Vividred Operation and related characters are property of Aniplex of America/Studio A-1 Pictures. Original Characters are property of the author. Operation: Universe, Maya.

Just outside the Saegusa Dojo, the beginning of fall had decidedly arrived. Leaves of all colors piled up here and there, reminiscent of bonfires spaced out across the grass, and a gentle breeze brought the heady smell of oak and pine in through the open sliding doors. It was late enough in the day that the morning chill had abated, though soon it would be too cold to hold morning classes without the doors being shut.

A chorus of loud cries cut the afternoon air as the students of the Saegusa branch of the Tengen Rishin style of swordsmanship practiced drills. For now, that amounted to repetitive overhead swings with wooden practice swords. The students, standing in a line facing the yard were dripping with sweat, testament to the rigorous instruction of their teacher.

Wakaba Saegusa watched over the form and power that the line of mostly young men, though a few of the senior students that had been with the school for years were clearly older, perhaps closer in age to her father, the head of the Saegusa branch. But, age didn't matter, it was effort, diligence, and enthusiasm that counted. Hard work combined with a fervent desire to succeed where once one might have failed, that meant more than raw talent alone counted for.

Not to say that natural aptitude was something to be lightly dismissed. Far from it, the young woman thought, as she looked over her students, stopping now and then to correct posture and arm swing. This wasn't the time to think about the past, but she couldn't help recalling one shining example of talent that she'd encountered what felt like a lifetime ago. Behind the instructor's facade she'd adopted to hide her thoughts, Wakaba Saegusa, heir to the Dojo, smiled at the memory of a challenge accepted on a sandy beach once upon a time.

Akane Isshiki, now that was a name that she hadn't thought of recently. An image of the exuberant redhead flashed across her mind, and Wakaba honestly struggled to keep the grin off her face when she recalled the completely unorthodox moves the girl had used as they fought. Wakaba had lost a second time then to the young Isshiki, in a formal challenge match no less. The fight had sparked something within her, rekindling the drive to be the best that she could be, and adding verve to Wakaba's pursuit of the Art. She'd found something else that day, a rival and a friend in Akane.

However, as time passed, things changed. People, relationships, all grew from what they had once been. Sometimes that growth happened to be apart. Wakaba had no hard feelings about that fact, one way or the other. They were each busy with their own lives, Akane with juggling school and several part-time jobs last she'd heard, and Wakaba herself, taking over as instructor several days a week in preparation for fully inheriting the Dojo. Though that was still several years away, she still needed the experience, as her father had made very clear.

Back when they were still attending New Oshima Academy together, after the alien menace, Alone, had been defeated, Wakaba had invited Akane to join the Saegusa Dojo. She'd been more than positive the redhead would leap at the chance to improve her impressive, but untrained, skills. Unfortunately, for good or ill, the lessons hadn't continued on for very long. That Akane had promise, there was little doubt, but the girl simply could not focus for the length of time it took to memorize forms and perfect technique.

However she never quit outright, she simply showed up less and less frequently, until she stopped coming altogether. Mostly. The redhead still stopped by once in a while, almost like a guest appearance. More importantly, her skill had never diminished, though it had not grown either. Akane could still hold her own against the majority of the Dojo's students, but Wakaba had long since surpassed the level at which they once sparred. She still considered it somewhat of a shame, but there was little if anything she could do to change that after so long.

Instead, she focused on the here and now. Focused on helping her students improve, and learning to better herself through their progress. As an instructor, she often found that she learned more through the course of the classes she taught than she felt that she was imparting. It was a curious thing, and often the subject of her conversations with her father. The elder Saegusa admitted much the same experience, though not in so many words.

Often, Wakaba found her father to be inscrutable, though he was forthright in his teaching methods. She suspected it was more to do with him having fun playing the part of a learned master. That thought nearly had her smiling for real, and she buckled down to keep to the task at hand, bettering her students and raising the reputation of the school in the process.

Besides, this was work. There was time for fun later. In fact, she had plans that evening which encompassed both, and she was greatly looking forward to it. A smile graced her lips at that thought, and she heard more than one of the students groan when they noticed. That would have to be corrected, the green haired instructor decided, beginning the day's lesson in earnest. If her students had the energy to complain, that only meant she wasn't working them hard enough. She would not fail them as a teacher, and she wouldn't let them fail as students in the name of Tengen Rishin!

Cafe Francis was a quaint little coffee shop nestled in the heart of the shopping district in downtown Shin Oshima. Inside, the décor resembled an idealized Europe from well before the turn of the century, a classic look with a slightly modern twist in that the menus were build into the tabletop displays for the customers to peruse at leisure. For the moment, the cafe was busier than usual, due to the fair weather and that it was the weekend.

Caught up between surreptitiously watching the front door and staring into the bottom of her second cup of mocha, the blonde woman in the back booth of the establishment crinkled her nose in what amounted to a show of displeasure. The staff were familiar with the sight of the extraordinarily bundled up figure, but some of the other patrons were shooting odds looks her way. The longer she sat there alone, the more dubious the whispers grew.

Wrapped in an overcoat, a sweater and a multilayer skirt, the quiet figure only called more attention to herself, as opposed to less, which was likely the reason for the scarf, broad brimmed hat and sunglasses she was still wearing despite that the sun had already gone down, and she was sitting in a dimly lit space.

Fidgeting with the handle of the cup in front of her, the blond flicked at the menu with her other hand, debating on whether or not to order another drink, when the front door chimed, signaling another patron had entered. Her eyes snapped up, seeking the door and a small grin worked its way across her lips.

A tall woman was standing just inside the doorway, looking quietly around the Cafe until she spotted the shrouded figure in the back booth. Eating up the space between the door and the back in quick efficient strides, she eased herself into the seat opposite the blond and fixed her with a puzzled stare. The green haired woman glancing down at herself and the charcoal gray jacket and skirt combo she was wearing. It was a study in contrasts between the two women. Not just in their outfits, but in the way they held themselves, with the new arrival sitting straight and composed, while the blond was almost hunched over, buried in layers of cloth.

"That looks uncomfortable. Aren't you hot in that getup, Himami," the taller of the two asked.

"Hmph, I thought I asked you not to call me that, Wakaba," the blond grouched, irritated all the more when her best friend called her by that particular name.

"Oh? I'm sure it slipped my mind, Miya-chan," this time Wakaba Saegusa smiled as she used another of her friend's fan club created nicknames. She made sure not to fluster the shorter woman too much, lest she retreat into another bout of self-imposed isolation. It was part and parcel of the mystique they'd built into her career, but if it happened too often or too regularly, it would become a hindrance. The agency they both worked for, Flower Plus Studios, hadn't been too pleased two months ago when their talent had vanished on them.

"That's worse, and you know it," the blond part-time photo model, Himawari Shinomiya, better known to her fans as Himami or Mami-chan, emphatically did not like her nicknames, least of all when her best friend, and manager, used them toward her. Though in the end, she let the taller woman get away with almost anything, but would find a way to return the favor with interest when Wakaba least expected it.

"Well, anyway," Wakaba turned to flag down the sole waiter, the neat ponytail her hair was gathered into, swishing in the process. "I think you underestimate just how often we've been coming here. The staff and the Master know who you are, even if I'm not around. The regulars probably do too," she said, shooting a look at the other patrons who were less inclined to stare at Himawari now that she had company.

"T-that's not my fault. I like this place," the blond countered, visibly deflating under her getup.

"I'm not complaining, just stating a fact, because we're supposed to be out having fun, and you're sitting there wrapped up like some kind of mummy. At least take off the scarf and glasses. I can't even look you in the eye like this. It bugs me," Wakaba said, reaching across the table with the intent of removing the offending eye wear herself if need be.

Himawari leaned back, trying to swat away her friend's hand without knocking over the coffee cup, empty though it might be. Before the two could make a further spectacle, the waitress arrived, clearing her throat politely to get their attention.

"Ah, sorry about that. I'll have a barley tea please, and she'll have another Mocha, without the whipped cream," Wakaba informed the petite waitress, adding the last almost as an aside. The waitress nodded and went off to put in their order.

"What if I wanted more whipped cream," Himawari said, not quite pouting, but pushing in that direction.

"Hah, so you already had some. What did the President just talk about last time we all met?"

"That we all needed to keep an eye on our diets," the blond admitted.

"Yes, something like that. Especially you, since you're on camera, and we've got a shoot scheduled for next week," Wakaba nodded, and her hand zipped out, snagging the offending glasses from their perch atop Himawari's nose, and the floppy hat from her head. "So, no more whipped cream. The last thing we want is for you to get teased again, not that I'd let it stand," she paused to look at her handiwork. "See, much better already."

The young woman blinked at the change in light, rubbing absently at her eyes with one hand, and straightening her hair with the other. Uncovered, Himawari gave off a much different impression than she had previously. In fact the stares she felt earlier were returning in force, but now she had nothing to shield herself from them.

It was easy to see just why Himawari Shinomiya had already garnered a sizable fan base, and why her image was gracing the cover of not one, but two currently running Idol magazines. The young woman's blond hair spilled down her shoulders and the length of her back in two twin spirals, full and soft in the Cafe light. Recovering her vision, she frowned almost daintily, fixing her manager with golden eyes that did more to convey the irritation she felt than the rest of her expression.

"Definitely an improvement, though that lumpy coat isn't helping either right now," Wakaba remarked, making due with what she could easily get away with. Himawari was temperamental, but not impossible to placate. "Now, about the shoot coming up, I have some ideas we might be able to work in," the green haired woman leaned in to discuss the particulars she'd been considering.

The duo sat there quietly conversing as the evening settled in.