The Last Ride – A Strike Witches Fanfic

In honor of two milestones that this blog passed recently… Fifty posts, and 1000 views… I’ve decided to share my most beloved that I’ve ever written. It’s a Strike Witches fanfic, but I wrote it after the first season ended, so it inevitably conflicts with pretty much the entire second season… But whatever.
It was originally published on Fanfiction.net and Adultfanfiction.net under the title “A Nightmare Relived,” but for just this occasion, I’ve fixed some of the parts I wasn’t satisfied with and gave it a better title. Enjoy!

Major Mio Sakamoto felt almost naked as she stood at attention before General Malcolm Bernard, awaiting her orders. She’d been summoned by the higher military council less than five minutes ago, and although she was hiding it as well as she could, the fact that she’d been summoned in the first place had angered her quite severely. The page they’d sent for her, in fact, was probably still crying over her reaction. A nervous young Fuso girl who had probably only been employed at the base of the 501’st division for the better part of a week had delivered her the message, mere seconds after the painful, drawn-out death of one of Mio’s most valued teammates.
The blood on Major Sakamoto’s jacket was still fresh.
Being told that she was being summoned to appear before the council had irritated her to the point that whatever hold on her sanity she may have had that day just simply snapped. She’d screamed at the page, shoved her against the wall with enough force to almost injure her, and to punctuate her response, she’d picked up the wooden chair she had been sitting on and swung it at the wall, shattering it.
Later on, she’d probably feel guilty for treating the page so badly. They’d probably pay for the chair… And the repairs to the wall… Out of her paycheck. But for right now, she didn’t have it in her to care. She knew exactly what the committee was going to ask her about.
For starters, the fact that three of her fellow witches were now dead.
Sporting her still blood-stained uniform over her blue swimsuit, Major Sakumoto stood frozen like a statue, staring at General Bernard with all the poison of a cobra’s fangs in her eyes. This glare was not reflected in the eyes of the military council, the majority of whom simply looked nervous… They were nervous about the obvious tension between Mio and the General, and the fallout that might hit them if that tension were to be ignited. One could hardly blame them.
“Major Sakamoto,” Bernard began, as calmly as if he were ordering lunch. “Would you please recount for us the details surrounding the 501’st Joint Fighter Wing’s latest mission?”
Sakamoto stared back coldly. After everything that had just happened to her, and to the rest of the Strike Witches, she wanted nothing more than to leap across the room, land in his seat, and bite the jugular out of his neck. Everything that had happened, without exception, had happened because of him. “Where shall I start?”
“At the beginning,” he replied, from his seat at the table. “What were you doing at 13:43 when the alarm was first raised?”
I’d like to ask you the same question, she thought to herself, smart enough not to talk back to a superior officer during this kind of official meeting. “I was having a private conversation with Commander Wilcke.”
“About what?”
Sakamoto flushed. Under the circumstances, she couldn’t just answer by saying ‘it was private.’ It wasn’t a particularly bad memory, as the ones following it were, but like them, it was still as fresh as the stain on her shirt.

~~*~~*~~*~~*~~

“I’m sorry, Mio, I just don’t think it’s a good idea.” Commander Minna Wilcke’s shoulder length auburn hair, pretty as it had always been, is tied back in a pony-tail as she tells me this. She’s sharing her feelings with me about a decision I recently made… A serious decision, and one that’s been eating me alive inside for weeks. She grunts once as she struggles to close the small trunk of her jeep, having stuffed it with binders full of paperwork.
Beyond us, out in the field, Sergeant Lynette Bishop and Sergeant Yoshika Miyafuji are sitting together on a bench, enjoying the ten minute break that I’ve given them. Obviously, they’re too far away for me to hear what they’re saying, but knowing them, they’re probably comparing stories about their respective homelands. I’ve overheard them have such conversations before, and while Yoshika may not pick up on it, it’s always a painful subject for Lynette.
I don’t usually give such generous breaks, but I’ve been looking for an excuse to talk to Minna since this morning. She’s the only person I’ve told about my decision… The only person I know, for certain, who will give me an honest, unbiased opinion.
“And why do you say that?” I ask her, although I think I already know what her reasoning is.
Minna places her hand on the jeep, satisfied. All of the necessary equipment and paperwork has been signed, with enough room left to bring both Hartman and Barkhorn back from the airport. She turns to me, trying to hide her concern with a soft smile. “I know you think you’re doing the right thing by passing her the torch, but is 21 really old enough to retire?”
A faint gust of wind blows through, causing her few untied strands of hair to sway with it. I feel a chilly breeze on my bare legs, but after all these years, it’s a feeling I’m long past familiar with.
Unfortunately, things I’ve gotten used to can change. My body’s grown stiff. Minna knows it, although she no longer acknowledges it. But it’s bothered her before. It may not be typical of women my age, but I can’t move as freely as I used to when I was a younger soldier. I can’t even keep up while training my recruits and subordinates anymore. “I need to start moving on,” I soberly repeat to her, averting my gaze from hers. “If I stay on much longer, I’m going to become a liability. They’re better off without me.”
Minna tilts her head, her soft smile still firmly in place. She walks towards me, and gently places her right hand on my arm. I may not act as chummy with her as I do with Yoshika, or as friendly as I do with some of the others in my squadron, and the majority of our conversations usually involve military business. But I’ve always felt a strong connection to her. I trust her like nobody else.
“I don’t know, Mio. Maybe I’m just being selfish. But weren’t you the one defending yourself on this very issue just one year ago? You were right, then. Just because your field capabilities are becoming limited doesn’t mean you have to leave us completely. There are jobs in the higher ranks that you’d be perfect for.”
I don’t want another position in the military. I don’t know why… Maybe it’s because I’m weak, and tired of this place altogether. Or maybe it’s because I can’t handle the idea of sitting behind a desk while everybody else flies off to fight the bad guys.
It’s funny how much a person’s perspective can change after a year.
I move her hand off of my arm, as gently as it’d been placed there. “My mind’s made up,” I tell her, trying not to dwell on her disappointed expression. “There are other things I want to do. I-“
Before I can make a joke about getting married and having children, the alarm goes off from somewhere in the base.
Neuroi.

~~*~~*~~*~~*~~

“It was about my future in the military,” Sakamoto answered, as her memory of the conversation flashed vividly in her mind. Not wanting to tell them any further, she quickly changed the subject. “Since Hartman and Barkhorn were still on vacation, and Litvyak was still asleep from her 12 hour turn on the night shift, I decided to make due with the soldiers that were available.”
Bernard was silent for a moment. In front of him, Sakamoto noticed five manilla folders lying on the table. What could they be?
“You took every available witch with you?”
Sakamoto nodded. “Yes, sir. After the alarm sounded, I was informed of the situation over my com-link. I was told of the air crafts it had already destroyed, as well as the reason it attacked us.”
“Hmm.” Bernard paused, cautiously. Around him, the other members of the council who had been quiet up until now were now murmuring amongst themselves. Bernard didn’t seem to notice. “Never mind that. Out of the eight witches that departed, only five are recorded to have survived. Were there any factors that put you at such a harsh disadvantage?”
“Sir…” Sakamoto began. With the way he had worded that question, her fists at her sides were clenched so hard that her own fingernails were threatening to cut her at any moment. “We had no way of knowing how powerful it was, compared to previous Neuroi.”

~~*~~*~~*~~*~~

“Do you see it yet?” Perrine Closterman asks from beside me.
“Not yet,” I tell her, not even bothering to use the com-link. We’re close enough to hear each other. My special right eye may be able to see great distances, with a range even more impressive than that of the sharpest raptor, but I still can’t make out the Neuroi.
Perrine sticks up her nose in disgust, something only she can do while flying at these speeds. “Damn those classless idiots! What do they think they’re trying to do, make fools of us? Is there even a Neuroi out here?”
“Calm down, Perrine,” Minna’s voice crackles on my com-link. At about twenty feet behind us, the only person who can hear her without one is her partner for today, Eila. “We’re still quite a ways away from the location they gave to us.”
At this moment, we’re flying in pairs- since she won’t work with anybody else, Perrine is with me. She’s clingy with me, but I’m not bothered by it, as we have been known to work exceedingly well together. To my left, and about ten feet below me, Yoshika and Lynette are together, as that’s how the two of them work best.
Flight Lieutenant Charlotte Yeager and Pilot Officer Francesca Lucchini are also together, behind us, and a few hundred feet to our left.
It’s an old strategy I picked up in my years of fighting. If you can manage it, you have everyone pair off, so that one pilot can attack while their partner defends. It comes in handy when you don’t know what you’re up against.
My uniform flows in the wind, as it’s been designed to do, as the cool air whips past my bare legs. As a pleasant bonus from wearing my striker unit, the magic used to bond them to my legs also insulates them, providing limited protection from the chill of moving winds.
“What about you, Eila?” I ask into the com-link, speaking to our psychic. If I can’t yet see our enemy, than I’m sure she’ll be able to.
“Give me a sec, Major!” After a moment, her voice appears on the com-link again, but something is different. She sounds apprehensive… even a little scared. “I don’t understand. All I can sense is darkness. I don’t know what that means.”
“Don’t worry about it!” I shout back, a little annoyed. How can we not see it yet? Has it actually vanished?
I cradle my Aircraft cannon in my left arm as I raise my eye-patch again, and peer into the distance with my special eye. This time, as I see farther, I can make out a vague black shape against the horizon. It’s difficult to tell it’s size, or even it’s shape, from as far away as I am. But aside from a Neuroi, what else can it possibly be?
“Enemy sighted!” I call over my com-link.
I hear a crackling, followed by Minna’s voice. “What class?”
Even as I strain my eye to it’s maximum, I can’t make out any other details about it. The only thing that appears odd is it’s height- If I can believe my eyes at this distance, it looks like it could be over five hundred feet from bottom to top. “Not clear,” I call back, as I press my arms against my body, and move my legs as close together as they’ll go, reducing wind resistance. My speed increases, and like a good partner, Perrine follows suit.
As we come rapidly closer to it, I begin to make out it’s features. To my surprise, it looks almost like the shadow of a man. It has a discernible head, and two longs arms coming out of its shoulders. I can’t see any legs, but the closer I get, and the harder I strain my eye, I can actually see defined muscles on it’s chest. It’s facing us.
I relay these details to Minna.
“Bishop and Miyafuji,” she calls, “move out and approach it from it’s 3:00, from below. Yeager and Lucchini, from it’s 10:00.”
Over the com-link, I can hear several voices responding with “Right!” one after another.
“Sakamoto and Closterman,” she continues, “We’re moving ahead to join you.”
I’m only half-listening to her, as I’m still attempting to take in the form of this strange Neuroi. Why is it shaped like that? In the past, there have been Neuroi that took human form in order to mimic us, but what’s the point in this?
Could it be… Trying to mock the image of a deity?
“Wake up!” I can hear this call from behind me, but it isn’t Perrine’s voice. I turn around, to see Commander Minna flying close behind me, with a distinct look of concern. “Are you here?”
I nod, as I notice Perrine and Eila watching us carefully. “Yes, commander. What’s the plan?”
“The other teams will confuse it from both sides,” she explains to me. “When it’s guard is down, the four of us will search for the core, and destroy it.”
Simple enough, I admit to myself.
“You can leave the searching to me,” Eila offers, as Perrine nods in agreement.
“I thought you said all you could sense was darkness,” I point out. “Your abilities may be blocked.”
“That had to be the distance,” Eila counters, sounding sure of herself. “If I get in close, I know I can find it.”
“Fine,” Minna agrees. “When the time comes, take Perrine with you, and-“
Our conversation is cut off by a sharp, worried scream. Recognizing the voice, I look over to the north, to see Yoshika regaining her composure, several dozen feet below Lynnette. “Be careful!” She calls out over the com-link, sounding terrified. “It broke my shield!”
It broke her… I can’t believe my ears, as I stare at her, dumb-founded. How could it break her shield, when she has one of the most powerful shields on our force? Had she made a mistake?
Before I can ask her this question, I catch sight of the Neuroi, and my voice catches in my throat. It doesn’t have cannons, or any obvious areas you’d expect it’s shots to be fired from. As I stare at it, I can see it firing it’s cannons from it’s very shell, as small holes are randomly opening up and firing at both attacking teams, who are doing the best they can to dodge these shots.
In fact, both teams seem to have given up their attack, now more intent on evading their enemy as attack after attack comes closer and closer to them.
Shit… This is bad…
I grit my teeth, and prepare to ask Minna for a new plan, when I see the Neuroi turn it’s giant head back towards me. I can’t see any eyes on it, but with a creepy sensation across the surface of my skin, I can tell that it’s staring right at me.
It opens it’s mouth, and inside of it, I can see nothing but red. Glowing, growing red. I know what it’s going to do.
“Move!” I call, as I Aileron roll to the side, the bright red blast just barely missing me. I can feel the heat off of it… My hair and clothes are singed by it.
Below me, Perrine shares my reaction. She was already flying just too low to be in range when the shot was fired, so it hadn’t been hard for her to dodge it.
I’m about to ask Minna if she’s okay when a scream of agony erupts into my com-link, almost deafening me. It’s filled with so much pain that it actually reminds me of some of the worst battles I’ve ever fought.
The Neuroi’s mouth has yet to close, and the blast has yet to dissipate. And Eila’s right leg has disappeared inside of it.
Using my eye, I can actually see through the blast. I almost wish I couldn’t, because what I’m seeing is causing my stomach to lurch. I can clearly see her right striker unit melting away to nothing, as the skin below it blackens and burns.
Within a moment that seems to stretch on for hours, her leg has been eaten away to the bone, and then disappears completely. Only then does the blast finally dissipate.
Even out in the open air, I can still smell her burning flesh, and I’m unable to tear my eyes away from the bleeding, blackened stump that’s been left behind.
The three of us are too stunned to react. Luckily, when Eila finally stops screaming, and her eyes begin to close, I’m the first one to break out of my stupor. Her remaining striker engine stops moving, and the unconscious girl falls from the sky.
She doesn’t fall far before I catch her by the arm, the shock of my grabbing her causing an extra spurt of blood and muscle to fall from her stump to the ocean below. Why hadn’t the wound cauterized?
“Perrine! Get your ass down here!” I call. I lift Eila up so that I can hold her in my arms. I check her pulse. She’s still alive.
The blonde girl is almost instantly by my side, trying her best not to stare at Eila’s wound. “Y-Yes, Major?”
“Remove it!” I tell her, motioning with my eyes to the striker unit on Eila’s left leg. It’s useless at this point, and it’s only going to be an inconvenience to us.
“I got it!” She flies below me, and disengages Eila’s remaining striker engine. She stares at it as it falls to the ocean, probably unsure as to whether or not I want her to salvage it.
“Listen carefully, Perrine,” I tell her, still not sure of what the rest of us are going to do from here. “I want you to take Eila, and retreat from the battle. Take her back to the base, and standby for further instructions. Do you understand?”
She stares back at me, hesitating. Knowing her, I can tell she’s afraid of leaving me to die. “But… Major… I…”
“We don’t have time for this!” I bark at her, and she flinches and moves away a little. She probably doesn’t even know she’s doing it. “This is more than just a career ending wound. If you don’t take her back to a medic right now, she is going to die. Do as I say, and don’t ever question my orders again!”
She’s taken aback, but nods, putting on a more serious expression. She takes Eila out of my arms, cradling her like a newlywed over the threshold. “I understand.” With one parting glance, she heads off in the direction of the base.
Being right next to Perrine, I didn’t actually need to have the com-link on in order to talk to her. But I left it on anyway, because I wanted someone else to hear our conversation.
Above me, I see Minna also using the com-link.
“Lieutenant Yeager, did you hear that?”
“Yes sir,” Charlotte’s voice answers.
“I want you to follow them, and provide some cover until they’re safely out of range. Then, I want you to return to the battle. Do you understand?”
“Crystal clear, Minna.”
Off in the distance, I see Charlotte leaving the battle. Without hesitation, Luccini acts appropriately, drawing some fire to herself so that Charlotte can leave.
I can still smell Eila’s burning flesh.

“Flight Officer Eila Juutilainen was maimed by a powerful cannon blast,” Sakamoto continued. She motioned to the blood stain on her jacket. “I’m sure you already know this, but she died on the operating table less than ten minutes ago. I was in the room when it happened.”
General Bernard nodded. “I was informed.”
A silence followed, as Sakamoto remembered the agonizing two and a half hours that Eila had been suffering in the O.R. Through some oversight, there was no anesthetic available, and since doctors were short-handed, Mio herself had volunteered to help out. She’d been holding Eila down while the pretty young soldier struggled against them.
Under different circumstances, she might have lived. Or at the very least, she would have had the luxury of dying peacefully.
“Our med technicians did the best they could,” Bernard commented. “I’m sorry she didn’t make it.”
Sakamoto grimaced. Is that why her future sight was blocked? Was she seeing darkness because she was seeing her own death?
General Bernard cleared his throat. “Moving on. Can you please explain for us the circumstances surrounding the death of the young sergeant?”
The young sergeant? Sakamoto thinks to herself. You fucking aristocrats were the idiots who caused this, and you don’t even have the decency to refer to her by her name, even in my presence?
Sakamoto bit her tongue, to keep herself from saying something dangerous for her, and lowered her head. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t see the actual shot.”
General Bernard nodded, and motioned for her to continue. “Tell us what you did see.”

~~*~~*~~*~~*~~

I can’t see it’s core with my eye. I keep expecting to see it’s glowing red core under it’s shell, but even though we’ve been attacking it non-stop for a full five minutes since Charlotte and Perrione left, it still hasn’t appeared to me.
This isn’t good.
“Minna!” I call. Off to my far right, my auburn haired friend is having as much trouble as I am trying to use her power inbetween dodging attacks. “We really need a new plan!”
In the last few minutes, it’s been attacking us relentlessly, as if it doesn’t need any time whatsoever to replenish itself. It’s used the laser cannon three times, once nearly killing Francesca… If I hadn’t been nearby to pull her out of the way, she’d have been a goner.
“It’s not giving me time to think of one,” she calls back. “I hate to think of it, but we may need to retreat and regroup.”
But we can’t do that. A monster with this kind of destructive power should never be left to it’s own devices, not while we still have even the slightest chance of actually destroying it!
A few more moments pass. A smaller shot passes through the space between my legs, missing me, but reminding me just how vulnerable I am in my state.
“Umm, I think I have an idea,” pipes up a familiar, normally adorable voice on my com-link.
“Yes, Miyafuji?”
She explains her plan to me. She’s no military strategist, of course… Her plan is reckless, it’s dangerous, and it’s so simple that a child could have thought of it. It could only be conceivable as a last ditch effort, but unfortunately, that’s the kind of situation that we’re in.
“All right. Go ahead with it.”
Commander Minna nods. “It’s worth a shot.”
With that, I see Francesca, Lynette, and Miyafuji flying closer to the Neuroi. At the same time, Minna flies closer to me. “This had better work. It’s our last shot.”
I can only agree with her. We point our striker units forward, and fly away from the battlefield, never taking our eyes off of the behemoth.
When we’re far enough away so that we’re just out of what we assume to be the Neuroi’s range, I lift up my eye patch, and strain my eyes once more to study it. We’re close enough for his laser cannon to hit us, but if he uses it at this distance, we’ll see it coming with just enough time to dodge.
Before my eye, the three of them are circling the Neuroi, systematically perforating every inch of it with their weapons. Her anti-tank cannon attached to her back, Lynne is using her light machine gun. She’ll have to switch when it’s time to fire.
Even with all three of them attacking it at a number of different points, I still can’t see the core. Where the hell is it?
I grit my teeth as I hear Minna next to me, asking me for my results. What am I supposed to tell her? That in a moment, all three of them are going to die, leaving us the option of either going in ourselves or running away and admitting defeat? That I’d had faith in Miyafuji’s plan, even though I’d known in my heart that it was foolish?
“Commander, I-“
I’m cut off as an orange bolt shoots below me- not coming from the Neuroi, but shooting towards the Neuroi. I immediately recognize it as the very girl who’d broken the sound barrier over a year ago. “Charlotte!”
She chuckles over the com-link. “Let me get in on this action, and see what I can’t cook up.”
That means Perrine and Eila are home safe. That means I can stop worrying about them, knowing that Eila’s life is going to be saved, and Perrine’s not going to be harmed. Knowing this lifts my spirits, and looking over, I can tell it’s doing the same thing for Minna.
“You heard the plan, right?” I call to her. In response, she joins the other girls, circling the Neuroi at different angles and firing at it as tirelessly as it’s fired at us. But our ammo reserves can’t last forever. If we run out without finding a target, we’ll be sitting ducks.
It isn’t until she targets his back that I finally see our prize. I only see it briefly, as a lucky shot happens to strike at a lucky area.
“Target confirmed! Fire at the small of its back!”
That’s all it takes. All four of them abandon whatever body part they had been working on and fly to the same area as Charlotte, who seems to have also seen the glow, as she buries bullet after bullet into the sweet spot.
With all four of them targeting the right area at the same time, the giant Neuroi howls, and is unable to continue shooting at them. Lynette abandons her machine gun, and pulls her anti-tank cannon off of her back, flying a good distance away from the behemoth.
The second the core is fully exposed, she fires. It only takes one shot.
Hit by Lynette’s heavy-duty bullet, the core shatters, and explodes, the shards of it bouncing off of everyones shields as they celebrate. Charlotte hugs Francesca into her bosom, and Yoshika flies towards Lynette, a big, innocent smile plastered over her face.
In front of them, and distant from us, the black behemoth stands motionless, fading into thin air.
“I didn’t think the kid’s idea would work,” I tell Minna, who’s hovering next to me. Even when things were seriously hectic, I notice, she hasn’t once been less calm than this. I’ve forgotten how much I admire her.
“I don’t feel right, knowing I’ll have to praise her for piecing together such an amateurish plan,” she comments back. Thankfully, we both have our com-links switched off.
“If it makes you feel any better,” I offer, “We can just do the good-cop-bad-cop thing again. You praise, I ridicule. Would that work better for you?”
She chuckles, and soon starts to laugh for real. It’s not something either of us do often, but I join her, relieved to have gotten our unit out of this fight intact. I try not to think about the fact that Eila will never be able to fly again… Let alone walk… but if that’s the worst thing to happen to us, than we’ve been fairly lucky tonight.
“You see? Even if you’re not as spry as you used to be, you’re still useful to us. You don’t have to leave at all.”
I nod. Maybe she’s right. Maybe there really isn’t any reason for me to leave all of this behind. At the very least, I do enjoy the feeling I get after a victory.
I hear Miyafuji scream over the com-link, and my heart sinks all over again.
My gaze snaps towards the direction that I last saw the four of them. I never saw what happened- but I can see Sergeants Miyafuji and Bishop falling headfirst towards the ocean. It’s impossible to tell which one’s been hit, as they’re both falling at the same speed, but my question is soon answered as Miyafuji moves closer to her Britannian friend, and catches her out of thin air.
I stare at them, unsure of what to think, and unsure of what to believe. It isn’t until I hear Charlotte’s frantic voice in my ear that I’m able to take action.
“Commander… Major… Lynn’s been shot! Lynn’s been killed!”
“Grrr…” Suspicious, I raise my eye patch again, and what I see stops my heart. Off in the distance, I can see over a dozen smaller Neuroi heading for the battlefield. Since Lynette was shot, I have no doubt that they were the gunmen.
The major job is done. We’ve destroyed the giant Neuroi, and we’re all beat from it. We don’t have enough ammunition or energy to fight this many new enemies, even if they are the right size for us. With one soldier dead, and one soldier maimed, we can’t even afford to try. There’s only one thing left to say.
Commander Minna takes the words right out of my mouth. “All units, retreat!”

~~*~~*~~*~~*~~

Major Sakamoto hung her head. “I didn’t see what happened. All I know is that she was shot in the head, and died almost instantly. A retreat was called for soon afterwards, when we realized how outnumbered we had become.”
General Bernard glanced over to his left. A Britannian woman whom Sakamoto had never really spoken to before stood up, holding a document in her hand.
“We were able to secure a statement from Sergeant Miyafuji,” Chief Ramona Ceren informed her. “Would you like to hear it?”
That’s odd, Sakamoto thought. The last time she’d spoken to Yoshika, her fellow Fuso alumnus had been hysterical. She’d barely been able to get two coherent words out of her. “Yes, Chief.”
Chief Ceren looked down at the document. “In her own words. ‘It was Lynn who shot the Neuroi. I was congratulating her, when a big hole appeared next to her eye. I could see through it, until it turned red and began to leak. She’s dead. My best friend is dead, isn’t she?'”
Chief Ceren exhaled, clearly upset by what she was reading. “She broke down at that point, and we were unable to get any more information out of her.”
From the half-witted way that the statement had been made, Sakamoto was beginning to feel even more worried about Yoshika’s mental state. She’d been shaken, that was understandable, but how badly? A girl as sensitive as her, witnessing her best friend killed in front of her eyes… How badly had it left her?
“She was obviously in shock,” General Bernard summarized, casually. “Once it wears off, we’re going to try to get her into therapy to help her come to terms with what she’s seen. I think we can all agree to regarding her recovery as a high priority.”
Sakamoto swallowed, and nodded. “Yes, sir.”
There was another long silence in the room. And the sheer amount of these awkward pauses was starting to make her uncomfortable. What actual point was there to all of this? What was this all leaning towards? They probably knew all of the answers to the questions they were asking her. What were they hoping to gain by making her relive all of these events, none of them more than a few hours old, that she just wanted to forget?
The silence was broken by a phone ringing over on the center of the table. An older secretary picked it up, and listened silently for a long, dragging moment. “Thank you. Go ahead as planned.”
He put it down, and Sakamoto’s eyes narrowed. “What was that all about?”
General Bernard answered for him. “The remaining Neuroi have retreated toward the hive, and a team of our scouts are heading into the battle site to search for and recover Commander Wilcke’s body. They should have it secured by morning.”
Major Sakamoto tried to respond, but her retort was choked out by a familiar lump in her throat. A lump she’d trained herself to repress. He had just brought up the one memory she’d been repressing all night.
Not now, dammit. I can’t remember that now. I can’t lose myself in front of these people.
She tensed her body, and struggled against the flood of oncoming tears that were threatening to publicly damage her credibility as an officer. They can’t see me cry…
And they won’t.
Calling upon all of her will power, she summoned the strength to swallow her tears back, and steel herself. She was an officer of the 501’st Joint Fighter Wing, and the people she worked with weren’t her friends. They were expendable units, just like she was. “With all due respect, sir,” she replied, her voice still a little shaky, “they won’t find it.”
“Hmm,” he replied, as he stood up from his chair. With his shadow out of the way, she could finally read the headline of one of his folders. “Well, we’re sending them in anyway, as a formality.”
The headline was sticking out of the folder, haphazardly. It must have slipped out a bit by accident. All she could read was “Akari Kanzaki, Fuso Empire, age 15.”
Are they already considering new recruits? She interpreted, as the anger from before welled up inside of her. Are we that dispensable, to the point where they can just replace us within a day? They can just send in new teenagers to die, and expect it to continue like this, replacing dead soldiers with new girls, until the end of time?
“This is your fault,” she growled, as General Bernard was preparing to leave.
He froze, and looked over at her. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
“You know what I said,” Mio shot back. She wasn’t raising her voice, but her tone was cold and sharp, just like her katana. “That Neuroi wasn”t harming anyone, and you attacked it, using some shoddy, unapproved test weapon. You provoked it, you ignorant bastard. Because of your stupidity, it killed both your soldiers and mine, and you have the audacity to sit there all safe and treat them all like commodities? If you ever belittle my friends like that again in front of me, I will feed you your own pistol.”
“And if you ever speak to me like that again,” Bernard responded, just as coldly, “you will be court-marshaled.”
Sakamoto stood there stubbornly, her fury burning inside of her. She and Bernard stared daggers at each other, as other members of the council gawked at them, waiting to see who would make the first move. This was the ignition they were fearing.
Sakamotos katana was still strapped to her back, and at that moment, she was becoming explicitly aware of it’s weight on her. It would be as easy to unsheathe as it would be to use.
Despite her fury, it was common sense that got the better of her. “I apologize, General.”
The General turned, to give her his full attention. His tone, deadly serious as it was, did not let up. “According to the official reports, nobody will be held accountable for what happened to day. Yes, it may have been shortsighted of us to attack an inactive Neuroi without waiting for intelligence. Just as it may have been short-sighted of you to send two of your best pilots away to tend to a lost cause, when their presence could have easily prevented two other key losses. Mistakes were made on both sides, and both sides equally regret their decisions. Understood?”
“Yes, General.”
“Tomorrow at 7:00, a memorial will be held for those who were killed today. My pilots as well as yours. Promotions will also be announced, to fill the holes that have been left behind. Aside from that, things around here will continue on unchanged. Understood?”
Sakamoto nodded, her fists shaking. “Yes, General.”
Bernard bowed slightly, giving her her cue to exit. “You’re dismissed, Commander Sakamoto.”

Mio Sakamoto left the inquiry feeling as if a monster was about to burst from the pit of her stomach. News of a token funeral, and even the news of her own abrupt promotion, had done little to alleviate the pain. At this point, she was unsure if anything could do that for her.
She passed by Yoshika’s room, and could hear hysterical crying on the other side of the young girl’s door. She placed her hand on the doorknob, but decided against inviting herself in. She was in no state to be comforting anyone.
She continued on down the hall, trying not to think about the newly empty rooms she was passing. It wouldn’t do her any good to dwell on them all over again. It wouldn’t bring them back, and it wouldn’t give her any satisfaction. She didn’t want to be anywhere near Sanya when she received the news about Eila… A cowardly thought, she knew, but could her nerves really take that much more weight?
Finally, she made it to her own room, at the end of the hall. She went inside, and without flicking on the light, allowed the moonlight direct her gaze to the spot where Minna Wilcke had once pointed a gun at her, demanding that she abstain from fighting.
The song Minna had used to serenade the troops found it’s way into her mind, and with that, her final memory from their battle resurfaced, tearing through the blockade she’d placed on her heart.

~~*~~*~~*~~*~~

With my comrades alongside me, I fly away from the battlefield, looking over my shoulder as the small Neuroi continue to pursue us. We’re carrying dead weight, and they’re as fast as we are. We don’t have a prayer.
Below me, Yoshika’s flying sloppily, her concentration beyond broken. She’d insisted on flying alone, but I’m still watching her like a hawk, waiting for an excuse to swoop down and grab her like a child.
Ahead of us, Charlotte and Francesca are carrying Lynnette’s body. We should have left her behind… Minna and I both agree on that… But if we’d made that sacrifice, Yoshika would have definitely tried to stay behind with her.
Another blast shoots by me, singeing more than a few strands of my hair. We can’t evade their attacks forever- even if they don’t shoot us down before we reach base, they’ll just attack and kill us when we reach the base. The cannons there can’t possibly take out all of them… I’ve seen Neuroi do bolder things than that before.
“They’re gaining on us,” I call to Minna over the com-link.
“I know that,” she sent back to me. We’re talking over the com-link’s rarely used private line. “Ah… I… Look, whatever happens, don’t leave them. Get them home safely, and take care of them. They’re going to need you more than ever.”
I feel a chill, and it’s completely unrelated to the cold air on my legs. “Commander, what are you talking about?”
I look up, and see her smiling to me, her face red, and tears being blown right off of her face from the wind. She breaks formation, and heads back to the Neuroi.
Behind me, I hear gun fire. I want to turn around, to fly over and fight right there alongside her. But instead, I follow her order, while screaming for her.
Once we’re out of range, I take a look behind me. I can see her tearing the Neuroi apart, as they do the same to her.
I can’t bear to see any more. I turn my attention back to the sky ahead of me, and the base that’s growing upon the horizon.

~~*~~*~~*~~*~~

She drew the curtains, and ambled lifelessly to her bed, not bothering to undress, and collapsed into it. She hugged her pillow close to her face, as all of the tears she’d been fighting back erupted inside of her. She planted her face into her pillow, and wept unhindered into its wrinkles, letting it absorb every scream she had to offer it. After a moment, she pulled the wet eye-patch off of her, and dropped it carelessly off of the side of her mattress. It would only get in the way.
It was strange… Yoshika often saw her as a superior being. Somebody stronger than her who could take the worst of the world with grace and power. What would she think if she could see her now, as broken and pathetic as anyone else would be?
She’d given the council the strong, emotional fortress they’d wanted to see. Early tomorrow, she’d give the entire military the passionate leader they were hoping to see. And after that, when it was finally necessary, she’d give Yoshika the big sister she needed to see.
But for right now, alone in her room, with nobody around to judge her, and no expectations to fill, she’d give herself the tears that she needed to see.
They were the only thing that could make her feel human.

Author’s Note: I tried to make this story as cannon as possible, but it conflicts with several details from the anime series. I apologize for that.
Having said that, I hope you enjoyed it!

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