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
© 2018 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Ui Hirasawa was vaguely embarrassed as she arrived at the clubroom that morning, assuming she would be the last to do so. A habitually early riser, she'd remained in bed far past her usual time. This was not entirely because, with her parents and elder sister Yui all away and school out, she had the perfect excuse to sleep in. That would have been all the reason Yui needed, but Ui had had a very strange and rather long day on Wednesday, to boot.
All the same, it was with an apologetic smile that she entered the room, remarking to the assembled members of the Sato Academy Light Music Club's self-declared "junior varsity" band, "Good morning, everyone. Sorry I got kind of a late start..."
Sumire Saitō paused in some adjustments she was making to her borrowed drum kit and smiled. "That's OK, Ui-chan." Gesturing, she added with gentle sardony, "Miss You're-So-Slow over here is still setting up anyway."
Ui turned to see Shimakaze standing by the blackboard, where she'd set up a large electronic keyboard and a small rack with a couple of unidentifiable black-box modules in it. The keyboard was the most elaborate Ui had ever seen; in addition to two manuals, it also had a folding screen and the other type of keyboard attached at one end, like a built-in laptop computer. Across the back of the unit, on the panel above the row of I/O ports, stylized Kokugo lettering announced that it was an ONO-SENDAI 7513 MUSIC ENGINE.
Shimakaze looked up from the keyboard's video screen, smiling a touch ruefully. "I haven't used it in a couple of weeks," she explained, "so when I powered up there was a software update." She gestured to the progress bar crawling across the screen. "So sloooow!"
"Wow," said Ui, crossing to get a better look at the setup. "That's some impressive gear, Shimakaze-chan." With a faintly troubled look of realization, she went on, "You didn't just buy all of this for our benefit, did you?"
"Oh, no," Shimakaze replied. "It's mostly stuff I had from... uh, my old posting," she said, a faint shadow flickering across her features. Then she brightened again, pointed to one of the black boxes in the rack, and continued, "Except for the sequencer, that's new. Commodore Tenjou bought me that."
Ui opened her mouth, probably to wonder who Commodore Tenjou was, but before she had a chance, a voice cried plaintively from out in the hall, "Oh noooo! Who shut the door, poi?! This is heavyyyy! Hellllp, poi!"
Ui turned to the door, blinking in puzzlement, but Nodoka Manabe was already there, opening it with a faintly indulgent smile. "Don't panic, I'm on it."
"Thank you so much poi!" declared what appeared to be an ambulatory Roland amp. This then tottered into the room and set itself down alongside Shimakaze's equipment stack, which revealed that it had actually been carried in by another girl about Ui's age.
The new girl was blonde like Shimakaze, but not as tall nor quite as skinny, and her long, straight hair was tidier and slightly darker. Her most striking feature was her eyes, which were an arrestingly bright green. She was dressed in a sailor-type school uniform, mostly black with white and red trim; Ui didn't recognize what school it came from, but if this was a friend of Shimakaze's, that probably stood to reason, since the taller blonde was from out of town.
Way, as Ui had had occasion to discover the previous day, way out of town.
This suspicion was confirmed a moment later, as Shimakaze said, "Thanks, Yūdachi," then gestured to Ui and said, "This is Ui Hirasawa. Ui, this is Yūdachi."
"Hi!" said Yūdachi with a cheerful smile. "It's nice to meet you, poi!"
Ui returned the smile and the greeting, but inwardly she was slightly at a loss. Ordinarily, at this point in an introduction to a friend-of-a-friend, she would ask something like, "Do you go to the same school as Shimakaze-chan, Yūdachi-chan?" That would be a ridiculous thing to ask under these conditions, though, and what would the equivalent be? "Are you a ship too?" Even after yesterday, she couldn't quite bring herself to ask a question like that out loud.
Fortunately, for such matters she had Jun Suzuki. As she entered, box of donuts in hand, Jun asked rhetorically, "Why is Donut Dynasty always packed when I'm on a schedule?" Then, spotting the black-clad girl helping Shimakaze complete the setup of her right, she cracked a wry grin and said, "Who's this? Don't tell me we've picked up another ship."
"I'm afraid so," Shimakaze replied.
"Wait, seriously?" said Jun.
"Yup," said Shimakaze.
Yūdachi looked around for a second, as if wondering who the two of them were talking about; then, realizing it was herself, she straightened to attention and saluted. "Fourth of the Shiratsuyu-class destroyers, Yūdachi poi! Nice to meet you!"
Jun blinked at her in bemusement, then grinned. "Sure, why not. Nice to meet you, too. I'm Jun—second of the Suzuki-class teenagers."
Yūdachi tilted her head in puzzlement. "Poi?"
"Never mind," said Jun. Holding out the box she carried, she added, "Donut?"
They practiced the YueQuest theme for most of the morning. As she had promised, Shimakaze's keyboard part sounded much more like the original's now that she had her own equipment to work with, rather than make do with the clubroom's Sato-Phonic organ.
Ui had been half-expecting there to be a little bit of... not awkwardness, exactly, but oddness about the gathering, coming as it did on the heels of all the craziness of the previous day. She was relieved to find that once they got to playing, whatever tendency there might have been toward that happening dissipated at once. In fact, by the end of the morning, the five of them felt and sounded more like a band than ever.
Their guest certainly thought so. When they stopped for lunch, Yūdachi, who had sat quietly on the clubroom bench and watched the proceedings with wide green eyes throughout, was full of praise for their performance.
"Hey, thanks," Jun said, then added with a grin, "I still don't think we're very good, but I'll take the compliments anyway."
"So rude," said Shimakaze, shaking her head sadly.
"Do you play an instrument, Yūdachi-chan?" asked Sumire pleasantly.
"Guitar, a little, poi," Yūdachi replied. "The Admiral didn't expect me—um..." She trailed off with an uncomfortable glance at Shimakaze, as she belatedly realized she didn't know how much of an explanation she was really cleared to give.
Shimakaze stepped in and elaborated for the others' benefit, "Yūdachi didn't have to perform for the brass like I did, but she learned to play a little to keep me company when we got some downtime." She gave her fellow destroyer a reassuring little smile. "She's a good friend. Even if she is a little slow," she added with a wink.
Yūdachi folded her arms indignantly. "Yūdachi is not slow," she insisted. "Shimakaze's just too fast, poi."
"Hmm. Y'know, our sound could probably use another guitar," Jun mused.
"Are you passive-aggressively drafting people we just met again?" asked Nodoka rhetorically.
"I'm just sayin'."
"Did you bring your guitar?" Shimakaze asked.
Yūdachi shook her head. "It's at the house, poi. I could go get it..."
"I can go swipe the beater Fang from the jazz club's room if you really wanna jam," Jun said, then added with an apologetic grin, "Don't feel like you have to, though, I was just messin' around."
"It sounds like fun, poi," said Yūdachi, smiling. "What's your band called?"
The other girls shared a five-way look.
"Um," said Ui.
"Well," said Sumire.
"Crud," said Jun.
"That's a strange name for a band, poi," Yūdachi observed.
Nodoka chuckled. "We haven't been able to settle on one yet. This is historically a common problem for Light Music Club bands," she added dryly.
"Do you mind if I ask you a question, Shimakaze-chan?" said Sumire as she came out from behind the drum kit.
"Shoot," said Shimakaze.
"I noticed this morning that you only used your keyboard," Sumire said. "What's the rest of that equipment for?"
"It's—well, this is a preamp, this one does some effects, and this box here is a sequencer," Shimakaze explained, touching each racked item in turn. "It's all controlled by software in here," she went on, indicating the laptop-like screen at one end of her keyboard. "I don't really need any of it for what we're doing today, but it's been a while since I had a space to set it all up in, so I couldn't resist. See..."
Shimakaze paused, considering how best to explain, then continued, "The Admiral... my old one... he wasn't really interested in music beyond just listening to it. He didn't know what most of this stuff did, he just requisitioned it or something. All he ever wanted me to do was play classical music for him. Mostly old rock tunes, like the one you guys first heard me playing at the music store the other day. But when he wasn't around..." She trailed off, uncertain how to proceed.
Ui's insight surprised her, not for the first time, as the guitarist said with an I-get-it smile, "When you were on your own, you wanted more."
"Right, exactly," said Shimakaze, nodding. "So, little by little, I figured out what most of the stuff does, and started... doing my own thing with it. Writing—well, not even really writing, I haven't written any of it down—but making my own music, anyway."
"It's really good, poi," Yūdachi put in.
"Can you give us a sample?" asked Nodoka, an intrigued look on her face.
Blushing, Shimakaze looked down at the keys, unable to keep an awkward smile off her face. "I dunno," she said, hand behind head. "I mean, it's mostly just fooling around with samples and stuff."
"You're in a band that's covering the theme from a kids' TV show," Jun pointed out. "We're not really gonna judge you on originality."
"Well... OK, I'll play one for you. Give me a second to load up the presets for it..."
The song she played was a house track, completely different in style from the YueQuest theme or anything Hōkago Tea Time, the Light Music Club's senior band, would have played. After a brief introductory sequence in which a processed voice said mysterious things, it was an intricate construction of samples, synthesized sounds, and sequenced beats, layered together in what must have been a very painstaking way, all driven forward by a thumping kick drum and a frenetic staccato riff.
For her part, Sumire observed the way Shimakaze operated her instrument with a certain technical as well as artistic fascination. Mugi played a synthesizer, and played it very well, but she rarely indulged in the kind of full-up electronica that was happening here, and anyway she didn't have the rest of the specialized equipment. As she laid down the track, Shimakaze played parts of it manually, but she also managed the automation using various buttons and levers on the keyboard's console and via the computer screen as well, flicking things in and out, modulating, adjusting. Her hands were quick and precise, her eyes darting around the instrument, her face a picture of concentration.
Sumire's may have been the most technically keen interest in what the taller blonde was doing, since she had spent so much time at home watching Mugi practice with her own keyboard, but of the four Sato Academy students present, Nodoka was the only one who had been to the kind of club where this sort of music was played. Watching Shimakaze lay it down now, the elder student could easily envision her with a big set of headphones on, owning the stage the way the best MCs did it.
The second half of the song had an elaborate melody line, on top of the driving staccato, which Shimakaze played almost entirely with one hand, the other constantly switching up settings on the computer. Not until it came together at the end of the segment did Jun realize that the voice she was playing that melody line in was made up of synthetic voice samples. For most of that part, they were too chopped up by the rapid-fire melody to be recognizable as anything other than musical tones, but to cap it off she played them straight, her fingers controlling only the pitch, so that the keyboard sang in a robotic voice:
do it faster
more than ever
our work is never over
make it better
do it faster
makes us stronger
more than ever
our work is never over
Shimakaze wound it out with an extended breakdown, then brought the track to a sudden halt, the drums and riff stopping dead so that the last statement went to the robot voice, standing alone.
Our work is never over!
She stood still for a moment, her hands still in the last position they'd taken up, then looked up from the keyboard with a slightly nervous little smile to see the others all staring at her.
"So... anyway," she said. "It's all stuff like that. Kinda silly, yeah?"
"Silly? That was amazing," said Sumire.
Ui nodded vigorously. "It was really, really good!"
"I love that one, poi," Yūdachi concurred.
"I feel a profound regret that we don't have any dry ice or lasers in here," Nodoka observed.
"I know, right?" Jun agreed. "My only question is, with talent like that, what do you need the rest of us for?"
"Jun!" Ui admonished her.
Blushing scarlet, Shimakaze was mumbling thanks when there came a gentle knock at the clubroom door. The six girls turned as one to see a person they did not immediately recognize standing there in the open doorway, a curious smile on her face.
At first glance, they took her for an upperclasswoman, maybe a fellow second-year of Nodoka's, possibly a senior. Like them, she was dressed in civvies, it being vacation time and all. In her case, this consisted of a black top over a red-and-black tartan skirt with pleats and a frill, red-and-black candy-striped thighhighs, and a white hoodie, edged like her top with red piping. It was a stylish combo, unusually so for someone hanging out at the school during summer vacation, but what was really striking about her was her hair: it was very long, drawn up in twintails that reached nearly to her knees, and a startling shade of aqua green.
"I don't mean to intrude," this new arrival said in a sweet and pleasant voice, "but I heard you playing and I just had to come check it out. Are you guys the Light Music Club?"
Unsurprisingly, Jun found her voice first. "Well, we're half of it, anyway," she said. Then, pausing, she tilted her head and regarded their visitor closely, something like suspicion stealing onto her face. She glanced at Sumire, who was moving slowly forward next to her, and they shared a momentary It's not just me, right? You're seeing this? sort of glance.
"The senior members are out of town on their summer retreat," Ui explained. "Except for Manabe-senpai," she qualified.
Nodoka chuckled. "I may be the most senior here, but I think I'm the newest club member, if you don't count the one who isn't technically a student," she said. "I'm Nodoka Manabe, I'm the Student Council representative for Class 2-1. I don't think I've seen you around before, are you a new student for this fall term? If so, welcome to Sato Academy."
The newcomer's smile became brighter. "Oh, I'm not a student, although I expect I'll be getting that a lot. I'm actually joining the faculty. I'm going to be replacing Miss Hutchins as the music teacher for the rest of this year. My name is—"
"Miku Hatsune!" Sumire blurted, her face a blank sheet of astonishment, as it suddenly came together in her mind.
Ui blinked. "Wait, really?"
"Well, yes," said Miku, almost as though she were admitting to something.
"Wow," said Jun. "Is this... did we just crack some kind of cosmic secret? To summon a Vocaloid from another dimension, get your friend the fugitive warship to lay down some phat house beats in a deserted school building?" She paused, looking thoughtful, then said matter-of-factly, "For the record, even I can't believe I just said those words in that order."
"Do you know what Jun-chan is talking about, poi?" Yūdachi asked Shimakaze.
"Not a clue," Shimakaze replied.
The clubroom table would have been a bit cramped with seven of them trying to sit around it, so—since it was a nice day—they took their lunches out to the picnic table by the stream at the edge of the school grounds instead.
There, Sumire and Jun tried their best to explain the interdimensional musical sensation that was Miku Hatsune to Shimakaze and Yūdachi, while at the same time Ui and Nodoka tried to explain their two unusual new friends to Miku.
"Really? The Fleet of Fog?" said Miku, surprised. "That's extraordinary."
"You've heard of them before?" Ui asked, equally surprised.
"Sure," Miku replied. "They invaded Earth in the 2030s—occupied the planet for 20 years. I still lived on Earth then. That was a long time ago, but I remember it well." Her face took on an oddly wistful expression for someone recalling a war; seeing Ui's puzzled expression, she explained, "Those were hard times, but... there's a certain pride that comes from living through something like that."
"Eheh... sorry," said Shimakaze awkwardly. "If it helps, I don't remember anything about the war. My earliest memory is from... maybe six months ago?"
"Mine too, poi," Yūdachi said.
"How did you come to be so far from home?" Miku wondered.
"Well..." said Shimakaze hesitantly, but Yūdachi jumped right in:
"This is home, poi! Our home is wherever the Admiral needs us to be."
Miku smiled. "I see. Well, I'm pleased to meet you, however you came to be here. I never expected to encounter a Fog ship in person anywhere, let alone here in Dìqiú."
"Hatsune-sensei, did I hear you say you're taking over for Hutchins-sensei when school goes back in?" Sumire asked Miku.
The Vocaloid nodded. "That's the plan. She has to get back—she has a different student teaching assignment for the fall semester—and she asked me if I wouldn't mind a little working vacation. Which I was totally ready for after our spring tour, believe me," she added with a rueful little grin.
"Oh, you already knew her? Of course you did, what am I even saying," Jun said. "Everybody in the Big Universe knows everybody else, apparently." A thought occurred to her as she said that. "Does that mean you know her brother Corwin too?"
"Of course," Miku replied, nodding. "I don't know him as well as I know Kate, but we've crossed paths a few times."
"See, that confirms it," Jun said triumphantly. At Miku's curious look, she gestured to the two destroyers and explained, "He's their admiral."
Miku blinked. "Well! It really is a small universe. I bet there's a story there! There usually is with that family," she added with a confidential smile.
"Pretty sure there is, but I wasn't there for most of it," Shimakaze admitted. "Yūdachi and I sorta came in at the end."
"And here I thought Kate was exaggerating when she said I'd have the most interesting fall in years if I came here," said Miku with a merry laugh.
After lunch, they went back inside and set up for some more practice. True to her word, Jun went and swiped the Jazz Club's utility guitar from their equipment room for Yūdachi, explaining, "It's kind of beat-up, but it works, and nobody's gonna miss it this afternoon—we're the only club crazy enough to come in during vacation."
Here, the girls of the Light Music Club learned something very interesting about their newest friend. Privately, over the course of the morning and lunch, Jun and Sumire had formed the impression that Yūdachi was nice, but perhaps... well, not to be too uncharitable about it, but a bit dim. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, perhaps. Truth to tell, she reminded Jun of Ui's big sister Yui, who was a ditz of great renown.
But then, when Ui dug out the sheet music (as yet unused, since they hadn't had anyone to play that part) for the rhythm guitar line of "Theme from YueQuest", the green-eyed blonde read it over once, handed it back, and proclaimed herself ready—and, to the rest of the band's astonishment, she played it perfectly on the first attempt. Her performance wasn't, perhaps, the most nuanced the first time through, but it was technically flawless. And this with the Jazz Club's beater Fangocaster, an instrument she had never held before and which had picked up a number of strange quirks from its many years of being abused by novices.
She seemed a bit like Yui in personality, and Yui was also (Jun had to admit) a startlingly talented guitarist, but not even Yui could have nailed a part like that after just glancing at the sheet music once. Yui could barely read music; she played mostly by ear, relying on her perfect pitch to guide her, and so generally had to hear what a part was supposed to sound like at least once before she could hope to reproduce it.
Who are these two? Jun wondered, watching as the two blonde destroyers smiled and bantered with each other between run-throughs. And how much karmic debt are we piling up by having them both come along and join our band?
What she said out loud, though, was an affectedly nonchalant, "You're not bad! Have you ever considered a career in music?"
And, back on form, Yūdachi took the question at straight face value, replying, "No... can you really do that, poi?"
"Some people can!" said Ui, smiling.
"You all have a lot of potential," said Miku from her perch on the bench, where she'd stationed herself when they resumed playing. "I think Kate was right, this is going to be a great fall term."
Then, with a curious tilt of her head, she added, "By the way, what do you call your band?"
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
The Federation Lives Forever!
Benjamin D. Hutchins
The EPU Team
Based on K-On! created by
and featuring characters from Kantai Collection created by
Miku Hatsune appears courtesy of Crypton Future Media/piapro
and featuring musical guests Daft Punk
E P U (colour) 2018