I have a message from another time...
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
The Federation Lives Forever!
by Benjamin D. Hutchins
with Geoff Depew
© 2017 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
"Call Me Lightning"
For two days now, the members of the Sato Academy Light Music Club's junior varsity had been trying to think of a name for their band and a first song to try learning, not necessarily in that order. They hadn't gotten very far with either one, and Jun was starting to worry that they were going to end up being the Band With No Name and covering the school song by default, neither of which she considered an acceptable outcome.
Now, sitting on the couch in the Hirasawa living room after lunch and struggling to avoid entering the kind of food coma that would involve waking to find an aeon passed and herself the subject of an archaeological dig, she passed her eyes over the spines of the video Lightdiscs shelved by the TV set and was struck by an idea.
"Hey guys," she said. "Why don't we try the theme from YueQuest?"
"Hmm," said Ui with a thoughtful frown; then, smiling, she said, "That might work!"
"It's certainly familiar enough to people our age," Sumire Saitō agreed.
"Do you remember the lyrics, Manabe-senpai?" Jun asked the band's presumptive lead singer.
"Not... really," Nodoka admitted. "I mean, it's been a long since since I watched that show." She smiled. "I imagine it'll come back to me quickly enough."
"Oh... Shimakaze-chan's probably never heard it, though," Ui realized.
"Nope," the lanky blonde agreed. "Is it a TV show?"
"Not just a TV show," Jun interjected before anyone else could speak. "YueQuest is a classic, yo." Rising, her incipient coma forgotten, she went to the shelf and pulled out the disc for volume 1. "It's time for you to get some cultural training!"
Though she didn't say it out loud, Ui was a little concerned about Jun's plan. Not that she wasn't up for watching a few episodes of YueQuest; though old—old enough that it had been a classic program in her parents' childhood, let alone her own—it had long been one of her favorite animated programs. Rather, she wasn't sure how comprehensible it would be to their new friend from out of town. Shimakaze, after all, almost certainly lacked any but the most basic understanding of the cultural background behind the show. For instance, Ui doubted she knew who any of the cast members, all famous historical figures to natives of the United Republic, were, apart from possibly the Avatar.
That was true, but unknown to Ui, it didn't really matter. At this stage, Shimakaze lacked any but the most basic understanding of the cultural background behind any television show, which gave her the mental freedom to approach YueQuest without any preconceptions at all, and enjoy the show strictly on its own merits. So no, she didn't have the faintest idea who any of the characters were at the outset, but she got the idea quickly enough.
It was a comedy, depicting the misadventures of three endearing but largely incompetent characters as they attempted to make their civilization's first trip to their planet's only moon, Yue. Avatar Korra, the program's designated taikonaut, was brawny and more or less indestructible, enthusiastic and daring but not terribly bright. Asami Sato, the chief (and evidently only) engineer, was brilliant at coming up with elaborate schemes but not very good at executing them, and prone to constant distractions and side projects. Lin Beifong, the level-headed straight woman, was described as the project's head of security (security from what was never touched on in the first five episodes, since the three protagonists seemed to be the only people in the world as far as the show was concerned). In practice she spent all of her time exasperatedly trying to keep Korra and Asami a) on track and b) from blowing themselves and/or each other up, with limited success on both fronts.
While Jun was putting Disc One away again, she asked, "So? What do you think? Should we give it a shot?"
"I think it's a good place to start," said Ui with a nod.
"Sure," Sumire agreed.
Smiling indulgently at their enthusiasm, Nodoka said, "Works for me."
"I'm game," Shimakaze said. "That keyboard part sounds like it'll be fun to play."
"OK—I'll check the lightningweb and see if I can find any sheet music for it," said Ui. "Then we'll head over to school!"
After a couple of hours of fiddling around, familiarizing themselves with their parts, and testing equipment, the still-unnamed band decided that they were ready to go ahead and try actually playing the song.
The theme from YueQuest (imaginatively entitled "Theme from YueQuest") depended fairly heavily on its keyboard part right from the beginning. Since the only keyboard instrument they had access to right now was the club room's old Sato-Phonic organ, it sounded a little odd, but no one really minded about that. Shimakaze's skill, which they'd had a first taste of back in 10GIÄ, was up to the challenge, and they were all having too much fun as they got to the end of the intro and Nodoka began to sing. For all that she'd agreed to be the band's lead singer only under mild duress, she approached the job with the same calm competence she showed in pretty much every activity she engaged in, and now she laid the first verse down as if she were being paid for it:
Far to the south, a young girl dreaming
Of a world she never knew
She looked above the glacier'd mountain-tops
And saw a moon so blue
They told her no one could ever fly so high
They laughed and said she'd fail if she tried
She left her home and her life behind
Her dream burning like a comet inside
It wasn't perfect—no band's first attempt ever is—but as they powered through the song on waves of arpeggiated organ riffs and closed it out, Ui felt a warm glow of satisfaction. For a few seconds, she and her bandmates stood looking around at each other, considering their performance.
Just before Ui was about to say how well she thought their first attempt had gone, Jun beat her to the punch:
"Wow. We're not very good."
"Jun!" Ui chided her. "How rude!"
"I thought we did fairly well," said Sumire.
"When you consider that we hadn't even all met before the other day, that one of us has only heard the song a half-dozen times, and that I'd forgotten most of the lyrics until just now," said Nodoka wryly, "I'd have to agree."
"Well, OK, yeah, when you put it that way," Jun allowed.
"My part will sound a little more like it's supposed to once I get my keyboard back from the—from home," Shimakaze offered.
"Does that mean you've decided to stay?" Ui wondered.
"Yeah, I think so," said Shimakaze. "I'm having a good time with you guys," she went on with a slightly hesitant smile, "and I haven't really got any other pressing business right now, so..." She shrugged eloquently. "Why not?"
"I'm so glad," said Ui with a sunny smile.
"Sounds like this calls for a celebration," Jun proposed. "It's pretty much dinnertime, Let's hit Pop's place."
"I like this plan," Nodoka agreed, and the others started to pack up their things.
"Pop's place?" Shimakaze wondered, closing the organ's key cover.
"Sorta the official snack bar of the Light Music Club," Jun explained. "You'll like it! And if you don't, Ui won't have to run through the kitchen to stop you from getting away this time," she added with a wink.
"Sorry about that," Shimakaze said sheepishly as they left the clubroom.
"There's no need to apologize—really," Ui assured her, shooting Jun a look.
Impervious to her friend's irritation, Jun agreed, "Yeah, it was actually pretty awesome."
Forty or so minutes later, while the band finished up a light celebratory dinner at Pop's place, Ui Hirasawa had reason to feel satisfied with the day's work. Jun's tough-love assessment of their abilities notwithstanding, she thought the five of them had the makings of a decent band about them, if they put in the time to develop it. The biggest question mark there was Nodoka, who was already very busy with her other intra- and extracurricular activities, but Ui wasn't too worried about that. Nodoka had always been good at organizing her life—and Yui's, too, until not that long ago, so now that she mostly just had herself to worry about, she ought to be fine.
The other wild card, Ui reflected as the group headed downtown to catch the streetcar back to her house, was Shimakaze. Their odd visitor from another world had become much more at ease with the four locals in just the short time they'd all known each other, but they Ui still couldn't really say they knew her. How long she would be in Sakuragaoka for, what her plans were after summer vacation ended, where she would go at that point—all of these things were still complete mysteries.
As she trailed a bit behind the rest of the group and watched the blonde clowning around with the others, Ui smiled to herself and decided it wasn't something she was going to worry about right now.
"You're so sloooow!" Shimakaze taunted as she easily outran Jun down the block to the next corner.
"No fair—I don't have—those 20-foot legs," Jun panted, making a great show of plodding heavily after her.
Laughing, Shimakaze put out a hand and caught the post of the street sign at the corner, using it to turn herself around so that she wouldn't go running out into the cross street, one of her candy-striped legs swinging out wide with the momentum.
"Ha ha! Who's next?" she asked. "Sumire?"
"No, thank you," said Sumire with a laugh. "I'm not much of a track star even when I'm not wearing an ankle-length skirt."
"How about you, Manabe-senpai?"
"Don't look at me, I'm too old for that kind of thing," said Nodoka, drawing a sharp bark of laughter from Jun.
"Awright, in that case we—" Jun paused, looking around, then turned and saw that Ui was almost a block behind, still on the far side of the previous street. "Ui! What are you doin' all the way over there? C'mon, the new kid wants a rematch!"
"Yes, yes!" Sumire agreed, and they all started waving and calling to her, egging her on to hurry up and put the new kid in her place (including, gamely, Shimakaze herself).
Ui rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "OK, OK, I'm coming," she said. At the corner, she looked both ways, just as she'd been taught (and then taught Yui) to do as a child. To her right, the street was empty; to her left there was a fairly steep hill, and the only vehicle in sight was a Cabbage Corp delivery truck parked up at the top. Ui didn't pause to take in the details, but being a naturally sharp observer, she noticed that the truck's two-man crew had just unloaded what appeared to be an electric piano in front of the house on the hill.
Looks like someone's getting a new Cabbagetone, she thought irrelevantly, then stepped off the curb and started trotting across.
Halfway there, she saw Sumire, in mid-wave, notice something off to her right (and so Ui's left). The blonde froze, her eyes going wide, and then screamed, pointing. Ui, puzzled, paused and turned to look.
The Cabbage Corp truck was barreling straight for her. As the instant elongated, Ui's still-observant mind registered that there was no one at the wheel—indeed, the truck didn't even seem to be running—and the driver and his assistant were racing after it, waving their arms and shouting. It all seemed to be happening in slow motion.
All Ui could think in that moment was: What will Yui do, knowing I got myself killed in a such a stupid, drawnmover way? Hit by a piano truck? Really? That happens to Dizzy Turtleduck, not to actual people. The thought flashed through her head in a millisecond, far too quickly to do anything about it. She knew a dozen different ways of evading an oncoming truck, but they all depended on noticing its approach within a humanly achievable reaction window. Having approached silently, this thing was right on top of her now. There was literally just time to close her eyes and hope it didn't hurt too much.
The next sensations she had were a feeling like being embraced and a terribly loud scraping crunch.
That's weird, thought Ui. It didn't hurt at all, and it sounded like metal on concrete.
Then she opened her eyes and realized that she was still standing upright, and the feeling like being embraced was because Shimakaze—somehow—had embraced her. The tall blonde was slightly hunched, her shoulder turned outward, head down on Ui's, as if shielding her from something.
Feeling Ui stir, she now relaxed her grip slightly, straightening, and asked, "Are you OK?"
"I... what?" Ui replied, too startled and confused to form any better response for the moment.
From where Nodoka Manabe was standing, it happened like this:
One moment, her best friend's little sister (and a close friend in her own right) was within a half-second of being mowed down by a runaway delivery truck, and Nodoka was too shocked and disbelieving to even look away; she just stood there, transfixed, Sumire Saitō's shrill scream of horror ringing in her ears.
The next, Shimakaze—who had been the farthest from Ui of any of them, still all the way down at the next street corner with her hand on the street sign post—just... appeared between Ui and the truck, lunging forward to wrap the shorter girl in a protective embrace.
Not that this incredible feat seemed like doing any good at first; now the truck was just going to hit both of them. Except that rather than flattening the two girls as easily as it would have flattened one—surely what, by every physical law Nodoka knew, should have happened—the truck had stopped dead, its flat front caving in, as if it had just crashed into a reinforced concrete bollard. Shrapnel from its shattered grille and headlights scattered into the intersection, its windshield going suddenly opaque as the safety glass crazed into a mass of tiny stuck-together shards. So heavy was the impact that the rear wheels came momentarily off the ground, before banging back down hard enough that some of the cargo was disgorged from the open doors onto the road behind.
Now that Shimakaze wasn't hunched over her, Ui could see that the front of the wrecked truck was only a few inches away, but she could make it out only indistinctly. Between it and them stood a curving wall of glowing yellow hexagons, faintly flickering in the still-bright late afternoon sunshine. She looked up, saw them against the sky above as well: a dome of tesselated light, like something out of one of those sci-fi movers from the Big Universe.
"I... I'm fine," she said, finding her voice at last.
Shimakaze glanced over her shoulder at the truck, hearing the shouts of the crew still running after it as hard as they could. "We have to get out of here," she said—and then they were gone.
Assistant Delivery Driver Wei Hao steeled himself as he rounded the smashed prow of his truck. He'd seen bad traffic accidents before, though never involving a vehicle whose crew he was part of, and he doubted very much that there would be anything there that he could help, but nevertheless, he had a duty to—
—There was nothing there. Not just nothing he could help; nothing at all. The truck was as wrecked as if it had rammed a bridge abutment, its front wheels splayed at such impossible angles that they could no longer roll and were holding the wreck from moving any farther, but there was no trace of what it had hit, and no sign of any person in the impact zone. None. It was as if the truck had been wrecked somewhere else, then towed to the edge of this intersection and just left here.
"What the... ?" he muttered, scratching his head. Looking up, he saw a little knot of high-school girls standing on the sidewalk partway down the block, staring mutely at the spectacle.
"Hey, you girls!" Wei Hao called. "Do you know what happened?"
"Uh... no," the one with the puffy twintails replied, shaking her head with a blank look on her face. "No clue. Sorry."
"Wei Hao!" cried Senior Driver Chuo, an older, heavier man, as he puffed to a halt by the driver's door. "How's..." He hesitated. "How's it look over there?"
Coward, though Wei Hao a bit scornfully, but his extreme bemusement was the only undertone in his voice as he replied, "There's nobody here."
Chuo first peeped hesitantly around the truck, then stepped fully out as he saw the truth of his assistant's statement. There literally was no one there. The girl they could both have sworn the truck was about to hit was nowhere to be seen. Chuo bent and looked under the smashed front end; nothing there either, except a pool of coolant from the ruptured radiator.
"Did we imagine that girl?" he wondered.
"I guess we must have," Wei Hao said.
"Weird. Well, I guess I'd better call this in," the senior driver mused. He walked around to the back of the truck, saw the damage there (which he had run straight past in his panic), and let out a groan of dismay.
"Aw, man, my Cabbages!"
Jun, Nodoka, and Sumire arrived at the ice cream shop near 10GIÄ, per Ui's text message to Jun's phone, to find Ui and Shimakaze waiting for them there. Ui still looked a little shocked, but was rapidly regaining her equilibrium—she'd already recovered enough presence of mind to have sundaes on order for all of them when they arrived. For her part, Shimakaze had become withdrawn again, like she'd been when they'd all first met, and responded to the others' thanks for her part in... whatever had just happened... with embarrassed monosyllables.
Beyond those expressions of gratitude, no one really seemed ready to address the camelephant in the room until they'd finished eating their ice cream, at which point, as ever, Jun was the one to say it first:
"So, uh... what the heck just, you know... happened? 'Cause I mean I saw something happen, but what I saw wasn't actually possible, so I kinda got nothin' here."
"I..." Shimakaze began, then hesitated.
"You don't have to go into it if you don't want to, Shimakaze-chan," said Ui at once. "I'm really grateful, either way. You..." She paused, as if still working on fully processing what she was about to say, then went on, "You saved my life."
Shimakaze shook her head. "No, I... I want to explain. I'm just... I'm not sure how. I mean, you guys know by now that I'm not great with words. And it's... it's kind of a big story."
"I don't doubt that," Nodoka agreed.
"Maybe..." Shimakaze thought for a moment longer, then said, "Maybe it's better if I just show you."
The late-afternoon shadows were long, the sun going red and dipping for the horizon, when the five girls arrived at their destination. It had taken them an hour or so to walk to the place, a cove a few miles down the coast from the Port of Sakuragaoka. Despite its nearness to a fairly bustling port city, the cove was a secluded spot, boasting no human-made structure more elaborate than a small cabin used by members of one of the city's fishing clubs to store their gear, and a little boat dock alongside it.
The suspense built all throughout the walk, and by the time they arrived at the cove, Ui, Jun, Nodoka, and Sumire were almost unable to contain their curiosity. Still, they managed to wait a little longer as Shimakaze walked silently to the water's edge, stood looking out to sea for a few moments, and then turned around to face them.
"So... you're wondering what I am. How I could do the things you saw me do. Whether I'm... whether I'm human." She hesitated, looking down at the ground as worry crossed her face, then raised her eyes back to them and went on, "Well... I'm not human. Not really. This is what I am."
For a moment, the four didn't understand what she was getting at. Then, noticing a flicker of movement off to Shimakaze's right, they turned as one and saw it: a submarine, surfacing even as it sailed into the cove from seaward, shedding water from its superstructure and deck scuppers.
No—not a submarine, even though it had somehow just arisen from beneath the surface of the sea. None of the girls watching it approach were military technology buffs, but even so, they had seen enough pictures in history books and the like to realize up close that this, with its three twin-barreled gun turrets, its short bridge tower some way forward of center, and its two slightly raked exhaust funnels, was a surface warship. On the jackstaff at the stern, a flag unfurled, white with a jaunty many-rayed sunburst, its red color almost black in the last rays of the setting sun.
As the vessel glided silently to a halt behind Shimakaze, the four looked at each other, none the wiser. Then, deeply confused, Jun said,
"... You're a sailor?"
Shimakaze blinked—this was evidently not the reaction she had been steeling herself for—and, tilting her head in puzzlement, she asked, "Haven't you heard of the Fleet of Fog?"
"Um... no," admitted Ui.
"I don't think so," Sumire agreed.
"Afraid not," said Nodoka.
"Is that some kind of Navy special forces thing?" Jun wondered.
"No," Shimakaze replied. "It's..." She trailed off, then sighed. "Argh. The trouble is, I don't really know what it is either. I assumed you would have heard of us, because we were apparently a big deal on Earth a while ago, but..."
"We're a pretty long way from Earth out here," Nodoka pointed out.
"Yeah, true. I guess I didn't really think this through. As usual." She looked like she might be about to berate herself again, like she had when they'd first met, but then she shook her head again and said, "Anyway, no. I'm not a sailor."
¡Yo no soy marinero! thought the part of Jun that was always attuned to these details, however irrelevant. Yo no soy marinero, soy capitán, soy capitán.
"I'm a ship," Shimakaze continued, gesturing. "I'm this ship. Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Shimakaze. Admiral Hayakawa's flagship in Destroyer Squadron 2. Fastest ship in the fleet," she added, with more than a trace of pride even under these weird conditions.
"... So... what are you doing in Sakuragaoka?" Ui wondered when she found her voice again.
"That's like I told you last time," Shimakaze said. "I've been through some weird stuff. My memory before a few months ago is blank, and those few months... weren't a lot of fun. Then I had a, um... change of command, and Admiral Ravenhair thought I could use some time to myself to... what did you call it, Jun? To get my head straight."
"Wait. Your Admiral is named Ravenhair?" asked Jun. "Is his first name Corwin? About this high, built like a rock face, eyes you could get lost in for weeks?"
"Jun..." said Ui from behind her hand.
"... Never mind."
A bit confused, Shimakaze answered, "Well... yes, that sounds like him. More or less. I think."
"Huh. It is a small dang galaxy, ain't it," said Jun.
"That it is," said a low, amused-sounding voice from behind the four locals. They turned; with the sun almost set, they could just make out a dark-clad figure coming own the path from the road toward them. As this drew nearer, they could see she was a young woman, her pale face wearing a gentle smile. "Well, Shimakaze," she said, "you've certainly thrown your new friends in at the deep end, haven't you?"
Then, bowing to the other girls, she introduced herself: "Light cruiser Tatsuta, second of the Tenryū class. Admiral Ravenhair asked me to keep an eye on Shimakaze while she's in town." Shaking her head with a sardonic little smile, she went on, "I turn my back for one minute..."
"I didn't have much choice," Shimakaze replied.
"I know. I saw the truck," said Tatsuta. "I'm only teasing. You did the right thing. Well done."
"... Thanks," said Shimakaze, fidgeting a little with an embarrassed blush.
"Um..." said Sumire hesitantly.
"Yeah," Nodoka agreed.
"We have questions," Ui said.
"Only about a million," said Jun.
Tatsuta smiled again. "Well, rather than stand around in the dark, why don't we go back to town and discuss the matter there?"
"... On that?" Sumire wondered, nodding toward the ship.
"That would be a little ostentatious, don't you think?" Tatsuta replied. "My taxi is waiting for me out by the road."
"Is it too early to start drinking?" Jun wondered as the six of them walked away from the shore. Behind them, the sleek form of Shimakaze (the ship) glided back the way it had come, slipping beneath the waves as it went.
"Mm," Ui said. "By about four years."
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
The Federation Lives Forever!
"Call Me Lightning"
Benjamin D. Hutchins
with Geoff Depew
The EPU Team
Based on K-On! created by
"Theme from YueQuest" adapted from
"MoonQuest: An Epic Journey"
by Sparkles* for The Yogscast
E P U (colour) 2017