As November drew to a close, a young Ultra was about to make a discovery that would change everything.
Or perhaps just his friends' lives, but as these friends meant everything to this kind young alien, that was hardly a distinction.
“Captain Sakomizu,” Mirai said, looking up from the Phoenix Nest schedule he'd just been handed, “why is the Nest practically empty on the 25th? It's just you, me, Ryuu, and hardly anyone else!”
“Ah,” Sakomizu said, “you haven't been here for a Christmas yet, have you. I should expl–”
“Oh!” Mirai shouted, “I know about Christmas!”
“Yes! Ace told me all about how Father of Ultra was Santa!”
“I see.” Sakomizu paused. “Did they tell you anything else?”
“No!” Mirai smiled. “Is there more to it?”
“Quite a bit,” Sakomizu said. “It's a celebration that has origins in religious practices, but many people who aren't religious find joy in participating in its message of kindness and good cheer.”
“It's a day for being nice to each other?” Mirai's eyes brightened. “How do you do it? Do you feed and clothe the needy? Find homes for lost animals? Stop fighting wars?”
“Well,” Sakomizu interrupted before Mirai got too overexcited, “there are people who do any or all of those things, but most people give gifts to loved ones. That's why the Nest is going to be so empty; most people see the day as a time to spend with family.”
“So why are you staying here?” Mirai asked.
“Not everyone gets the chance to go,” Sakomizu said. “The universe keeps going even when one planet is having a good day; someone has to be here if any threats arise, and I'm in charge.”
“Oh, of course!” Mirai said. “What about Ryuu?”
“What about Ryuu?” Ryuu asked, zipping his uniform jacket as he dropped into the seat at his workstation.
“Aren't you going to spend Christmas with your family?” Mirai asked, starting to tear up.
“I am,” Ryuu said, and the next half hour was lost to Mirai's overjoyed wailing.
“Here!” Mirai said, handing a small box across the cafeteria table to Konomi. “I know it's early, but I thought since you won't be here on Christmas...?”
“Oh!” Konomi said. “Of course it's fine, don't worry. Should I open it now, or wait for everyone, or–”
“Now is fine!” Mirai said, “I haven't found gifts for everyone yet but I couldn't wait once I found yours!”
“Well, in that case,” Konomi said, opening the box, “I... are these prescription?”
“Hm?” Mirai hid absolutely none of his confusion as Konomi picked the Ultra Eye replica up to examine it.
“Of course they aren't,” Konomi said more to herself than Mirai, “they couldn't be without you knowing mine.”
“Prescription?” Mirai asked. Konomi looked up.
“Mirai, I don't just wear my glasses because I like how they look.”
“No, I don't,” Konomi said. “My eyes aren't shaped in a way that lets me see clearly and the lenses in my glasses counteract that.”
“That's so clever!” Mirai said. “Do you know who came up with that?”
“No? A lot of people, probably,” Konomi said. “Anyway, I can take these to my eye doctor and get the lenses replaced, it's okay.”
“Ah!” Mirai said. “Wait, no I didn't get them to replace your glasses!”
“Remember that charm for courage I taught you?”
“Dyuwach?” Konomi asked, lifting the Ultra Eye to her face automatically.
“Yes!” Mirai said. “That's actually how Seven transforms!”
“With something like these?” Konomi asked. Mirai nodded. “Not like your... arm thing?”
“Nope!” Mirai said. “His Ultra Eye looks just like that! A lot of Ultras transform differently now that I think about it...”
“Well,” Konomi said, giggling, “if I'm Ultraseven, that makes me your senior, right?”
“Actually,” Mirai said, “it makes you my older sister!”
“Really?” Konomi said, fully laughing now. “Wow, I'd better tell my parents!”
“Marina, wait!” Mirai shouted, rushing down the hall, shopping bags in hand. “I didn't have time to wrap them but I want you to have these before you have tomorrow off in case you go to the track!”
“Early Christmas gift?” Marina asked. Mirai nodded. “I heard from Konomi. You know there's nothing wrong with waiting a couple weeks for Christmas to actually happen, right?”
“I know,” Mirai said, “but!”
“I understand, I used to do the same thing,” Marina said, leaving out that she hadn't done it since she was six. “Dad would take me shopping for Mom and as soon as we got home I'd run straight to her with her present. Same thing when Mom took me shopping for Dad.”
“That's so sweet!” Mirai said.
“Still,” Marina said, “waiting to see if someone likes the gift you picked as much as you hope can be as much a part of the fun of Christmas as waiting to see what people got for you.”
“Oh,” Mirai said, “I hadn't thought of that! You don't have to look in the bags right now if you don't want!”
“You said they'd be useful right away, right?” Marina said, taking the bags from Mirai. “We can both properly wait next year; this year is for impatience.”
“Okay!” Mirai said, as Marina pulled a box out of one bag and set it aside to see what was in the other.
“Is this... custom Mebius racing gear?” Marina asked. “Mirai, this is incredible! Where did you get the money for this?”
“I don't spend much?” Mirai said.
“I guess since you live in the Nest and don't eat a lot, but I didn't think you were saving this much!” Marina said. “Is the box what I think it is?”
“It's a box?”
“I mean in the box, Mirai,” Marina said, amused.
“Probably,” Mirai said, “unless you don't expect a baseball glove?”
“A baseball–?” Marina opened the box and gave Mirai a look as she lifted the custom helmet out. “Ha ha. You've really learned to joke with the best of them, Mirai.”
“Captain Sakomizu, I have your gift!” Mirai said, carrying a rather large box.
“Do I have the date wrong?” Teppei whispered to Konomi. “It's not–”
“There's still a week to Christmas,” Konomi assured him.
“That's quite the box, Mirai,” Sakomizu said.
“Well,” Mirai said, “I thought I'd make up for getting the wrong beans for your birthday!”
“Oh no,” George murmured.
“Shhh!” Marina smacked his arm.
“That's kind of you, Mirai,” Sakomizu said, tearing off the wrapping paper to reveal a Keurig machine, “you didn't have... to......”
“I think he's going to cry!” George exclaimed.
“From joy!” Teppei appended.
“I need a moment,” Sakomizu said, before limping out the door, stunned.
“Wow,” George said with a whistle, “he really–”
“Liked it!” Konomi interrupted, with a bit of forced laughter. “A lot!”
“Are you sure?” Mirai asked.
“Yes,” nearly everyone chorused, to drown out George's “No!”
“Mirai!” Teppei shouted, “Since you've been giving everyone's gifts early, I thought I'd return the favor.”
“I was just looking for you!” Mirai said, holding up a gift of his own.
“Nice!” Teppei said. “Do you want to open yours first or should I?”
“Yes!” Mirai said. “I mean, it doesn't matter?”
“Then let's do it at the same time,” Teppei said.
“You can do that?” Mirai asked.
“Sure!” Teppei said. “Christmas doesn't really have official rules. Every family has their own traditions.”
“Okay then!” Mirai said, handing over his gift and taking Teppei's.
“On three?” Teppei asked, as Mirai started opening the wrapping. “Or... now. That works too.”
“It's me!” Mirai exclaimed, seeing the figure of Mebius Teppei had bought him. “Why are there so many hands?”
“That's a super-poseable figure,” Teppei said, turning the plain box he'd unwrapped every which way to see if there was any indication what was inside, “so it comes with swappable hands so that you can match them to the scene you're... Oh, I should have gotten you some monsters for it to fight, I'm sorry!”
“It's okay!” Mirai said, as Teppei opened his box and started removing packing material. “I don't like fighting anyway!”
“Mirai,” Teppei said in a hushed voice, “are these kaiju festival masks as vintage as they look?”
“They're all from when my brothers were protecting the Earth!” Mirai said. “They were really hard to find!”
“I,” Teppei said, setting the box down gingerly, “have been trying to find these,” then stepping carefully around it, “for years!” and hugging Mirai tighter than Mirai had ever been hugged. “Years.”
“Does George not like gifts?” Mirai asked.
“I don't think he doesn't,” Ryuu said. “He didn't make a fuss when I handed him a card before he went home yesterday, at least. Why?”
“Well I haven't been able to give him the gift I bought!” Mirai said. “I thought he might not celebrate Christmas at all, but he would be here today if he didn't, right? So then I thought he might be avoiding my present?”
“I'm sure it's just been a case of bad timing,” Ryuu said. “I'll make sure you get it to him when he's back. We will, right, Sakomizu?”
“Hm?” The captain looked up from his coffee. “Oh, yes. Of course.”
“Good morning Captain Sakomizu!” Mirai said. “I didn't see you come in!”
“I've been having a quiet morning,” Sakomizu said. “Hopefully the day will stay that way.”
“Oh!” Mirai exclaimed. “Do you know what else I haven't seen?”
“Nnno?” Ryuu said.
“Your new coffee machine!” Mirai said. “Are you not using it?”
“No! I mean–” Sakomizu said, nearly dropping his espresso cup. “Of course I do, in my personal quarters, where there's no risk of the Adjutant – or anyone else – breaking it.”
“Oh!” Mirai said, relieved. “That's smart!”
“I... treasure it,” Sakomizu said. “Truly.”
“Hey, so speaking of gifts” Ryuu said, changing the topic away from that one in particular, “you tried to get everyone else theirs early; what about mine?”
“Well everyone else would be getting presents from their families today no matter when they got one from me, right?” Mirai said, getting up and grabbing a present from under Teppei's workstation. “But I wasn't sure if you would, so I waited until today!”
“Oh, that makes sense.”
“I was going to wait until later,” Mirai said, “but since you asked, here!”
“I was joking!” Ryuu lied, tearing into the package, “Thanks, though, it's very thoughtful of– holy cow, flame-decal pajamas!”
“You like them?” Mirai asked.
“Do I ever!” Ryuu said. “I'm gonna go put them on right–”
Sakomizu cleared his throat.
“–after this shift ends,” Ryuu continued, less excitedly, “when wearing them won't violate GUYS uniform code.”
“I'm not going to,” George said. “I'm telling you all, it's not going to end well.”
“Just do it, George,” Marina said.
“You're being very rude,” Konomi added.
“Don't look at me for support,” Ryuu said.
“Just accept Mirai's gift, George,” Teppei said. “He's your friend and teammate!”
“No!” George said. “I can't be the one to break his heart when I hate his terrible gift.”
“George!” Teppei scolded. “He got me an incredibly thoughtful gift that I honestly appreciate.”
“Me too,” Marina said.
“And me,” Konomi said.
“Same,” Ryuu said.
“I have accepted my terrible luck when it comes to gifts from Mirai,” Sakomizu said, “but I find it unlikely it will affect you as well.”
“I have no filter,” George said. “You all know this.”
“But it's going to be a good gift!” Ryuu said.
“You've all really put your faith in him?” George asked.
“Yes,” everyone chorused.
“Fine, let him in,” George said. “But you're all responsible for what happens if you're wrong.”
“It'll be fine,” Konomi said, as Ryuu opened the door for Mirai, “really!”
“George!” Mirai exclaimed. “I meant to get you this before Christmas, but it just didn't work out!”
“Sorry about that,” George said, “it wasn't on purpose.”
“I know!” Mirai said. “So open it!”
“Wow,” he said, looking slowly up from his new kanji dictionary, emotions passing his ability to process and straight on into serenity as it became too much to bear, “thanks!”