Disclaimer: I do not own Star Ocean 4 or the characters from the game. I simply own the OCs. I don't profit financially from this fanfiction piece.

Author's Notes: Happy holidays, everyone! It's a bit late, but I bring forth a holiday story! More notes at the end! Please enjoy and let me know what you think!


The holidays were something of a mixed bag for him. On the one hand, Stephen loved watching his staff getting creative through Welch's item creation station. The holiday season promised to be a first on many levels. Space travel, their friends in the Eldarians, and, according to reports from The Aquila and The Calnus, newly found friends and allies in a race called the Morphus, the joy and festivities promised to be exceptionally exciting, so the enthusiasm for the holidays had already hit an all-time high, and it was only the beginning of October.

'Good thing I told them they can't decorate until after the American holiday of Thanksgiving,' Stephen told himself. 'Otherwise, it might look like an elf vomited in the command center.' A slight chuckle escaped him. 'And I can't wait to see Shimada's face when everything goes up. He'll have an apoplexy.'

"Be nice, Stephen," a voice whispered. It reminded him of his grandmother. "Everyone has a story that they don't tell anyone, and you know some of his."

His gaze strayed across the room, and his amusement faded a little.

On the other hand, the holidays also promised to be on the lonely side for the Moonbase commander. The figurines on the shelf opposite of his desk reminded him of the family he'd lost before the war started and during the war. Not just family but friends who went through hell with him when his grandparents and then his great aunts had passed away, and then the war started, taking even more of his extended family than he ever believed was possible.

Stephen blew out a breath and propped his elbows on his desk. A small lump formed in his throat.

"Is there something the matter, Commander?"

Stephen's eyes roved to the door. Lieutenant Heinz, his tablet and a cup of coffee in hand, gazed in concern at him. Blinking owlishly, Stephen shook his head and lowered his hands.

"No," he replied. "At least, not in a way anyone can help."

"Are you sure about that?" Heinz inquired. "How will you know if you don't say?"

Stephen didn't reply right away. His focus remained on the figurines and the photo nestled behind them, an item he'd forgotten he'd tucked away when he set up the shelf. In the picture were his grandparents and his mother. They gathered around the five-year-old version of him as he proudly displayed the Yule log he'd made for their winter solstice celebration.

"I don't recall what I wanted for the new year," he murmured absently.

"Commander?" Lieutenant Heinz inquired. Stephen smiled sadly and shook his head.

"I'm just missing a lot of my family and friends who are no longer with us, Lieutenant," he answered. "We're heading into the time of year my mother and grandmother loved." He glanced at his calendar. The date read October 1, 10 S.D. "My grandmother's birthday is today, and, within a year of meeting her friends, Bethany, Lorelei, and Tiffan at the University of Pennsylvania, this was the day they'd at least try to go hiking to find log chunks to decorate." He laughed quietly. "I remember the first time they took me to find a Yule log. I was so little, and I wanted to find the biggest chunk of wood possible."

"Sounds like you had a fun time," Heinz stated. He took the chair opposite of Stephen. "I can understand why this might be a difficult time for you."

"Thank you, and it was a lot of fun. I was so excited, I wanted to decorate my log as soon as we got back home, but we didn't have everything we needed right away, and the log needed to air out, just a little bit. I just don't remember what I wished for at the Winter Solstice party they held." He smiled then caught the wistful expression on Heinz's face, and a wave of sympathy and remorse hit him. He lowered his voice. "And I forget exactly how much the war changed the way we celebrate and all that we lost as a result."

"Our celebrations weren't that bad," the younger man said. Stephen raised his hand.

"I misspoke a little," Stephen interjected. "I know the celebrations weren't that bad. Everyone has done the best that they could with what we have left, given how everything has changed. But have you ever had a living blue spruce pine tree or any type of a pine tree in the center of your living room, decorated in the same way we decorate the artificial ones now? Have you had a Christmas wreath of fresh pine branches?"

"No." Heinz frowned. "The trees that remain are too irradiated for that."

"My point exactly," Stephen murmured. "We changed the way we celebrated because our world changed. We had to, if we wanted to maintain some sort of normalcy in our lives. Just like the way we celebrate will change as we explore new, habitable planets. This isn't a bad thing, really. It's just a sign of our creativity and resilience. My mother tried during the war to keep things as normal as possible, but it just wasn't quite the same after my grandparents passed on."

"I never quite thought of it that way," Heinz murmured. "I hope to someday be able to celebrate the holidays the way you've described, Commander. It's inspiring, to say the least. Unfortunately, I don't see it happening for some time."

"And why's that?" Stephen asked, an idea popping into his head, an idea that sounded so much like something his entire family would do, if given half a chance. He cocked his head at his personal assistant. Heinz blinked.

"Because I have duties here to oversee," the lieutenant replied. "The same as you, sir. Space exploration is quite demanding."

"That it is," Stephen replied, taking to his computer. He called up the email address of the U.S.T.A. council. If he brought his request to Shimada, he knew the idea would be shot down immediately, and he'd long since found out if he wanted anything specifically done, he had to find ways to get around the Deputy Director. "But it's also a good thing to allow ourselves some simple pleasures now and then. Self-care, my grandmother and aunts would say. It's how we're able to keep going when everything around us feels like it's going to hell."

"Sir? Do you mind if I ask what you're doing?" Heinz inquired.

"That, my dear lieutenant," Stephen smiled, "is going to be a surprise. Now. What did you come in here to tell me? Have we heard back from Almedio and Maverick lately? And what about the Aeos base? How are they holding up?"

"Well," and Heinz adjusted his glasses, "Supreme Commander Gaghan of the Eldarian fleet will be arriving within the hour for a tour of the Moonbase."

"This is a rather unexpected visit," Stephen remarked.

"Indeed, it is. Shimada is trying to whip everyone into a frenzy about not making him look bad. As for the rest, it's appearing to be the usual. Captain Maverick has no issues with his crew, and it seems to be growing. It says here he's added a second Morphus to his roster, along with a Roakian named Sarah. Almedio is expressing concerns over his Eldarian addition, the Captain of the Thirteenth Independent Armored Division. And Grafton is still waiting for the next shipment of supplies from Earth, what little bit we can afford to send, anyway. Almedio and Maverick are doing the best that they can, but their ships can only hold so much beyond what their crews need."

"Depending on what I hear back from Command Central, tell him, he can expect them soon," Stephen said. The entire time Heinz spoke, the commander composed his email and hit send. He swiveled his chair around and grinned at his assistant. "Let's go greet our Eldarian allies, shall we?"

xXx-Tis-The-Season-xXx

'Humans are such fascinating creatures,' Gaghan mused to himself as he stepped off the transport shuttle and into the Moonbase's docking bay. 'So creative and resilient and yet not quite as aware of the things around them as they should be. Such a young species, in the grand scheme of things.'

Awaiting him were the two commanding officers of the Moonbase, Deputy Director Shimada and Commander Kenny, along with their respective personal assistants. He forgot the names of the three who trailed behind Shimada like lost napkas, but he remembered Lieutenant Heinz quite well. The younger man's abilities reflected his commander's quite well, and Stephen D. Kenny reminded the Eldarian of someone he'd met a long, long time ago, long before Eldarians and Earthlings started their intergalactic communications. He simply couldn't remember the person's name, it had been so long ago.

'I hope I can remember who so I can tell him before either of us pass on,' Gaghan thought. He walked at a sedate pace until he reached the small group of humans. All of them raised their hands in salute, and he returned the gesture.

"My friends," he began, "it has been a while."

"Far too long," Commander Kenny replied, smiling and reaching out a hand. Gaghan grasped it, and the two shook. "How goes the hunt for your Lemuria?"

"I do believe we are pretty close," he replied. He shook hands with Shimada, an awkward situation as the man, in Gaghan's estimation, placed more emphasis on pomp and decorum than actual friendships. "The planet your young Maverick explored first, Lemuris, seems like it is the closest thing our ancestors described."

"The name sounds pretty close," the commander commented.

"That is my thought as well," Gaghan said. They headed for the main hangar bay doors. "If we can meet the young lady who travels with the Calnus crew, we can determine more, but until then, we'll continue to search and to explore. How about you, Commander? How does your search for a new home fare these days?"

"Sadly, not promising," came the response. "I just received an updated report from Aeos, and it's sounding more and more like it's better to be a military outpost than an actual colony, and I'd prefer to find a place that's uninhabited before we start our actual colonization efforts."

"And why is that?" Gaghan tilted his head.

"History," the commander replied. "It's something we didn't have much time to teach our exploration crews."

"Other things took priority," Shimada muttered. "You know that, Kenny."

"I do," Kenny conceded with a sigh. "I just hope that our remaining flight crews will at least possess some sense of human decency and learn about any cultures they come into contact with before deciding that they know better. If they don't, I might just be hearing from my grandmother on such a thing."

"It's hard to hear back from the dead," Shimada retorted.

This intrigued Gaghan.

"I wasn't aware your species spoke with the dead," he murmured.

"It depends on the culture," Kenny responded smoothly. They strode along a winding corridor. "And my grandmother believed in reincarnation. Though she passed on a long time ago, a part of me expects to see her again before my death. I just don't know if she'll come back as a human being or something else. She once told me, after they'd discovered the Trappist B system and that it was capable of sustaining live, she used to live there once. She just instinctively knew she'd been there."

"And how would you know who she is?" Gaghan inquired. A small chill stole over him. While Eldarians as a whole no longer believed in things like gods and ghosts, to hear of a human believing in such a thing was nothing short of both alarming and thrilling. "That is, if she were to come back as something else."

"She possessed a very strong personality, Commander Gaghan," Kenny chuckled. "It's something she's probably carried with her from each life. It's also what's probably gotten her killed in many of her lives."

"Killed?" One of Shimada's assistants echoed.

"Sounds like a bunch of nonsense," another one of them muttered.

"How would such a conversation even come up?" a third one asked.

"Easily," Shimada answered. He, too, chuckled, and it was quite the genuine sound coming from the director. "Victorea Schmidt wasn't exactly a shy personality, as the commander stated, and she didn't raise her children to be doormats, either. That's why the commander and I have such frequent . . . disagreements." There was an odd glint in the director's eye, and Gaghan tilted his head. "By the way, Commander, the U.S.T.A. council contacted me. They approved of our little vacation to the Aeos exploration base. I'm so glad you asked them for me."

"Any time," the commander replied.

"Trip?" Gaghan echoed.

"Yes," Commander Kenny said. "You see, today is a very special day for me, Commander. If my grandmother had lived longer than what she had, she'd be quite the old lady today, and part of how we used to celebrate was to take a hike in the mountains we lived near for holiday decorations. We can't exactly do that on Earth any longer, but there are some new worlds out there that we can. Before you arrived, I put in the request for Deputy Director Shimada and me to travel to Aeos. It coincides with Captain Grafton's request for further supplies."

"And we can get some more crew members on the ground," Shimada added.

A collective, surprised gasp rose from behind the three commanders. Given what Gaghan heard about Shimada and Kenny from the Earthlings exploring Aeos, the two actually agreeing and working together was something of a rare occurrence.

"That sounds quite charitable of you," Gaghan remarked.

"I knew the commander's grandmother long before he was born," Shimada said. "And she helped me at a point in my life when no one else would." He kept his gaze straight instead of looking at either him or Commander Kenny. "To be angry at such a simple request would be to dishonor my memory of her." He lowered his voice. "It's the very least I can do."

"I see." Gaghan kept his expression schooled, but inwardly he smiled. Shimada's restraint on the matter pleased him greatly. "Perhaps then we can be of assistance to you in getting you to Aeos. Just tell us when you plan to leave, and we shall help you get there."

"Five hours should be more than sufficient," Shimada said. "Don't you think so, Commander?"

"You might want to make it six," Kenny answered. "Allow for the unexpected."

"Very well then. Six hours it is."

"But sir," one of the assistants protested. "What are we going to do without you here?"

"Who said you were staying here?" Shimada snarled. "I have every intention of taking you with me!"

xXx-Tis-The-Season-xXx

Three days later

"We're entering Aeos's atmosphere, Captain," Faize murmured. "What are your orders?"

"Nothing as of yet," Edge replied. He scrubbed at his eyes. "Just . . . let's get some rest while we're here, okay?"

"As you wish," Faize mumbled.

Edge fought back the urge to scream and sigh at the same time, and he gripped his hair as tightly as possible. Since they'd rescued Sarah from a ritualistic sacrifice, his Eldarian friend had become quiet, almost reclusive from the rest of the crew, and Edge didn't know what to do to get his friend to talk to him. Something bothered Faize. That much was certain, but trying to get the younger male to talk was like . . . well, Edge had heard the expression once of trying to get a turtle to use a toothbrush, but that made absolutely no sense to him. Turtles had no teeth.

"Landing time, less than one minute," Reimi announced. "It looks like we have a full hangar. The Aquila is here along with another Eldarian ship. This one's larger."

"It's a supply ship that's arrived from Earth," Bacchus added. "According to my readings, there's been an increase in the number of Earthlings at the base. There also appear to be some high-ranking officers among them, given the increased activity taking place."

"Great," Edge moaned when Myuria perked up at the mention of the Aquila. "Myuria, could you wait to kill Crowe until after whoever these officers are have left?"

"I make no promises, boy," the Morphus woman answered. "But, given the unique situation, I believe I can wait until I find him alone."

"That's something, I guess," Edge muttered. "Though I'd still prefer it if you didn't start anything with him."

"Again, no promises."

The ship landed with a light thud, and the hangar bay doors closed around The Calnus, effectively cutting off the sun's light. Once the final landing procedures were finished, Edge leaned back in his chair. A light ache started to form behind his temples, and he longed for a hot shower and a lengthy nap. However, his duties as the ship's captain prevented him from getting much sleep.

'Though I doubt any other captain ever has had to deal with two hyperactive fifteen-year-olds, one of which likes to terrorize a ditzy woman with wings by threatening to eat her wings, or a jealous first officer. Add into this whatever's bugging the hell out of Faize and Myuria's desire to kill Crowe, it's a wonder I get any downtime at all,' Edge mused. 'When I wanted to catch up with Crowe as a captain, this isn't what I had in mind!'

"Edge," Reimi chimed in. "We have an incoming message from Captain Grafton. He's requesting that the crews of the Aquila and Calnus meet in the command center in ten minutes for a briefing. It seems that Deputy Director Shimada is here."

"What?" Edge's eyes bulged, and he nearly fell out of his chair. "Shimada? Is here?"

"That's what Captain Grafton's communication said," she answered. "They're going to want a mission update."

"Dammit," Edge growled. He flew out of his chair. "This is the last thing I need right now."

"I take it this Shimada is someone of importance?" Bacchus asked.

"Sadly, yes," Edge muttered. "He's the head of the U.S.T.A. and the one I have to report to. He's never satisfied with anything, and if he even remotely thinks it makes him look bad . . ." He huffed and shook his head. "That's all he cares about, making sure he looks perfect in front of everyone else while many of our friends and fellow crew members died just to get this far. He's . . ."

Edge stopped himself before he could continue any further in his tirade.

"I'm surprised he's even here at all," Reimi commented.

"Same here. He's not exactly the hands-on type." Edge exhaled. "Let's get this over with, shall we?" He waited for everyone to dislodge themselves from their seats and make themselves as presentable as possible before he led them to the base command center.

Along the way, they passed by small groups of Eldarians and SRF crew of anywhere from three to five people. Each person spoke animatedly amongst each other, old friends catching up and introducing to new. Edge allowed himself a small smile.

'I know Captain Grafton's been requesting more personnel for some time now,' he mused. 'I wonder what changed Shimada's mind in sending more. Whatever. It doesn't matter. I'm just glad that he did. Everyone here was looking so tired the last time we were here. It felt like ages ago. I'm just not looking forward to this briefing with Shimada. We have nothing to show for our efforts. Not yet, anyway, and I just know he isn't going to like it. Dammit, why did he have to come now, of all times? What the hell does he want exactly, anyway, and what's he doing here?'

They reached the command center with two minutes to spare at the same time as Crowe and his crew. Edge's jaw dropped, and he forgot to walk, for a moment. Not only was Deputy Director Shimada there, along with his three yes-men, but so were Supreme Commander Gaghan, Commander Kenny and Lieutenant Heinz. The group conversed quietly amongst themselves until his crew, and Crowe's, arrived, then all eyes were on them.

All thoughts flew from Edge's mind, but, fortunately for him, his feet remembered how to function. They carried him as he led his crew to the appropriate distance away from the deputy director and from his hero, Commander Kenny. He saluted smartly and said, "Captain Edge Maverick of the SRF 003 Calnus, reporting for duty, sir!"

"Captain Crowe F. Almedio of the SRF 001 Aquila also reporting for duty, sir."

Edge mentally cringed at how calm and collected his friend and rival sounded compared to him, but he couldn't help it. Stephen D. Kenny was the first human to travel at the speed of light, earning himself the nickname of Lightspeed Kenny. How could he not admire that? Arnold Maverick, his father, spoke highly of Kenny and his bravery. His heart pounded away in his chest, loud enough in his own hearing that he was certain everyone else could sense his anxiety and excitement as well.

'Of course, Crowe can be calmer,' Edge groused to himself. 'He's actually gotten to meet Commander Kenny before this, the lucky bastard.'

Deputy Director Shimada and Commander Kenny returned the salutes, but it was Shimada who spoke to them.

"At ease," he said, his voice in his perpetual sneer. "I hope you have good news for us."

"Well," Edge began.

"I'll take that as a no," Shimada muttered. "Naturally."

"It isn't for a lack of trying," Edge blurted out. Irritation flashed through him. "It's just that . . ."

"Save it," Shimada stated. "I really have no time for your excuses, Captain Maverick. Nor yours, Captain Almedio. Either we're finding planets in the Goldilocks zones or we're not. It's that simple."

"How right you are, sir," one of the yes men stated.

"Indeed," another one piped in.

"We're finding them, sir," Crowe stated.

"Oh really?" Shimada shook his head. "Do tell."

"If I may," Bacchus interjected.

"And who are you?" Shimada inquired.

"I am Bacchus D-79 of the Morphus," he said, his voice a soothing balm to Edge. "I have worked with both Mr. Crowe and Mr. Edge since we met on the Cardianon home planet, Mr. Edge more so."

"I see," the deputy director sniffed. "Continue."

"The worlds we have traveled to are, indeed, suitable for human habitation," the Morphus man continued. "Aside from Aeos, however, both Lemuris and Roak are already inhabited. Given their levels of civilization, for humans to travel and colonize there could have long-term, adverse effects on those civilizations, at least if care is not taken."

"Hrmm." Shimada closed his eyes.

Edge glanced nervously at Commander Kenny, who had remained silent the entire time. His hero's silence unnerved him just a little.

'Where is the brave, courageous man my father spoke of?' Edge wondered.

"I believe Commander Kenny and I shall be the judge of that," Shimada stated.

"What?" Edge's heart dropped in his chest.

"Deputy Director," Crowe interjected, "Bacchus isn't one to say such a thing lightly and out of hand."

"I'm well aware that he isn't," Shimada retorted. "I could tell from the way he spoke he's at least competent in what he's doing. Captain Maverick should be so lucky he has such an astute being in his crew. However, that doesn't help us with our dilemma. Like I said, Commander Kenny and I shall be the judges of these planets. Which of your ships is in the best condition?"

"Sir?"

"Captain Grafton?" Shimada ignored him and turned his attention to the Aeos base commander. Grafton held up a tablet.

"From the looks of it, sir, The Calnus is in better condition," Grafton replied. "The Aquila needs some overdue maintenance."

"Very well." Shimada looked directly at Crowe, his eyes cold and hard. "Captain Almedio, you'll be joining Commander Kenny, Lieutenant Heinz, and myself with Captain Maverick and the Calnus crew. Your crew may take a rest for a while."

"Sir?" Crowe inquired.

"We leave in two hours," the deputy director said. "That is all."

xXx-Tis-The-Season-xXx

The interior of The Calnus wasn't much to look at, Shimada decided, but then it wasn't exactly meant to be comfortable. He stood in what passed in the recreational area of the ship as Maverick and Crowe discussed the rooming arrangements with each other. Presumably, the rest of the crew went about changing where they slept in the upper level of the ship to accommodate the changes and the newcomers. Thanks to Kenny's prattling on Earth, Supreme Commander Gaghan decided he wanted to tag along as well on this insane mission, and he'd chosen the captain of the Thirteenth Independent Armored Division to accompany them.

Right away, Shimda demanded that he and Stephen share a room, and if not him and Stephen, then at least Heinz had to share the commander's quarters. He'd not failed to notice the bright gleam in Maverick's eyes when he finally understood he'd be traveling with a certified hero.

'Like I'm going to let Kenny hog all of the attention while we're on this stupid endeavor,' he groused to himself. 'That boy doesn't even know what he's in for when it comes to the commander and his crazy ideas. Then again . . .'

A small pang of longing stabbed Shimada in the heart, and he glanced away from the two young men butting heads. The two reminded him of a time when he'd not been quite so ambitious, before the war started. Kenny's request to go hunting for a yule log, of all things, brought forth a sense of nostalgia he'd forgotten existed. The request had also called certain memories back to him, things he wished he could forget.

Like the commander's grandmother. She was the one woman who saw through everything Shimada was. She was the one who saw how much he cared but how he tried to protect himself from the world after the death of his sister by creating the exterior for himself that he had. The commander's grandmother had already been gone when the war hit, taking everything away from Shimada. He missed the old woman's counsel.

'And I curse the fates for lumping me together with one of her descendants because he's too much like her at times,' Shimada scowled to himself. 'Why? Why did she have to grow old and die? Why did she get to be spared the atrocities of the war and not everyone else? Why? And why did I have to go along with this stupid idea of Kenny's? He's going to drive all of us insane with this absurd search, but then maybe I can prove to the council his ineptness. We shall see.'

"You look like you just ate a lemon and decided you didn't like it," Kenny commented. "I'd ask you a penny for your thoughts, but, knowing you, you'd charge me a nickel just to hear you speak."

"I'll have you know this entire mission is stupid," Shimada snorted. "You'll be lucky if you can even find what you're looking for."

"I know," Kenny replied.

"This isn't like traipsing through the woods near your family's homestead," he pointed.

"I know," came the same calm and collected reply.

"Then why do it?" he snarled quietly. "And why drag me along for it?"

"Because," and Kenny exhaled. "Because I wish to find ways of honoring my family, those I still have left and those that have passed on. I want to do this in any way that I possibly can, even if it means things aren't 100% the same. I miss . . . fresh air and wooded places. It'll be good. For both of us. It'll allow us to focus and simply do better at our jobs."

"Hmph. If you say so."

"It's always helped me," Kenny stated, with a wink. "Besides, I know you met my grandmother long before I was born. I'm sure you know she'd be crazy enough to do this as well."

"It's a wonder your family has even survived this long," Shimada remarked drily.

At that, Kenny chuckled, almost darkly.

"It's because my grandmother labeled herself as crazy that I even exist, Shimada." Kenny exhaled and glanced at the viewport. "Gaghan wants to see Lemuris first. From Maverick's descriptions, it sounds like the best place to start."

"Looking for chunks of useless wood?"

"And for potential colonization," Kenny replied. Heinz joined them, and the three of them wandered over to the couch. "There are plenty of people on Earth expressing concerns over human intervention with underdeveloped societies, at least in terms of any technology we take with us."

"I just spoke with Welch," Heinz stated. "The U.S.T.A. council recently received a list of individuals willing to forgo technology in order to leave Earth so they're asking us to see if anything can be found for them. We simply need to get them there, if possible."

"And who's proposing the funding for such an endeavor?" Shimada demanded. His moment of calm ended, he whirled around on Kenny's assistant. His eyes narrowed. A part of him despised how efficient Heinz was compared to his own three, and he longed for the day when Heinz screws up so he could toss it in Kenny's face. "Surely, the council knows we can't simply ferry just anyone anywhere.

The younger man simply adjusted his glasses and glanced at his tablet, "It's been brought to their attention that there's a fund out there somewhere, and the council has asked for verification. They're currently in agreement with you, Director. The U.S.T.A. simply doesn't have the funds for such an endeavor, and they won't do anything until they have proof that this fund exists. Other than that, the only thing I know is that an Alexander Kirkland and Meadow Delacroix are spearheading this movement."

"Great," Shimada growled. "Just what I need. More of your relations butting in where they're not wanted."

He huffed and stalked away from the two and towards the stairs. The Calnus captain quickly sidestepped him upon his approach, and Shimada's lips curled into a sneer. As he climbed the steps to his room, however, a small bubble of hope and anticipation arose within him. If some of Stephen's relatives, blood or not, were involved, then the fund exsited.

'Victorea saw this coming,' he told himself. 'Bethany and Lorelei agreed with her. One of them started it . . . or all three of them did, and that means we can actually do this. Maybe this mission won't be such a waste after all.'

xXx-Tis-The-Season-xXx

"Sir, is everything all right?" Edge asked upon approaching his hero. The commander seemed okay, but his personal assistant appeared baffled. "Is there anything I can do?"

"No." Commander Kenny chuckled. "He just received some news he's not sure how to handle just yet. Give him an hour or so, and the news Heinz delivered will be his own idea."

"Sir?" Edge tilted his head. At the same time, he thought, 'Should I make some ground rules for everyone? And, even if I did, would the director even bother to obey them? I don't like this.'

"We may have some help in the exploration process but on a rather . . . conditional basis," Commander Kenny replied.

"Indeed," Heinz added, "though I'm more confused about the relatives remark."

"Cousins," the commander stated. "I haven't seen them since we started the construction on the Moonbase. It's good to know they've been keeping busy."

"You mean the names I mentioned?" Heinz offered a small smirk. "I see, though I didn't know you were related to the Delacroixs."

"Not officially, but I grew up with Meadow. You'd like her, Heinz."

"Now's not the time to be playing match-maker, Commander," Heinz murmured, his cheeks turning a light shade of pink.

"No?" Again, the commander chuckled, and his mannerisms continued to baffle Edge. "Perhaps another time then. Captain Maverick, would you be so kind as to tell us our first destination?"

"Uh, yes, of course, sir," Edge stammered out quickly. "Supreme Commander Gaghan has requested that we visit Lemuris first."

"Any forested areas?" the older man asked.

By this point, Lymle, Myuria, Bacchus, Crowe, and Meracle had joined them, and the commander held out his hand to Lymle. The young girl promptly obliged him and stood next to him. She leaned her head against his knee.

"If you don't mind me asking, Commander Kenny," Bacchus said, "but how come you're interested in knowing if there are any forested regions on Lemuris?"

"That's easy," Edge stated. "Earth is low on resources, and wood is something we can easily acquire."

"I'm not sure I can condone the random mining of a forest," the metal man murmured. "It could have a devastating impact on Lemuris's atmosphere."

"I agree," Commander Kenny said. "My grandmother taught me as much when it came to Earth's declining forests. But we can always harvest fallen branches and potential seeds from the trees. With them, we can at least try to rehabilitate our planet and stabilize our atmosphere, along with what was preserved in our seed vault near the North Pole*."

"But most of the ground is unsuitable for such things, Commander," Crowe pointed out. Edge nodded his agreement, grinding his teeth a little that he would even be doing so.

"For the moment, yes," Commander Kenny replied. He glanced down and smiled at Lymle. "But, a few days before we left Earth, I spoke with some of our volcanologists. Mount St. Helen's and Mount Fuji are acting up a little. They're spewing some ash into the sky. We have a bit of a silver lining."

"How is that a silver lining?" Bacchus asked before Edge could. "Wouldn't that be more detrimental to the earth's already unstable atmosphere?"

"If people were living above ground, yes. However, humans are currently living in underground and underwater cities, and architects and geologists have taken every measure to ensure any city near a fault line or volcano is safe from damage. That said, volcanic ash is good for fertilizing the soil. We can use that to plant even more seedlings and just . . . watch them grow. There are plenty of people who have studied botany, horticulture, agriculture, and dendrology who can ensure that any plants survive the process."

Edge found himself staring in awe and even greater respect for the commander. Then he nodded, a large smile on his face.

"All right then," he said. "Lemuris it is!"


Notes: Trappist B was discovered in the last two years or so by NASA scientists. It's one of a few systems they believe is capable of sustaining human life, though I'm not remembering how long it would take for humans to get there. Also, when doing research for an original story, I learned about the Goldilocks zone. It's basically the sweet point in a solar system capable of sustaining organic life, such as what we have here on Earth.

Dendrology is the science of trees.

I learned about the seed vault when watching Life After Humans.

Volcanic ash is actually good for the soil.

Commander Kenny's grandmother is an OC of mine who has taken up the Pagan path for spirituality but also embraces all paths when it comes to celebrating the holidays.

The backstories for Shimada and Kenny belong to me.

Stephen D. Kenny was born in 2056 while Shimada was born in 2040, via Star Ocean: Anamnesis