Shard Card 2: Hayate's Story

Prologue-Premise

"I'm sorry, I'm afraid I'm not sure I quite understand what it is that you're implying." General Hayate frowned as she regarded the older man behind the desk. "Are you... demoting me, sir?"

"Nothing of the sort. Merely reassigning you temporarily to where your skills could be utmost use."

Hayate withheld her snort of disgust. She was getting demoted and moved. Great. "May I ask why you felt it was best to place me on this assignment, sir?"

The superior officer intertwined his fingers, his faded blue eyes piercing the air to reach Hayate's without so much as an additional effort on his part. "General Hayate, no one here will contest that you have served the Ground Forces well, but this is a delicate mission and not many can be spared."

'So you're sparing me? How absurd.' Hayate wasn't the sort to be arrogant about her position or role in TSAB, but she knew they couldn't afford to lose her. Rather, they could not afford for her to turn against them. Well, perhaps they could, but it would not be pretty for either side. Clearing her throat as she tried to stand at her full height, meager as that was, Hayate continued, "Sir, I do not believe you have given me so much as the outline of this mission that you speak of, so that I may judge the merits of my presence for myself."

"Very well, General Hayate. I will give you the long and short of it. With the additional gas mileage in our latest cruisers, we were finally able to breach into a galaxy on the brink of our known map of civilization. We, the Board was unanimous in this decision, would like you to head the expedition to explore this new galaxy, reporting any findings, with extensive details regarding any intelligent lifeforms. There is no time limit, as we wish for you to gather as much information and send back reports on a weekly basis, even if you find nothing remarkable."

Hayate said nothing as she considered this. Those on the Board that hated her would want her gone from their ranks indefinitely on this wild goose chase void of the goose to chase. Those that moderately approved of her (those that outright loved her were very close to her already through one of her other friends or her own past) would want her on this mission to keep her away from the grim reality of the TSAB headquarters as well as to be reassured that at least one competent person explored the newest frontier.

For the former side, an added bonus was that if anything did happen of the nature of an "accidental death", their hands would be clean of any murders and their desire to have her ousted would still prevail.

Of course it had been a unanimous decision.

"General Hayate, will you comply with orders without causing any trouble?"

"Of course, sir. May I request my own team?"

"No more than two mages above AAA class. We cannot spare everyone for this."

Hayate suddenly cursed her fate as she realized that even among her Knights, there were more than two above AAA class. In fact, even the 'weakest', Shamal, was an S ranked healer.

She would have to pick favorites.

"Are you quite certain, sir? Not even, perhaps, three?"

"Only two, General Hayate. We are aware that you have connections with many more high-ranked mages than that. But we cannot afford to dispatch all of them on such a non-critical mission."

So he admitted it was non-critical. Hayate withheld her sigh. "And how large can my overall team be, sir?"

"That may be left up to your discretion, General Hayate, as you will be responsible for assuring that your team stays alive. You will suffer the usual consequences befitting of any malconduct during a mission. If one of your men dies..."

"I will take responsibility," Hayate instantly finished.

"Do you have any other questions, General Hayate?"

Hayate thought a moment. "When must I depart, sir?"

"Within a week. It's best to go now while there is a lull in critical attention activities."

"Yes, sir. Then I wish to voice no other concerns or questions for the time being."

"You are dismissed."

"Sir." Hayate saluted as he stood up and she turned and walked out the door.

Her expression was void of feeling as she walked down the corridors to her apartment suite. When others saw her and greeted her, she smiled and greeted back, but she gave no vibes welcoming idle chatter.

When she was finally able to close her bedroom door behind her, her back slid down the length of the door until she was sitting with her knees drawn up to her chin.

"Great," she muttered darkly. "Just great. Who will I choose? Who can be spared? And who will still be an asset?"

Ch. 1- Allocating Scarce Resources

"Ah... Instructor Takamachi, Enforcer Fate, could I have a word with the two of you?"

Nanoha and Fate exchanged glances at Hayate's formality, but sent Nanoha's star pupils away so that Hayate might speak freely. The cafeteria was isolated at this point, although one or two stragglers still remained.

"What is it, Hayate-chan?" Nanoha smiled encouragingly. "Did something come up?"

Hayate bit her lip, suddenly wondering if she should even ask. They were both so happy now. They had everything they could ever want- the marriage, the kids, the positions, the perfect balance of home and work life. What right did she have to pull them away with her into the endless abyss?

Fate placed a hand on her shoulder. "You know we're always here for you, Hayate."

A fresh wave of guilt coursed through her veins and she flushed, ashamed of herself. "No... no, it's nothing important really. Sorry for calling you out like that. Um, what are you two doing next week? The usual?"

Fate frowned, obviously not buying into this, but she answered, "I thought you would have heard by now. I'm acting as on-board supervisor for Teana for her first S-class mission."

Hayate's eyes widened. "But Teana isn't an S-class mage... is she?"

"No, she stopped at AA. But she is fully capable of leading S-class missions, and that's what I've been assigned to prove through video footage and my own report. It's a hassle, but it can't be helped. Well, I'm happy to help at least."

Hayate nodded slowly. "When do you leave? How long of a mission is it?"

"Including travel time... we'll be leaving in a fortnight and be back by... maybe... three months at most. Christmas I think."

"I see." Without missing a beat, Hayate turned to Nanoha. "And you? How is your schedule, Nanoha?"

"Pretty empty, actually. I'm between sets of classes now. The next 'term' doesn't start... well... until the end of the month, I suppose."

Hayate cursed inwardly. Nanoha was a no-go too. Too many people depended on her tutelage to get through the military training and come out as one of TSAB's best and brightest. No, if Hayate had no idea when she could return, she couldn't put Nanoha- or her future students- through that.

"Hayate-chan, really, tell us what's wrong. What happened?"

Hayate smiled cheerily at Nanoha. "Oh, it's nothing really. I was thinking of planning a vacation in a couple of weeks and seeing who would be able to go. Ah, but don't worry about it. Really. If TSAB needs you, TSAB needs you. There's no avoiding work sometimes. I'll see you two around, I suppose. I have to take care of some things myself."

"Hayate..." Fate reached out a hand towards her, but it fell limply back to her side when Hayate took a step back.

Hayate bowed her head to them both before turning and heading back to her room.

--

Roughly five hours later, Signum was looking for her mistress and finally found her in an otherwise empty conference room. Signum kept silent as she looked around at the scribbles present on nearly every board. She hadn't thought handwritten boards were still used at TSAB, but Hayate was resourceful when it came to finding otherwise obselete things. She noticed the names and ranks of several people she recognized and wondered why Hayate, who knew all of this by heart, was writing it down. Not to mention, the younger woman was also mumbling to herself as she wrote even more details, her back turned to the door.

"Mistress Hayate?"

"... if Shamal went with me, she'd have to forego the benefits of the medical facilities she has here as well as the opportunity to help the people here who get injured far too often... not to mention separating her from Signum woul-"

"Mistress Hayate!" Signum placed a hand on Hayate's shoulder, jerking her out of her daze. "Are you all right?"

"What? Oh, Signum." Hayate nodded and returned to looking at the flow chart. "I'm fine. Just doing some... executive planning."

"By hand?"

"Yes, I found it's easier to spread my thoughts out like this rather than strain my eyes on multiple screens. Were you looking for me? I'm sorry. What did you need?"

Signum frowned, not answering until her own questioning thoughts were answered. "What are you planning?"

"Hm? Oh... I'll tell you when I've come to a decision. Don't worry about it just yet."

"Mistress Hayate. If something has happened... A new development..."

"Why does everyone assume something is wrong?" Hayate laughed. "The higher-ups are finally letting me have a vacation, but since all my friends I would take along for the ride are so well integrated into the system, I'm only allowed to bring two of them with me, so I have to narrow down my list."

"Vacation...? Now?"

Hayate nodded. "There are no wars directly involving TSAB at the moment, no unexpected exposure of magic on unmagical planets... perfect time, don't you think?"

"Yes, but... you never mentioned that you were planning a vacation to us before now... how long have you been trying to petition for a vacation?"

"Oh, not long, not long. I didn't want to tell you until I had it verified." Hayate frowned. "Was there a particular reason why you were looking for me? I assume you were looking for me?"

Signum nodded. "It's time for dinner, Mistress Hayate."

"Oh no, already?" Hayate looked at the clock, obviously distraught. "It completely slipped my mind... oh, I'll finish up really quickly then. Rein! Save what's on these boards to a new folder marked with today's date."

"Ah, Zafira cooked tonight. You needn't worry."

Hayate stopped short in surprise. She turned and said, "/Zafira/? But he never cooks."

"Shamal dared him to after she was teased. I tried a little; it's actually quite good."

"It's already done?"

"Ah... yes, Mistress Hayate. But there's no rush. Keroberos showed us a way to keep things warm for a very long time."

"Oh, what's that? Rein, did you get everything?"

"Yes, Hayate!" Rein grinned proudly, even though it was such a mundane request.

Hayate nodded and quickly cleaned off all the boards before hurrying towards the door with Signum in tow. Nothing more was spoken of the 'vacation' Hayate had planned.

But later that night, after everyone else was asleep, Hayate stayed up in the living room, working through more graphs and reasoning.

As the sun rose the following morning, everyone in the Hayate residence was awoken by a strangled groan of frustration. Hayate slumped into her chair, letting the pencil clatter to the ground as she rubbed her temples.

"Maybe I'll just go alone..."

"Hayate..." Hayate turned to see Vita sleepily coming out of the room they shared. "Were you up all night? That's bad for you."

Hayate merely sighed and closed her eyes again. "I know, Vita-chan. I know."

"What're you doing?" Vita looked at the sprawled out sheets laid out before her mistress. "What is all this?"

"My homework." Hayate gave a tired smile. "My superior officer gave me a problem that I can't seem to find an answer to."

"What problem is it?" Vita was becoming more awake now, curious as to what was bothering Hayate. "Can I help?"

"You wouldn't- well, I suppose you would understand, but it's all right, Vita-chan. This is just something I have to do. It's still early, you should try to get some more sleep."

Vita shook her head vigorously, setting her expression into a stubborn pout. "If Hayate is up, Vita will stay up too."

Hayate laughed at that, a tired but still distinct laugh, and patted Vita's hair. "Thank you, Vita-chan. I'll go make us some warm milk, hm?" Hayate stood up, frowning as her legs nearly failed her, but gathered the papers into a neat stack before going into the kitchen.

Vita was reading the topmost page and was surprised to find her name. "H-Hey, Hayate! Why... why am I part of your problem?"

"Don't worry about it," Hayate repeated through a yawn. "I'm still thinking it through."

Vita hurried after Hayate and declared, "Oi, Hayate! I'll help you whenever you need it, okay? You don't even have to ask!"

"Thank you, Vita-chan. But it's all right, really. I'll figure something out." Hayate smiled and handed Vita the customary mug of milk. "There you go, Vita-chan."

"Thank you..." Vita didn't drink for a moment, simply observing Hayate's facial features. She looked so worn out... "What're you worried about?"

"I'm worried about worrying all the people that would worry about me."

"...Eh?"

Hayate giggled and shook her head. "I need some fresh air... will you come with me, Vita-chan?"

"Y-yeah!"

They went out to the balcony and Vita let the silence between them settle as they watched the sky change colors with the rising of the sun.

Hayate murmured, "My friends are too deeply ingrained into the system. I'm too deeply ingrained into the system. I never really thought about how dependent TSAB has become on our firepower, our potential, our magical talent. You know, you would think that after working here for 15-20 years, they wouldn't have any reason to be displeased with us anymore, but some grudges die hard I suppose. Or maybe it's not out of begrudging at all- that's just how I see it."

Vita considered saying something, but she didn't really understand and she didn't want Hayate to clam up again.

Soon, Hayate continued, "Everybody I would choose would have to give up what they're doing now to go with me for God only knows how long. It's inevitable, so I have to think of what they can do for me instead. What the best arrangement would be, even if it's unorthodox. If I prize firepower and tactical skills, Nanoha and Signum might be the best choices. If I want the best healers or speedy messengers, Shamal and Fate might be good, but both are occupied at the moment. I could use Tomoyo and Erio instead, but I'd have to summon Erio here first to do that, and Tomoyo... well, the school can do with a different nurse for a while. Really, since neither Tomoyo nor Erio are S-class, I /could/ have all four come with me, but... it's troublesome."

Finally, it dawned on Vita what Hayate was implying. "You're going somewhere and you can only take a few people?"

Hayate nodded. "I can only take two other S+ ranked mages and the rest is at my discretion."

"Oh... I wouldn't be of help to you I suppose. Compared to the others."

"It's not that, Vita-chan. I'm not slighting you in the least. It's just that... Of my children, I'm more attached to you as 'the youngest' so I don't want you getting hurt... even more than the others. It's a silly whim of mine I know, but..." Hayate sighed, changing her tactics. "If I take Nanoha, someone she trusts, like you, should be here to watch over the ones she'd otherwise be training. Likewise, if I were to take Tomoyo, Shamal would be free to keep an eye on her post at the school as well."

"What about Zafira?"

"... As much as it kills me to say it, that may be overdoing my allocation of firepower without adding anything else. The team balance may suffer as a result."

"What mission is this? It's not top secret, is it?"

"No, it's just not publicized yet." Hayate closed her eyes, allowing herself to explain the full details to Vita. "I'm supposed to be mapping out the latest frontier of our known universe and synthesizing any lifeforms into societies susceptible to TSAB's guidance. Or something to that nature."

"That's not... within your field... is it?"

"Not so much, no. The Intergalatic Negotiations and Cartographers are usually doing it. They'll be coming with me, or rather, I should say I'm coming with them. In case something 'unforeseen' occurs."

"Backup? But then why would they ask you? N-Nanoha would be good for that sort of thing, wouldn't she? Even if was just her..."

"I'm the commanding officer for this mission. I suppose they wanted to make sure they had some on the scene that could restrain Nanoha without hurting themselves unnecessarily should the occassion come up that she overexerted herself again."

"Ah..."

"But this way might be good. Getting out from behind the desk for a while." Hayate inhaled deeply as she tried to think positively. It was an opportunity, not an exile. "Vita-chan, if I ask you to stay here, will you be good and keep an eye on everyone here for me?"

Vita nodded resolutely. "If Hayate wants me to do it, I'll do a Mega-good job of it."

Hayate smiled, leaning down and hugging Vita tightly. "Thank you, Vita-chan. Thank you."

--

At 0900 hours on the Saturday that followed, Hayate's vessel was prepared to disembark. She had explained everything to her friends, and those she had specifically requested had done everything they could so that they would be able to meet her request. With her today were Nanoha and Signum, one of her oldest friends plus one of her most reliable Knights; Tomoyo and Shari, two of her most dependable back-ups; (16-year-old) Vivio and Syn, freshly out of training for their AA and looking for hands-on experience out in the field; and Subaru and Erio for mobile necessities that modern technology couldn't handle. It was a bit of a hodgepodge crew admittedly, but Hayate felt she could make it work and hopefully, she would be able to return them all home in a timely fashion.

Fate had already disembarked with Teana on the aforementioned mission, but Shamal, Vita, and Zafira saw them off at the port. Non-tearful farewells were interrupted by the captain of the ship announcing, "Claudia III, ready for take off! Would all personnel make their way into the vessel at this time. Claudia III, headed due east towards coordinates 193 degrees, 90 arc minutes... first destination in 250 kilo light-years..."

"Well then... take care of each other, all right?" Hayate looked at her Knights again, feeling utterly at a loss for words. She was their mistress, not the other way around. She should be the strong one.

"Mistress Hayate."

Hayate turned towards Signum just as Shamal said, "I know you will be in good hands with Signum, so please leave defending the home to us. We pray for your safe return, but do not hesitate to contact us if there is any trouble."

Hayate nodded and with another deep breath, forced herself to turn away and head towards the ship. Nanoha was waiting for her and smiled as they boarded together.

Another mission, another adventure, another uncertain outcome...

TBC

A/N: Woot! Tried to encorporate what I learned in school, but that's kinda hard at the moment considering we've only had one day of classes and it was mostly going over syllabuses. So as an overview to my "academic" references:

Economics: Scarcity of resources (can only pick 2 S-classed mages) forces Hayate to think critically of how best to allocate her needs (the individual skills of each person) and how to make her set up most efficient (the perfect point on the PPF line). This chapter was, in general, one of Hayate's "economical" dilemna. There was also a bit of general overall thinking about how the abundant "resources" (high-class mages) centred in TSAB gave it an absolute(?) advantage over other places like Hayate's crew on the frontier and that to build a comparative advantage (location on frontier compared to TSAB HQ) Hayate would have to take resources from TSAB without compromising the home team advantage too drastically.

Astronomy, during the last bit with the coordinates and distances, but I didn't exactly try too hard on that one. . I don't even know how expansive TSAB is. .

Um, yeah, couldn't fit in my other classes, but there's still time yet. n.n

As another note, this can be considered a sequel of sorts to Shard Card in that without reading Shard Card, the possibilities executed in this piece are not as profound or gripping, but it is a standalone in that certain liberties have been taken. For example, although in the beginning, though Ruby is still dating Vivio and Syn is merely her best friend, this may change in the typical character growth fashion. Similarly, Reina may be zoned out as Hayate realizes a higher calling that demands... a different partner in her life. Also different in that Sakura and Tomoyo came to Mid-Childa early on, with Hayate having a high school crush on her while they were best friends (they still are, but meh) and Tomoyo considering Hayate more her best friend than Sakura (yeah, the angst madness of Shard Card is obselete in this story, for sake of brighter pastures; you can read SC 1 for your SakuTomo goodness). If I think of anything else, I'll make note of it, but that's the basics. As aforementioned, NanoFate did get married, and Sigmal is still largely prevalent in their respective minds. I'm not going into the whole Yuuno/Arf/Zafira/Kero madness because they aren't a crucial part of this story (ah, ignoring the bit characters again, sorry). And I meant nothing significant by listing Hayate's crew as I did. I have no especial desire to hook Subaru up with Erio or Nanoha with Signum. O.o Any unconventional pairings featured here will be prevalent but not concrete in nature. So you get scenes without the cheating, essentially. :3

That's all! Oh, and unlike SC1, I'll only be posting a chapter (maybe two) a week, unlike every day, so I'll be taking my time hope you still read and review though. :3