasing the Valletta from existence- or so it seemed. On the far end of the solar system, the Valletta reappeared.-
[17:33] <Minaplo> ["My first starship jump." Said Idris with a small smile.-
[17:35] <Minaplo> [The Valletta entered the Celestial Way a few minutes later. Emitters along the ship's hull pulsed momentarily, striking an area shortly ahead of the vessel. A swirl of white light spun into view, enclosed the ship, squeezed- and then to onlookers, retracted backwards, taking the ship with it.-
[17:35] <Minaplo> [Within the Valletta, there was a moment of breathlessness, a little bit like being squeezed extremely tightly… And then reality restored itself. All was well.-
[17:36] <Minaplo> [The world outside the Valletta's windows had changed. Instead of a great blackness, all was white, dotted with tiny black points like stars- stars that streaked by as they moved.-
[17:38] <Minaplo> [With clearance already granted, they would be able to head to Zeruel without any interruption.-
[17:39] <Minaplo> […-
[17:40] <Minaplo> [At the end of the day, Captain Kayoko Hyuga would finally have a chance to turn command of the vessel over to the night shift crew, under the auspices of the sleepless Idris. Then, she would be free to retire to her quarters, and maybe have a meal if she hadn't yet eaten that week.-
[17:46] <Minaplo> [The quarters was simple and comfortable. It had a double bed, a desk, computer, attached bathroom and small refrigerator. There were also small, empty bookshelves.-
[17:47] <Minaplo> [But on the desk was a parcel, wrapped up in brown paper and string. On untying it, Kayoko would find… A picture.-
[17:48] <Minaplo> [A large picture, one to hang on a wall, perhaps. It was done entirely by hand-drawing instead of painting, in a familiar, semi-lifelike, semi-stylised fashion…-
[17:55] <Minaplo> [It wasn't a single image, but a handful of them, like a comic book. Each panel represented a scene from Kayoko's life, one she'd find instantly recognisable from family photos: a little baby, still in blankets; Kayoko standing proudly in a Euphrates marsh, clutching a little green frog; Kayoko's first day of school; Kayoko running wild in the State Library of Baghdad, a flustered
[17:55] <Minaplo> librarian looking onwards; sitting in a circle of Defectors, saying something; then high school, the Youth Cadets, then graduation. Her eighteenth birthday. Kayoko's first day at the Academy, resplendent in her cadet uniform. Her 21st birthday for good measure. Academy graduation, and… Today, her standing in front of the Valletta's chair.-
[17:58] <Minaplo> [There were a few little touches…-
[18:00] <Minaplo> [Firstly, the level of detail improved markedly the closer to the modern day the picture's subject was. The little newborn Kayoko was pretty rudimentary; the Kayoko standing in front of the captain's chair was lovingly detailed.-
[18:01] <Minaplo> [Secondly, every picture was coloured, but they all depicted Kayoko having black hair and blue eyes- even when the picture was of Kayoko when her hair was blue and eyes red.-
[18:01] <Minaplo> [And thirdly, it was named: "The flowering of the new generation", and signed, simply, "Auntie R."-
[18:02] <Minaplo> [A personal gift- but one that kept her family background suitably downplayed. This was about Kayoko.]
[18:22] <Kayoko> She wasn't sure how long she stared at it, fingers tracing the edges of the panels and the figures within. She lingered on a few: The girl in the marsh, the library, and the carefully detailed final figure.-
[18:22] <Kayoko> Sometimes without meaning to they lingered on the empty spaces where she knew people should be.-
[18:22] <Kayoko> But before she laid down to sleep, she made sure to give the picture pride of place over her desk. For the rest of the journey it would remain one of the only personal decorations she saw fit to display.


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