She didn't even see the face of whoever had screamed; it didn't matter. Rena had whipped out her fully-charged phase gun and aimed it at the back of the monster looming over the figure and fired. The only thought echoing in the recesses of her mind was this:

Welcome home, Rena!

==================================================================
Perfect World
Part 4: Rethink

Version 1.1 - Slight Changes

A Star Ocean 2: The Second Story Fanfiction
By Azurite
azurite_moon@yahoo.com

AIM: Meriellen5

DISCLAIMER: No, I don't own Star Ocean 2. Enix made it, Links did the CG, Tri-Ace created it... etc. etc. There's a list of Japanese people who own the character design, battle system, anime, and manga rights, too, but I don't know any of them, so just read and enjoy...

NOTES: Hello, and welcome to yet another one of my SO2 ideas. Well, now it's actually a fic, and I'm ecstatic that I'm finally getting it off the ground. Hopefully my inspiration will last long enough for me to finish this one! ^^; I thought I'd point out two simple things:

1) there are spoilers for up to the part of the game when the party arrives in El and goes to Eluria Tower;

2) this is an odd combination of Rena's scenario and Claude's scenario. I did this because I needed to see what REALLY happened while Claude was on the Calnus, but I also want some PAs that are only available in Rena's scenario to have their "results" here in the fic.

Technically speaking, if SO2 were REAL (as in, they'd finished making Star Ocean EX for the TV and such) then both scenarios would be together... and aside from the confusing-ness of whether or not Dias is part of your group (he's part of the group, as you know by now, but he WILL be in the fic... was that unclear earlier?) then all would be the same, right?

Also, I ignore the "eight-party-member limit" and the rule that says you "can't get so-and-so if you get so-and-so." So you might just see everyone. (Everyone being the 12 playable characters and THEN SOME!)

THANK YOU: To Wonderful Failure and FangFire, who reviewed the first 2 chapters of Perfect World and have kept me going! I know I tend to skip around a lot, and also introduce characters that may not seem important, but they are, really! So keep on reading, and I'll keep on writing!

RECAP: Two years ago, Rena Lanford tried to "save" Claude from a mysterious voice calling him away from their closely-knit group of friends. Instead, she found herself on a spaceship 120 lightyears away from the planet she had known and loved-- and Expel was on its way to destruction. Now, she is the Captain of the Federation flagship Calnus, taking after Claude's father, the famous Ronixis J. Kenni. She is responsible for a ship of cadets surveying the Arctura system, of which Expel is a planet... still... Her mysterious past is revealed to her Commander, Ryuu, and Rena prepares to embark on a mission like never before. She arrives on Expel only to be greeted by a monster, and the life of an innocent villager is in danger...

====================================================================

[ Shingo Forest ]

Rena rolled from underneath the shrubbery which she'd been transported near, and squeezed the trigger of her phase gun without hesitation. In the back of her mind, a million thoughts burbled forth:

Why this, why now? Why weren't all the creatures destroyed after...?

This girl is in danger, I have no time to...

I won't let anyone else's life be destroyed by these monsters!

Rena pinched her eyes shut as she fired, the gun shrilling as its nearly-full energy reserve drained to zero, as the huge beam of energy grew in intensity. The large, gorilla-like monster that had, only moments before, been baring its fangs at the innocent, screaming girl, was growling... then it vanished in an explosion of black dust.

The girl was crouched with her hands over her head in a defensive position-- and once the growling, stomping, thundering, and bright light was gone, she dared to peer up. First one eye, then another-- and as a wave of nausea overwhelmed her, she spied her savior-- a blue haired... it had to be a man, right? -- in an odd bright green jacket and white pants, holding a ...

That was when she passed out.

Rena stared in horror at what she'd done-- at the young girl collapsed at the sight of her. She didn't waste time making second observations, she simply ran back to the transport site and initiated a quick emergency beam-up.

====================================================================

[ Starship Calnus ]

"Okay, so we have to rethink our plan." Rena sighed, running a hand through her hair. She quickly disposed of her green Federation jacket, tossing it offhandedly onto one of the conference room's chairs.

Her second-in-command, Ryuu, eyed Rena warily as she paced about the room.

"Don't you think we should contact the Federation about this?" Ryuu asked, trying to come up with some sort of answer that would appease Rena and her pacing.

"What, and let them spend months deliberating on a plan of action? The only people that knew anything are either here right now," Rena made face, gesturing to herself, "Or are..." Her voice dropped to a sad whisper, "dead."

Ryuu shut up; she was referring to the late Commodore. He'd been like her father for the two years she'd been on Earth, been in the Federation. It was strange how she'd suddenly latched onto him, but that man DID represent her last link to Ensign Kenni, to the world she'd known with him on Arctura 4 -"Expel."

====================================================================

[ Two years previous, Earth ]

Rena hadn't spoken much since she and Commodore Kenni had left the Medical Corps Quarantine Facility some hours earlier. She was heavy-hearted and tired, but it wasn't as if she could simply fall asleep any place comfortable. Everything around her was foriegn and frightening-- none of it at all familiar.

And this was the world Claude had come from?

There was no nature anywhere. No real plants, no animals. There were plenty of strange... creatures, to be sure. Rena was downcast, but not oblivious to the aliens walking around her. Still, none of them looked anything like her. None of the humans had bright blue hair, and certainly none of them had sharply pointed ears.

There were blue-SKINNED people, and some with no hair at all. Some had partially-pointed ears, and others had spots running down their faces and necks. Others had strange ridges lining their foreheads and the bridge of their noses-- and others looked like they didn't have noses at all. Rena, in any other circumstance, would have been fascinated and terribly curious, but now she just wanted to get away from everything.

"Here we are." Commodore Kenni murmured, pressing his fingers against a glowing green panel. They'd been traveling along a conveyer belt for the past 20 minutes, inside a crystal-clear tube that revealed the scenery of the expansive city around them. But Rena had paid it no mind, instead focusing on her feet. She looked up slightly when Commodore Kenni spoke, realizing their surroundings had changed drastically.

The tube opened up in the side as the belt stopped, revealing a stone walkway leading through a lush garden and into a dome-roofed home. It was large and consisting of many buildings, but Rena could only make out the first three, the largest of the trio being dead center, the one that they entered.

Upon entering, Rena spied a woman staring at something in her lap, unmoving.

Commodore Kenni didn't say anything as he approached her, wrapping her in his arms as the woman started to sob uncontrollably. Without words, Rena understood-- this was Claude's mother. She felt like a horrible person here and now-- it was her fault, wasn't it? After all, Claude had warned her to stay away from him when he'd heard the strange voice from that device... that 'communicator.' And maybe if she'd listened... maybe Claude would...!

She didn't understand most of what the people at the Medical Facility had been talking about-- not what the doctors had said about high-energy bodies and a collision with a tremendous gravitational pull. But the grave expression on their faces gave Rena the answer to her unspoken question-- no one would have survived. Regardless of who had taken the communicator, everyone else would be dead.

It should have been me! Rena thought desperately, trying to hold back her own tears as she watched Iria Kenni cry her heart out. She didn't know how much time passed before Iria and the Commodore finally looked up and faced Rena, trembling in the doorway.

"Ah, uh..." Iria started, hiccuping, "You must be Rena. Somenth told me about you over the communicator." Rena didn't know how to respond, but she bowed her head as the woman stood up shakily and approached her. She was startled when she felt a pair of warm arms wrap around her-- a sensation not familiar to her grew from her fingers to her toes-- that warm tingling that told her that she was safe, protected, and loved.

But by strangers? By people that didn't even know her, and could even place blame on her for the death of their son? How could they--?

"I know Claude must have meant a great deal to you too," Iria murmured, holding Rena close and stroking the girl's blue hair, "And it won't be easy to get through this... time. But I'm sure we'll never forget Claude, and all of us together we can help each other out."

Rena swallowed hard-- tears coursed down her face freely now, reddening her cheeks and eyes. She tentatively wrapped her own arms around the older woman, realizing that this woman was now the closest thing she had to a friend or mother-- anyone she could turn to for any sort of comfort. If she didn't embrace it now, she would never be able to.

A sad memory of Dias -leaving Arlia, changing forever- flitted through Rena's vision. As much as she loved and missed the swordsman, she didn't want to become like him. She might have lost everything, but she would start anew... she would learn from what she lost- learn from Claude. He had lost his home, but he'd triumphed and learned to survive. And if Claude could do it, Rena thought, her determination emerging, so could she.

====================================================================

[ Shingo Forest ]

"Yuki! Yuki, where are you?" Claude called out. A frantic tone was starting to creep its way into the young man's voice-- he had no idea where Yuki'd gone. Usually she told him when she was going out, and where she was headed, but this afternoon, she'd simply disappeared.

It was unlike her.

Worry overcame the former Federation Ensign, and he started coming up with ridiculous situations on what could have happened to the young jam-girl. His search had led him here, to the Shingo Forest-- and it was after ducking under the large branches of an ancient tree that he found Yuki, collapsed.

"Yuki!" Claude rushed forward, kneeling before the pink-haired girl sprawled on the ground. Her expression was one of fear-- her eyebrows drawn up on her brow and her lips turned downward in a slight frown. She had seen something in the forest, and luckily, whatever it was hadn't harmed her.

"Yuki... wake up! Please...!" While shaking the young girl, Claude looked around-- no one or nothing to be seen. He quickly focused his attention on Yuki when she stirred, moaning something.

"You saved me..."

Claude leaned in closer to hear Yuki's words, but she sighed, her eyes fluttering open slowly as she realized Claude was propping her up.

"Wha... Wh...?" Yuki looked around, bewildered, slowly rising to her feet by pushing herself up off the ground. She didn't seem to notice Claude, even though she'd awoken in his arms, and began to look around, peering behind trees and foliage.

"Where is it? Is it gone?" Yuki spoke aloud, her gaze curious as she wandered about the small clearing.

"Is WHAT gone? Yuki, what happened?" Claude asked, moving closer to her. He raked a hand through touseled golden hair that had fallen in his face and matted to his forehead; in his worry and rush, he'd sweated running through the forest. He hadn't realized that a girl in danger could invoke such feelings in him. For a moment, he'd seen Rena in his arms instead of Yuki-- but like before, he'd had to push those images and thoughts from his mind.

"There..." Yuki peered behind Claude once more for good measure, "There was some sort of monster. I screamed for help, and then all of a sudden there was this tremendous light, and I swear I saw someone..."

Yuki's description struck a chord in Claude's memory-- one he remembered all too well. After awakening to a mysterious and new world, Claude had seen a frightening monster attacking an innocent girl-- the girl that would eventually capture Claude's heart.

The vivid flashback arose painful feelings in the boy's chest, so he attempted to rid himself of the visuals by shaking his head and asking Yuki for more details.

"I didn't get a good look at him, since I passed out, but I'm sure he was wearing some strange jacket... and he had dark hair like I've never seen before."

Claude pursed his lips; a similar description was given of HIM when he'd first arrived on Expel. He'd never believed himself to be the fabled Warrior of legend. Was it possible that now, after all this time, a new danger was coming to Expel, and the true Warrior had arrived?

It was all just circumstance, Claude told himself. After all, Rena had misunderstood his situation back then, what was to say that Yuki hadn't as well? But then, there was no mysterious stranger wandering about the forest. No trace of any terrible monster-- no anything. Could it be possible that Yuki had just fallen asleep?

No, she'd definitely fainted. But still... could a mysterious stranger, terrifying monster, and glowing light be a product of Yuki's imagination? The girl was known to be creative at times, but...

"We should get back to Arlia now, Yuki. You can tell me everything there." Claude wrapped a reassuring arm around Yuki's shoulder, slowly leading her out of the clearing.

"Y...Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. I don't think this forest is so serene anymore." Yuki held onto Claude's hand that was draped across her shoulder, walking out of Shingo Forest with him. As they left the clearing, a piece of bright green fabric caught on a branch fluttered in the wind, and flew away over the rooftops of Arlia.

====================================================================

[ Starship Calnus ]

"So what... we're going to send teams down to Expel?"

"It's the best idea. Our original mission was to survey this system and make comparative analyses with the former scans..." Rena swallowed, "Commodore Kenni conducted two years ago."

"His scans were pretty informal," Ryuu commented as he scanned some padds, "We're really going to survey this planet?"

"Everything about it. As much as I would love to claim Federation non-interference at this point, it's moot. After all, this is my planet, and my being in the Federation pretty much nullifies any non-interference pact the Federation Council might cite." Rena mused, smirking as she walked down the corridor to the bridge with Ryuu.

"That's a point. But we should still have everyone follow standard unsurveyed planet procedure, and try to blend in with the civilians, right?"

"Of course..." Rena smiled, as they stopped before the lift going up to the bridge. "And I can certainly help with that."

Ryuu's unsure smile met with Rena's bright one. Earlier, she'd been worried about what she'd done, saving an innocent Arlian from a monster. There were so many questions-- why were monsters still on Expel after all this time? Why was it happening all over again-- just like when Claude had arrived? Had the girl from Arlia recognized her? What had happened to her after Rena -in fear and surprise- had just teleported away like that?

Now, she seemed more chipper than ever, with a plan forming in her mind, strategies brewing, and excitement spreading to the cadets that would be involved.

====================================================================

[ Village of Arlia ]

Yuki was trembling, even as she stood, slowly mixing fruit preserves together to form a new jam. Her Uncle, Mr. Hearn, stood behind her, casting a curious, worried expression out towards Claude, who mirrored the shopkeeper's face.

Yuki hadn't wanted to go into more detail about her experience in the forest-- only said she'd encountered some sort of monster, and someone had saved her. She'd passed out, and when she woke up, Claude was there, and her saviour was gone.

Claude, not wanting to press the issue, was left with his own thoughts. The appearance of monsters after all this time was something to be feared-- it wasn't as though every single monster from the time of the Sorcery Globe had been entirely routed... but still, they were uncommon nowadays.

"Claude," Mr. Hearn suddenly spoke, his face brightening, "Aren't you and Yuki going to Cross soon? I seem to remember a messenger from the Queen asking for your presence at the next Lacour Tournament of Arms coming up." He glanced towards Yuki, who continued to stir fruits together, barely paying attention to the new topic of conversation.

"Ah... yeah, Celine planned out this whole thing for us to travel to Lacour together on the Royal Ship with everyone..." Claude scratched behind his ear. He still couldn't get used to the fact that Celine -his friend, Celine, the woman he'd traveled with- was Queen. Well, she would be. King Cross -the one that Claude had met at the start of his 'journey' 2 years ago- had recently passed away, and so his son, Clother -or Chris, as Claude had come to know him by- had been crowned King. Celine was Chris' wife, and as such was entitled to the title of Queen, but she hadn't been formally crowned yet.

They were supposed to leave within the next two days to arrive in Cross on time... the celebration kicking off the Lacour Tournament of Arms was in a month, and he and Celine had already discussed entering together as a Mage-Fighter pair.

"Claude darling, you must admit, it's a wonderful idea! I'm so glad they've reformatted the Tournament to let Mages in, and now they allow Pairs Fighting. It's sure to be a delight this year!" Celine had smiled as she spoke, knowing that Claude was curious about something other than the new tournament format.

That something, was more appropriately a someone. Claude wondered what happened to his formal rival and last year's Tournament Champion, Dias. He hadn't been heard from in many months, and Celine mentioned -only in passing- that they might see him in Lacour at the Tournament. Claude was tempted to ask her more, but refrained, knowing that he wouldn't get any answers from Celine if she didn't want to give them.

"Uhm, I better be... getting back to the Mayor's house, now." Claude mumbled. He cast a glance back at Yuki, who suddenly looked up, her gaze frightened.

"C-Claude?" He turned around, briskly striding up to the countertop where she'd been working. He gently placed his hand over hers, while the younger, pink-haired girl attempted to smile.

"T-Thanks. For finding me." She smiled genuinely this time, and Claude smiled back at her. A strange chill swept through him, remembering how he'd found Yuki, and everything that had been running through his head then... but he brushed it off quickly, kissing Yuki's cheek lightly and then stepping out into the sunset.

====================================================================

[ Two years previous, Earth ]

It was hard... getting used to everything. Commodore Kenni hadn't really said much to the matter, but it was assumed -implied, really- that Rena would be staying with them. She was far too young, Iria had said, to be out on her own, especially after everything that had happened.

They had more than enough room, and now that both the Commodore and his wife were on leave, the place would be awfully lonely without a third person there. They had to help each other out, they said, together.

So Rena was ushered to a perfectly clean and drab guest room, that barely had any sign of life to it. Somehow, Rena couldn't bring herself to care-- she spent the remainder of that evening she'd arrived simply staring up at the gray ceiling.

When she closed her eyes, it was a blue-green tiled ceiling that went up, up, up, vines slithering around the corners and down pillars... she was back, back inside the Eluria Tower, and everything -Expel being destroyed, losing Claude- had just been a horrible nightmare, a terrible dream.

But when she opened them again, tiles and vines alike faded away. She was still on Earth, and... and Claude!

Claude was still gone.

Somehow, her vision had lasted longer than it seemed. When Rena stepped out into the hallway, the window revealed that the sky had grown dark, and the light of a single moon shone off the plants outside. The door behind her suddenly hissed shut, causing the 17-year-old to jump forward in fright. She looked around hastily and walked down the hallway, finding herself back in that same clear passageway she'd been traveling through with the Commodore earlier.

The conveyer belt was shut off, as was the corridor leading down further, presumably to other parts of the city, or wherever it was they were. But there was a tiny door -its outline barely visible in the dark night- that Rena found, and, pressing her fingers on the glass, she managed to open it and step outside into the crisp night air.

She wandered around for a few moments, allowing herself to be fascinated by the array of colorful flowers, most of them closed for the night, but a few of them just beginning to blossom, glowing in the light as nothing Rena had ever seen before.

"Beautiful, aren't they?" Rena turned around, surprised to hear another voice outside with her. She turned to face Iria, who was holding a small maroon watering can in her hand.

"Y-Yes." Rena murmured, turning back to look at the flowers. Iria put the watering can down near the glass door, and stood beside Rena, admiring the sparkling violet flowers, blooming in the moonlight.

"It's because of special seeds -they're so tiny you can't really see them- that cover the petals of the flower. They react to a certain light in the spectrum, and so appear to glow in the moonlight. In the Lansing Arboretum, there's a whole field of them, and people go there to watch the stars rise and the flowers glow."

"I-It's sounds lovely," Rena whispered, her voice choking. She remembered sitting outside Arlia, watching the stars from just outside the village gates. And she remembered stepping outside the Inn in Hilton, hearing Claude so desperately trying to communicate with the people he loved back home.

A lone tear slid down Rena's face, then another, and another, and soon the girl couldn't stop herself from crying.

Iria glanced at Rena, and realized that the girl was crying, though she was not being openly obvious about it.

"Oh-Oh... Rena, are you allergic to the flowers? I'm sorry, I--"

"N-No, that... that's not it. That's not it at all!" She hadn't meant for her voice to raise, but she found herself crying out loudly anyway. Reality was harsh, and everything -being here, feeling so alone- reminded her of Claude, screamed to her that it was HIM that was meant to be here, not her.

She broke down, collapsing onto her knees, Iria worriedly kneeling beside her. And, out there in the cool moonlight, Rena told the older woman everything-- from her torrid, mysterious past to what had brought her to Earth.

====================================================================

[ Two years later, Starship Calnus ]

"Okay, is everyone ready?" Rena smiled at the troupe of 14 cadets they'd assembled; she'd assigned as many advanced ones to each pair that she could, many of them students in her Heraldry Arts class back at the Academy. They were the best of the 26 cadets on board, the best that the Academy had to offer.

The Calnus was on a survey mission, but, being one of the older ships in the Fleet, despite its having been retrofitted upon its return to Earth two years ago, it also served as a cadet training vessel. There were very few senior officers aboard the vessel-- not nearly as many as had served under Commodore Kenni.

Primarily, there were the cadets that served on the bridge, supplemented by a few newly-ranked Ensigns, and of course, the Commander and the Captain. There were more Lieutenants and Lieutenant Commanders down in Engineering, and a scant few in the Sickbay, where there was no assigned Doctor.

With a Captain that could heal with a touch, what need would a ship of children have for a Doctor?

"Yes Captain!" Everyone chorused in unison, the cadets and other assorted officers standing stiffly at attention. Rena smiled, casting a side glance to Ryuu. He looked horribly embarassed in his clothes; he definitely looked more "at home" in his uniform. Rena, for her part, couldn't have felt better to get out of her tailored pantsuit that was her uniform, as professional as it looked.

She was standing before her cadets without a single mark of ranking on her- rather, she wore her old outfit, though it was just a little tight in places. Rena tried not to show her discomfort, and instead settled for walking back and forth slowly, having the vain hope that she might break a few seams in the process.

"Try not to act so serious down on Expel-- and call it Expel, and not Arctura 4, or you'll be found out immediately, okay?" The cadets nodded, remaining silent as their Captain continued.

"Each team will be split up on the two major continents-- the Cross Continent and the Lacour Continent. Team A, you'll be tackling Lacour, starting in Hilton and moving East towards the capital of Lacour. Try to stop by the Lacour Front Lines on your way to the capital though, you'll pick up some good stuff."

"Team B will start further South in Linga, and should try checking out the Sanctuary of Linga there while you're at it-- check for any strange anomalies, interesting plant life, all that. Dom't draw too much attention with scanning devices though-- but if you're faced with enemies, use Heraldry Arts, this planet is where I learned it all from."

Rena nodded, continuing on as she approached the third pair. "Teams C and D, you've got the Hoffman Ruins, which are just off the coast of Lacour-- we'll be transporting you directly there, and to get to the main continent, you'll need to communique with one of the Lacour Teams and arrange for a site-to-site transport, understood?" The captains of the two teams nodded.

"The Hoffman Ruins, the last time I was there, was not a friendly place. Things might have changed, but you should know the least-- there's several explosives rigged around the place, so if you see a lever, DO NOT pull it. I want photos of that place though, document it to the best of your ability. That place is dangerous though, so make sure to equip yourselves appropriately."

"Team E, you're the first of the Cross Continent teams. You'll be there along with teams F and G, as well as the Commander and I; we'll be serving as Team H. Team E, you've got Arlia, Salva, and Cross. Arlia and Salva are fairly small, but worth checking out. Try not to draw the suspicions of the Mayor in Arlia or Salva though, the both of them are pretty shrewd to odd things. Matter of fact, try not to draw any attention at all-- don't go walking up to people and asking them odd questions or waving scanners in their faces, okay?"

Rena smirked slightly as she remembered how the young girl back in Shingo Forest fainted at the sight of her. Now she realized how Claude must have felt when she ran away from the sight of him, so long ago...

Bah! I'm getting all wistful again! This... this is a mission!

But on some level, Rena knew that she had a mission of her own-- to see if everyone was still around, to find out how Expel could TRULY still be in existence, when the presence of some nameless evil had threatened it so. And...

"A-And," Rena continued, trying not to let her voice catch become audible, "Team F, you will check out the interior of the Cross Cave. Legend has it that it was explored long ago, just like the Salva Drift and the Sanctuary of Linga, but you can always find something new and interesting. Before you head there though, we'll all assemble in Cross to equip and make sure everyone knows what they're doing. Still, try to be inconspicuous and not come bouncing up to us if you see us in the city, okay?"

The cadets laughed, but quickly straightened when Ryuu gave them all a Look.

"F, you guys have also got the Heraldry village of Mars." Rena smiled as she stopped in front of her two best Heraldry Arts students, Mira and Shalyne. "You two will have a BALL there, I promise-- and you can even take some time to train and check out the Heraldry Forest, it's right next to the village. The village elders there are very kind, and I'm sure they'd be glad to help you with any Heraldry questions you might have. Just... don't mention Healing though, Recovery is NOT a part of Heraldry Arts... but I'm sure you guys knew that by now, right? Okay."

"Last thing, I know I keep babbling... I also want the teams to head towards the Port of Herlie when you're done with Cross Cave and Mars; you don't have to wait for Ryuu and I, but you guys should head to Lacour together. We'll meet with the Lacour Teams and the Hoffman Ruins Teams, okay? Finally, Team G, I want you to check out Clik. It was destroyed by a tidal wave the last time I was there, so check and see how they've expanded, changed. Keep your eye out for little rascals though, and keep a TIGHT hand on your wallets and purses, Understood?"

"Yes, Ma'am!" The cadets responded loudly. Rena sweatdropped; she was only 19, and still couldn't get used to being addressed as a "Ma'am."

"I feel old now..." Rena grumbled as she passed the second-to-last team, standing beside Ryuu.

"Check out Lasguss Mountain too, and make sure to have all the hiking equipment you need. Lasguss Mountain is specifically for you two adventure-hounds," Rena smirked at Ryan and Rourke, the only two cadets of the sixteen cadets that had requested to be on the Calnus, despite their having been stationed at the Western American Academy Institute, across the Pacific from where Rena was normally stationed.

"It's VERY high up and involves lots of climbing... so be careful. Check out Cross before you head up there, and PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don't go to the Lasguss Desert, that place is dangerous, and for the heck of it, I'm making that an ORDER! I want you ALL to be appropriately equipped with everything you need-- but again, don't be blatant about your use of high technologies, this is still considered an under-developed planet, okay? Does everyone understand?"

"Yes, MA'AM!"

Rena sweatdropped as she turned to Ryuu, "Initiate the first two teams' transport."

"Teams A and B, prepare to transport."

The two teams climbed onto the transporter pad and saluted as they vanished, dematerializing in the form of glowing sparkles.

Finally, the transporter room was empty save for Rena and Ryuu. Ryuu was still fidgeting in his loosened pants, long-sleeved and high-collared shirt, and cloak. He was always adjusting the shoulder straps on his armor, or itching his palm where the rough leather of his gloves chafed.

"Bridge, are you prepared to initiate cloak on my transport?"

"Yes Captain. We will enter standard orbit of the planet, and will notify you in case of anything." Rena nodded firmly as she headed up to the transporter, her finger releasing the button on the communications panel.

"Set transport for 30 seconds, Ryuu." He pressed a few buttons, and then joined her up on the transporter, taking a long glance at Rena's outfit, and how snug it was around... certain areas.

"Shouldn't you have adjusted that before this?" Ryuu gestured towards her, and her obvious discomfiture with the tightness. Rena frowned at him and punched him in the shoulder as they dematerialized into space.

====================================================================

[ En Route to Cross ]

"Mr. Alen, it's sure nice of you to give us a ride to Cross in your carriage," Yuki said politely, nodding to the Salva Mayor's son.

Alen smiled back at the young girl; he'd known her for years while she'd lived in Salva, but it was never a relationship of the close and personal kind-- he was just aware of her being the 'jam girl.' And now, she was living with Claude in Arlia, and, by the look of things, they were both doing well.

"It was no problem at all. I have business to attend to in Cross, and, like you, will eventually be heading towards Lacour for the Tournament of Arms."

"Oh really? That's wonderful, maybe we'll see each other there!" Yuki smiled, in much better spirits than she'd been a few days previous.

"Well, maybe. It's sure to be crowded this year, especially since rumors say that the Heir to Lacour's Throne will be announced at the Tournament." Alen smiled.

Claude, who had been staring out the window, suddenly glanced towards Alen.

"That's right. I asked Celine about that, and she just smiled and refused to say a word."

"Well, a Queen is allowed to have her secrets," Alen smiled, shrugging slightly. He still found it hard to believe that the young man he'd become only slightly acquainted with two years ago was very good friends with the soon-to-be Queen of Cross, as well as the most prominent Zoologist in Expel, the most famous Scientist in Cross, several famed swordsmen, one of them cursed, along with Linga's renowned Doctor Bowman, and, rumor had it, at least three aliens.

"Women's perogative, Claude," Yuki grinned, wagging her finger at him. He smiled slightly back, leaning back into his chair and trying to get comfortable for the remainder of the ride.

====================================================================

[ Two years previous, Earth ]

Commodore Kenni couldn't bring himself to stay in the house after what had happened, and, despite the fact that he was on leave, he donned his uniform and prepared to head to Federation Headquarters. He would, like his wife, busy himself... somehow.

As he prepared to leave the house, he paused, seeing the young alien girl staring out at the sky. It was mid-morning, and the sun was just beginning to glisten over the roof of the house, and down into the garden, where dew-covered leaves shone.

Commdore Kenni approached her hesitantly, pressing the panel on the glass door that led out to the garden.

"Miss... Miss Lanford?" Rena turned her smile faint, "You don't have to call me that, sir. You can call me Rena." The Commodore smiled slightly as well, nodding.

"Well then Rena, you don't have to call me 'sir,' either... just call me Ronixis."

"O-Okay, Roni-Ronix--" Rena trailed off, embarassed, unable to say the name properly. She looked quite befuddled, her eyes crossing and her nose turning a bright cherry red.

For the first time in several days, if not longer, the Commdore laughed. Rena turned at the sound, and smiled, her blush slowly fading away with the rising sun.

"Ron will do just as well, Rena. Now, I'm about to head out to the Federation Headquarters... maybe you'd like a tour this time?"

Rena smiled brightly, and nodded. "Y-Yes, I'd like that. I'd like that very much." And she walked out of the gardens just behind the Commodore, into a new day.

====================================================================

[ Federation Headquarters ]

"...And this is the Medical Corps Quarantine Facility..." the Commodore trailed off, purposely oblivious to the stares he was getting as he toured Rena about the headquarters. Rena had just been here some days ago, but now she was more observant, and less upset.

All around them, officers and cadets murmured in hushed tones-- wasn't the Commodore on leave? Hadn't his son just passed away-- why then, didn't he look upset? Well, he always looked pensive, maybe he just had good self-control... But then, who was that girl with him? She didn't look like any alien anyone had ever seen before...

"Out of the way!" A sudden cry sounded, and a small team of people rushed forward, carrying a young, bloodied man on a gurney. Blood covered the left side of his head, matting the dark hair on the young man's brow to his head. He was still awake, and wincing as he gripped one of his arms, which looked charred and red on the underside.

"What happened here, Officer?" Commodore Kenni demanded, briskly walking along the gurney. He tried not to look at the young man, moaning in pain below him, but Rena couldn't take her eyes off of him.

"An accident in the Weapons Lab, Sir! Some phaser beams richocheted right off the new armor for the Battle Suit we've been testing, and hit Lieutenant Itou here, sending him flying into his control panel."

"Why didn't you transport him here then?" the Commodore demanded gruffly, taking a swift glance at the boy. He'd never been able to stomach the sight of blood much, despite all his hardened years of fighting. And on a man so young, and during a time like this...

"Transporters in the Lab were disabled sir, for repairs throughout the building. There was an accident last week that got an Ambassador locked in a continuous transporter cycle. He got out, but the transporters in the area are still undergoing inspection."

The team reached a medical bay, and upon seeing the injured man, doctors started to swarm around him, effectively dismissing the team that had transported him there. They shifted Lieutenant Itou to a bed and proceeded to anesthetize him so he wouldn't feel any pain.

Rena and Commodore Kenni watched in a combination of mute fascination and horror; it wasn't until there was a shrill beeping that they awoke from their stupor and dared to move closer.

"Doctor, we're losing his lifesigns, he's lost too much blood!"

"Get me 30 ccs of Anaprovoline, and find me his blood type, immediately! Prepare for an emergency transfusion!"

"We can't, doctor! His blood pressure and heart rate are decreasing-- we're down to 30% vitals now, Sir! I don't think he'll make it!"

"WAIT!" Rena found herself crying out. She stepped forward, brushing past the Doctors, who stared at her.

"What do you think you're doing young la--" The Doctor suddenly spotted the Commodore, who stood silently, his expression strange. He looked as though he wanted to know what Rena was about to do, but he too had taken a step forward, to stop her if necessary.

BEEP BEEP BEEP

"Will someone stop that incessant beeping?" The Doctor roared, sending a nurse quickly scurrying to the panel to lower the volume.

Rena stood before Lieutenant Itou, silent. She gripped the young man's hand, holding her other palm just above his wounded head. Though he was unconscious, Rena felt a slight squeeze from the young man-- he wanted to continue living, keep going...

I have to save him!

Rena started to glow an unearthly green-white light, and a sudden sparkle filled the room, blinding all the doctors and nurses present.

"What do you think you--"

"Cure... Light!" Rena murmured, and then the light began to recede. When everyone opened their eyes again, the wounds on Itou began to fade, slowly returning to their normal skin color, broken and charred skin healing and repairing itself before everyone's eyes.

"D-Doctor... His lifesigns are stablizing... bloodflow is normal, at 85% and rising now... He's going to make it." The nurse sounded astonished, and rightfully so. The other doctors and nurses stared at Rena, gaping in awe. She let go of Itou's hand and fell to the ground, her energy depleted.

Commodore Kenni quickly walked to her side, kneeling beside the younger girl as she tried to catch her breath.

"Rena..." He didn't know what to say-- a million questions burbled forth. He'd only seen that power once before, but that was...

But the Doctor asked Commodore's unspoken question for him.

"What are you?"

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Ehehe... once again, longer than I intended. It took a while to get everything across, and to me, this was a fairly emotional chapter... but it gets MORE emotional, can you believe it! Wow...

I JUST finished playing Star Ocean 2 tonight, and I was nearly in tears! *sniff* I think I have to open a new scenario now...

Anyway, there's still some things left hanging, obviously, such as the fate of the Commodore and his wife, the Doctors (Somenth Westerburn and Edith Wellsley), and the whole explanation of how Rena became the Captain, met Ryuu, etc. And STILL we have what happened after Eluria Tower... I'll get back to that all, I promise, but there's a lot to cover here! Hope you're not getting confused!

This chapter is dedicated to SAMANTHA, who sent me the NICEST, BESTEST (^^;) review I have EVER EVER EVER gotten! You wanted a new chapter out sooner, well, here it is! I hope you liked it, and I hope everyone will review and keep reading!

~Azurite