Chapter 2: Black Tie Affair

"Come on, Ruri," Yurika said with a laugh. She handed Ruri a black dress. "You don't want to be late for your own retirement party do you?"

"I don't remember ever saying that I was going," Ruri grumbled. At twenty-four, she was done with Nergal, and that meant she wanted absolutely nothing to do with the Nadesico J. Having a retirement party on the ship wasn't her idea of a good time

Yurika sighed, and sat down beside her on the edge of the bed. "It's not like you didn't try, Ruri. He just didn't want to come back," her voice had lost all of its cheer. A decade later and Yurika still couldn't say his name.

"But we found the Aestavalis with nothing in it. I have to believe that he's out there somewhere. Nergal wasn't giving me everything I needed to find him…..if I could have had more--"

"More what, Ruri? Man power? Time? Funding? You had it all. I don't want to believe it either, but Akito is dead!" Tears welled up in Yurika's blue eyes. "Akito died when we made that jump, Ruri. I don't know why you have to push so hard!"

"I'm sorry," Ruri said softly.

Yurika wiped away her tears and pasted on a big smile. "I'll see you at the party!"

"I still didn't say I was going!" Ruri called after the older woman. "Idiot!"

She was still fuming as she slid into the skin tight dress. Pulling her hair into a French twist, Ruri glared at her reflection venomously. She wanted nothing more than to be done with this whole nightmare. Going to this party was like celebrating failure. In the years since Akito's disappearance, Ruri had forged full force into finding him, but it had all been for nothing. What had she really ever done that meant something?

A knock at the door, interrupted her thoughts. "Are you ready, Captain?"

Ruri rolled her eyes. When was Hari going to stop calling her that? She'd left the Nadesico nearly two weeks ago. Today was her official retirement. "In a minute," she called back.

Ruri put on some lipstick, and stared at herself. She most certainly wasn't a little girl anymore. She wasn't traditionally beautiful. Men fawned over her because she had an ethereal look to her. Her large golden eyes and long silver hair combined with her pale skin gave her a fairy-like appearance that seemed to attract some of the more bizarre men in the world. The Jovians thought she was some kind of sex symbol, but all the anime they watched had warped their minds.

Hari was leaning against the wall when she opened the door. The young man stared at her for a long time before he found his voice. "You look wonderful."

"Thanks." Accepting compliments didn't come naturally to Ruri. Like all social skills, it just didn't seem to agree with her. She blamed most of it on the genetic engineering, and the rest on her upbringing. Hari's long standing crush didn't make it any easier. She would never knowingly hurt his feelings, but she couldn't take his advances seriously. The boy was too much like her and way too young.

"I was wondering if you would dance with me this evening?" he asked nervously straightening his collar.

"Hari, wouldn't it have been more appropriate to wait until we are at the party?" she asked.

"I'm sorry, Captain." The young man's face had turned red.

She sighed. "Please, call me Ruri. I'm not the captain of the Nadesico anymore, Hari."

"You always will be the captain to me. Do you think that I would just forget all those years?" Hari asked.

"I'm not asking you to. I just…I want to end this." Ruri looked away.

"But why?"

"Nothing lasts forever, Hari. I need to move on."

"You didn't find what you were looking for, so you're giving up! You didn't find him, but what about me? Ruri, aren't I enough….I…uh…I mean isn't the crew enough?" Hari sounded as though he was ready to cry.

"You will always be my friends," she told him softly, "but it's time."

Hari nodded.

Neither of them said a word in the back of the limo. They pulled up to the exclusive hotel to see a crowd of fans gathering outside. Ruri was practically a star in her own right. Nergal had used her as the poster girl for their programs in dealing with both political and public relations. There wasn't a person on Earth, Jupiter, Mars, or the moon who didn't know who Ruri Hoshina was. Security kept the crowd away from the red carpet as she stepped out. Hari stood at her side as though he were her boyfriend, and she didn't say anything to dissuade him.

The grand ballroom was brimming with politicians and crewmembers alike, and everyone turned when she came into the room. If it wasn't for Hari's arm around her waist, she would have walked out. Everyone was clapping and smiling. Ruri did her best to appear to be gracious. There were a few faces in the crowd that she knew, and she immediately made her way to them as the applause died down.

Ms. Minato and her "sister" Yukina were among the first to greet her. "Well, Ruri, you certainly look grown up!" Minato said with a giggle. Though she had been "grown up" for quite sometime, people still thought of her as a little girl.

"It's good to see you again. How have you been?"

"Well, I…" the volupous woman had just begun talking when a handsome man appeared at her side.

"Here's your drink, darling." The man was very tall and thin with light brown hair and eyes. "Hello."

"Jai, I'd like you to meet Ruri Hoshina. Ruri, this is my fiancé Jai Gardener."

"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Ruri," Jai said with a smile.

Ruri smiled. "The pleasure is all mine."

Minato was obviously very much in love. She kept glancing over at him and smiling as she ushered Ruri off to the side of the room. "Love is wonderful. You should try it sometime Ruri-buri."

Ruri couldn't help but grin a little at the nick name. No one, but Minato would have thought that one up. For all her ditzy persona, Minato was actually one of the most intelligent crew members the Nadesico had ever had. "I don't know what that is."

"Sure you do," Minato insisted.

"You didn't bring me out here to talk about my love life," the silver haired woman said taking a seat on the balcony railing.

"You're right about that. Akatsuki was looking for you. I saw Megumi earlier tonight, and apparently Akatsuki had already spoken to her. She seemed shook up."

"That's strange," Ruri commented thoughtfully. Now that she thought about it, she hadn't seen Megumi in the ballroom, and it was unlike Megumi to miss something like this. "Do you have any idea what it's about?"

"No, but I don't think you'll have to wonder much longer." Minato pointed to the tall figure in the doorway with Ms. Won in tow.

"No, I don't think you will," Akatsuki said with the wry smile of his.

Ruri narrowed her eyes. The CEO of Nergal had never been high on her list of favorite people. He had the brains of an untrained chimp, and the morals of a dog. There were very few people she liked less, and one of them was standing right behind Akatsuki.

"Don't look so happy to see me," Akatsuki quipped. He adjusted his tie, and took a place beside her uninvited.

Won wasn't so bold. "Let's get this over with."

"What was it that you told Megumi to upset her?" Ruri asked calmly.

"I'll get to the point; we have Akito Tenkowa.

Ruri's heart dropped.