Beneath the Stars

Author's Notes: Another short chapter but I'm still trying to build up some steam. It's been a while so it's a little like learning to walk again. Anyway, one problem I had with the original story was how Niklas and Meena were just there as useless peripheral characters that I put there for the sake of convenience so I'm giving them both a little more face time. For those wondering where Fayt is, I decided not to put him on Vanguard III and instead will introduce him later in the story.

Disclaimer: Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is a PS2 game developed by Tri-Ace and published by Square Enix. This story is a fan-made work and is not affiliated with said companies.

Chapter 2 – Play Date

"Maria, Maria!"

Maria groaned inwardly. It wasn't that she disliked kids. If anything, they intimidated her a bit. She didn't have much experience in dealing with them. Children had been a rarity on the Diplo. The flagship of a vigilante anti-Federation group wasn't exactly an ideal place to raise one. Of course, Maria hadn't really had a choice in her case.

It was almost comical. Not half a year ago, she had defied and helped defeat the Creator of the known universe. Yet here she was, cowed at the prospect of having to play with a little girl who barely came up to her knee. Life was just full of ironic little surprises.

It was odd, though. Meena had only very recently warmed up to Maria. It was then that she discovered that the girl did, in fact, have two eyes. She had only seen one before, peeking from behind the back of her elder brother. The reason behind the sudden attitude change was a mystery to everyone but Meena.

"Ah..." Maria hesitantly began. She shot a glance toward Niklas but he only shrugged. Apparently he was just as clueless as she was. "What is it, Meena?"

"I want to play with you!" Meena declared, smiling from ear to ear.

"Ah..." Maria repeated. She had more than a few reservations about what "play" exactly entailed but she couldn't very well refuse the child. "Alright," she agreed, "what would you like to play, Meena?"

Evidently, Meena hadn't given it much consideration before asking and frowned, squinting her eyes in concentration. At last an idea occurred to her and she nodded, seemingly pleased with herself. "Let's build a snowman!"

"Build a snowman?" Maria parroted. She'd never done that before. Snow did not readily fall within the steel walls of a Federation space station, where she'd spent most of her childhood. But how hard could it be to roll up a few balls of snow? And she didn't exactly have anything better to do. "Okay, that sounds like it could be fun."

"It is," Meena assured Maria while tugging at her skirt. Maria had adopted the native dressing habits to better blend in with the inhabitants of Whipple. It was comfortable enough but she would always frown when she saw herself in the mirror for a reason she could never quite place.

"Meena," Niklas interrupted in a reprimanding tone, stopping his little sister in her tracks. "You are being very rude to our guest. Think about how your behavior affects others before you act."

Meena released Maria's clothing and drooped her shoulders in disappointment.

"Forgive her," Niklas sighed. Sometimes it was difficult to tell if he was supposed to be Meena's brother or her father. "She is easily excitable. Do not feel obligated to indulge her silly whims."

Maria shook her head. "No, it's fine. I was thinking about what I should do today and I can't think of anything I'd like to do better than play with Meena." She wasn't just being polite, either. Her previous plan had been to sulk around in bed all day, the same as the day before. And the day before that. And the day before that for about as long as she could remember.

Meena flashed Maria a guileless grin that she couldn't help but return.

"You should not encourage her," Niklas frowned. "But if you truly do not mind, I suppose there is no harm. Just be sure to put on your coat before you leave the house, Meena."

"Yes, Papa," Meena chimed sarcastically while rolling her eyes. Maria liked her.

"We won't be long," she promised Niklas.