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
"Welcome to the Pleasure Dome"
The members of the Light Music Club's junior varsity band gathered in the club room as soon as they could decently gain access, so as to collect up everything they would need and get it down to the school's forecourt in time for their pickup. With the band's roster now amounting to six girls, this didn't take long to accomplish, even though they were all still a little logy from the earliness of the hour.
It was that loginess that accounted for the desultory conversation. They were all excited—the trip they were about to go on promised to be the highlight of their summer vacation—but for the moment it was a private excitement, each band member mostly alone with her thoughts as they stood, each carrying her overnight bag and the group of them surrounded by gear, and waited.
Twenty minutes passed before anyone spoke above a murmur, and when the moment came, to no one's particular surprise, the one who broke the quiet was Jun:
"So... did we get ditched by Miku Hatsune? Is that what's happened here?"
"Jun!" said Sumire Saitō.
"What?" Jun replied.
"Somehow," Nodoka Manabe observed dryly, "I doubt that."
"Let's wait a few more minutes, and then I'll give her a call," Ui Hirasawa proposed, holding up her phone. "I'm sure she's just run into some traffic or something—"
At that moment, a vehicle nosed through the school gates and up the drive, halting in front of them. It was a van, a medium-sized model made by Future Industries that, according to a chromed badge on the front fender above the wheel arch, reveled in what struck Shimakaze as the slightly improbable name ROADEE+ FriendBus.
The other striking thing about the van, besides its peculiar name, was its color scheme, a complicated two-tone graphic treatment in silver and an unusual shade of aqua, with black accents. An unusual and very distinctive shade of aqua, which (apart from its metallic sheen) almost perfectly matched the long, twintailed hair of the person who now alighted from the FriendBus's driver's seat with an apologetic, slightly rueful smile.
"Hi, everyone!" said Miku. "Sorry I'm late, it took longer than I thought it would to rent the van." Sliding doors on both sides of the vehicle and the hatch at the back opened silently, without any obvious cue to do so. "Let's get your stuff loaded!"
They set to work, packing everything away in the cargo area behind the van's eight seats, making sure the things that should be on the top of the load were on the top, and so on. With seven of them working on it, this was the work of only a few minutes.
As she pitched in, Jun noticed a number of curious design features in this particular FriendBus—little graphics, badging variations, and interior trim touches that weren't there in the regular model, and which, combined with the color scheme, added up to a distinct impression.
"Hatsune-sensei..." she said.
Miku paused in arranging the cargo and sighed, knowing what was coming. "Yes."
"I can't help but notice that this van..."
"Yes," Miku said again, the resignation in her voice a little heavier.
"It appears to be... merch," said Jun.
"Yes," Miku agreed, still more resigned, and she closed the tailgate.
Yūdachi peered at the badge thereupon, which did indeed bear a chrome silhouette of Miku above the main text and the legend HATSUNE MIKU Edition in smaller type below. The green-eyed blonde blinked at this, then turned a puzzled head-tilt to the item's namesake.
"You rented a Miku van, poi?" she asked.
Miku gave a helpless, embarrassed shrug. "It's part of the thing they're doing at 10GIÄ stores this month..." she explained.
"I guess a little more promotion never hurt," Sumire offered. Beside her, Jun nodded sagely.
"I didn't ask for it!" Miku protested, suddenly animated. "It was the only thing the man at Coastal Rentamobile out at the airport would give me. He claimed it was the only van they had. That's why I was late," she added. "I spent 15 minutes trying to convince him to rent me a normal one, but he wouldn't budge."
"Well," Shimakaze observed as the band members selected seats and climbed aboard, "at least if we have to make a rest stop, we won't lose it in the parking lot."
"There is that," Ui agreed.
Miku laughed, her good humor restored, and got behind the wheel. Ui rode shotgun, since she had the directions on her phone, and the others disposed themselves about the second and third rows, amongst various bits of gear that were secured here and there.
It was about a four-hour drive from Sakuragaoka to the top of Mount Weitang: a straight shot up the coast to the outskirts of Republic City, then a swing northeast on the Western Empire Expressway to avoid the city itself, followed by a final run almost due north up Highway 71 to the lower end of the newly laid private road up the mountain. They made only one stop, at a supermarket Sumire spotted about halfway to Republic City, to pick up some supplies so they weren't arriving empty-handed.
This led to a minor incident in the parking lot. One of the FriendBus Hatsune Miku Edition's features was a cunningly designed graphic of Miku on the driver's side window, invisible from the inside, but giving the impression on the outside that she was driving the van. When she got out, and a few curious passers-by discovered that she actually was driving the van, one of them was so startled that he crashed his shopping cart into a bollard, spilling its contents everywhere.
("Why do you suppose that guy was buying so many cabbages, poi?" Yūdachi wondered as the band, having helped the flustered man recapture his groceries, entered the store.)
The rest of the trip raced by in a blur of coastal scenery and cheerful conversation. The latter was mostly about music, in keeping with the purpose of the trip. Miku gave a couple of impromptu voice lessons and a short lecture on music theory, already settling into the music teacher/club advisor role she was slated to take up officially in a couple of weeks. Shimakaze talked for a while about the process she used to make the complex electronic music she composed, which had very little to do with formal theory. Jun recounted some adventures from her tenure with the Jazz Club, which she'd been a member of for a few months before Ui and the senior members had convinced her to jump ship for Light Music.
"How about you, Sumire?" Jun asked at the end of her anecdote. "What made you decide to become a drummer?"
"Well... of course, I grew up in a very musical household. You know Mugi-nee's father owns that chain of music stores." She blinked, realizing how she'd just referred to her parents' employers' daughter, then reddened and said, "Oh my, you mustn't tell anyone outside the club I called her that. She doesn't mind at all, but all four of our parents are touchy about it. When we're not alone, she's Kotobuki-ojōsama to the likes of me."
"That must be tough," said Nodoka sympathetically.
"I'm used to it," Sumire said, shrugging. "It drives Mugi-nee up the wall, though. She's had some real arguments with her mother about it. Anyway," she went on, her blush returning, "you didn't ask me about that. I became a drummer..." She paused, thinking of the right way to say it, then settled on, "... so it wouldn't seem like I was trying to compete with Tsumugi."
Seeing puzzled looks on a few of her bandmates, she elaborated, "Mr. Kotobuki offered to let me take piano lessons along with her, but we both knew that if we did that, it would turn into a contest. Not to us, but to the music tutors, and at least some of our parents. So I took up a different instrument. We've always had a little conspiracy going," she added with a nostalgic smile. "Ever since we were little, we've tried to avoid anything that could seem like a competition. That's also why I've gone to different schools until now."
Jun frowned thoughtfully. "Huh. I wonder why she decided to change that now, all of a sudden. Didn't you say she convinced you to transfer to Sato?"
Sumire nodded. "I don't really know why, either," she admitted. "Mugi-nee's mind is hard to read, even for me. She seems flighty, but she always has plans. Sometimes plans within plans." She smiled. "But it always works out in the end." Becoming mildly self-conscious again, she said hurriedly, "Anyway, I think I've talked about myself enough. I must be boring everyone by now. Ui-chan, what about you and your sister? Have you ever had that kind of problem?"
"No, not really," Ui replied, and then, "I'm not sure Big Sis even knows what competition is."
"I'd buy that," agreed Jun.
"Whoa!" Ritsu Tainaka declared, leaning out of the kitchen with eyebrows raised. "Are you OK, Yui?"
By the dining room table (which she had just finished polishing), Yui Hirasawa sniffled, blinking sudden tears from her eyes, and nodded. "I think so," she said.
Mio Akiyama stepped into the other end of the kitchen from the side hall, broom in hand, to look through the breezeway at Yui. "That was a heck of a sneeze," she said, impressed.
Over by the TV, Mugi Kotobuki looked up from tidying the GameCenter discs and smiled. "Someone must be talking about you," she speculated.
"Either that, or it's time to change the bag in this vacuum cleaner," Azusa Nakano mused from the opposite side of the dining table. "I didn't think it'd had a chance to get that dusty in here in a week."
"It's fine, it's fine," Yui assured her. "How's lunch coming along, Ricchan? It smells really good!"
"Taking shape nicely, if I do say so myself," Ritsu replied with a slightly smug little smile. "What was the latest from Ui on when they were going to get here? Right around now, wasn't it?"
"Should be any minute," Yui confirmed, rechecking the text messages on her phone.
"Well, I think we're just about ready for them," Mio said as she returned the broom to the hall closet.
"Great, well, I'll get back to it, then," Ritsu said.
"I can't wait to see what Ui and her friends have been up to this week," Yui remarked, plopping down on the small part of the sofa not already occupied by the great, dozing white bulk of Niri, Avatar Korra's polar bear dog.
"Yes, I'm excited," Mugi agreed. She finished up her work and sat down in the matching chair, adding, "From the messages she's been sending, it sounds like Sumire-chan is having a good time. I'm so glad. She has trouble putting herself forward sometimes."
"That sounds familiar," Mio said with a wry smile as she sat down in one end of the loveseat.
"Yes, but you've always had Ricchan to push you out of your own shadow—and unlike me with Sumire-chan, she's never had to be subtle about it," said Mugi with a mischievous smile.
"Which is good," Azusa remarked, putting away the vacuum cleaner, "because I'm not sure Ritsu-senpai could actually manage that."
"I can hear you talking about me," Ritsu's voice called from the kitchen. "I'm in here unsupervised with your food, I urge you to reconsider your life choices."
"I didn't say it was a bad thing," Azusa called back as she crossed the room to join the others.
"Your wording strongly implied it," Ritsu's disembodied voice insisted.
"Yeah, yeah," said Azusa with a dismissive gesture. Arriving in the seating area, she took a quick look around and saw that only one seat was open; she'd started to move toward it when Yui, grinning cheerfully, held open her arms in invitation.
Mio expected their kōhai to ignore this invitation, as she always did, and pointedly take the empty place next to her, on the other half of the loveseat. Instead, to her blank-faced surprise, Azusa paused as if considering the matter for a moment, and then, without a word, went and sat in Yui's lap, to be immediately and joyously cuddled.
Blinking, Mio turned to Mugi with an expression that asked, Did you just see that? It was obvious from the sparkly-eyed smile on the blonde's face, though, that she had.
OK, kind of unexpected, the bassist thought to herself, but she offered no comment, in part because when she looked back at the couch, Azusa's face was all but daring her to, even as the rest of her melted bonelessly into Yui's embrace.
Ritsu emerged from the kitchen a few moments later, wiping her hands on a tea towel and beaming. "There!" she declared triumphantly. "All ready. I hope Ui's ETA was right, I can only leave this stuff on 'warm' for so long." She came around the end of the couch, saw the tableau arranged thereupon, and grinned. "Aw, aren't you guys all cozy," she said, and then stretched out on the loveseat with her feet up on the armrest and her head in Mio's lap. "There, now I got mine too."
"This morning has taken an odd turn," Mio observed matter-of-factly to Mugi, who nodded, still smiling. Before she could reply verbally, if she intended to, the sound of an approaching vehicle and the beep of a horn came from the driveway. Four of the girls turned to look; the fifth had to sit up and hang halfway over the back of the loveseat to do likewise, but Ritsu was still the first to comment:
"Awright, they're here!"
By the time the van got to a complete stop, the members of Hōkago Tea Time (and Niri) had all come spilling out of the sliding door from the great room to meet it.
"Huh, that's a Miku Hatsune van," Ritsu observed. Then the driver's door opened and the person behind it climbed out, and she continued in the same tone of voice, "And... it... has Miku Hatsune driving it. OK."
"Oh wow, it really is!" Yui exclaimed. "Hi! Welcome to Mount Weitang!"
"Hello, everyone," said Miku pleasantly, bowing. "It's nice to meet you all. Kaitlyn's told me so much about you—oh! Hello," she added, surprised, as Niri came forward to introduce herself.
"Oh wow, a polar bear dog," said Ui as she and the rest of the club members piled out of the van.
"Cooool," Jun said. "Just like the Avatar's!" Hurrying up to get a closer look, she asked, "Where'd you come from?"
"This is Niri!" said Yui, doing her best to hug the colossal dog.
"She, uh, is the Avatar's," Mio said.
"Avatar Korra brought us up here from Republic City," Mugi explained, her eyes still wide at the memory of the trip.
"And when it came time for her to leave," Azusa went on, "Niri decided she'd rather stay with Yui-senpai..."
Nodoka laughed. "That sounds completely plausible," she said.
"I see a couple of faces here I don't recognize," Ritsu declared, looking over the group. "You been doing some more recruiting, Ui?"
"Seems that way," Nodoka answered before Ui had a chance to.
"You know ya girl Ui, makin' friends like it's her job," Jun added.
"This is Shimakaze," said Ui, waving the commentary aside with a slightly embarrassed look, "and this is Yūdachi."
"Welcome!" said Mugi with a beaming smile.
"Hey, cool," said Ritsu, grinning. "What with Mugi and Sumire-chan, if we get both bands on stage at the same time sometime, we'll have like every blonde in the Republic, I'm pretty sure. I'm Ritsu Tainaka, I'm the club president and drummer of Hōkago Tea Time. This is Mio Akiyama, she's on bass, and you probably figured out which one is Yui on account of she looks just like Ui. And of course Mugi, she's hard to miss." Snagging Azusa in a semi-hug/semi-headlock, she added, "And this here's Azu-nyan Nakano, rhythm guitar."
"You too, senpai?" Azusa wondered in a resigned sort of voice, not bothering to struggle for freedom.
"Azusa's in the same class as Sumire, Ui, and me," Jun explained, "but she got into the varsity band anyway." With a finely telegraphed wink, she added, "Between you and me, I think she's sleeping with one of the senpai."
"Jun!" said both Ui and Sumire, scandalized.
"What?" Jun replied.
"Annnnnyway!" said Ritsu briskly, turning loose her red-faced bandmate. "You're just in time for lunch. Let's get the stuff inside and eat!" She opened the van's tailgate, then declared with mild surprise, "Oh hey, you brought my drum kit up."
"We thought we might need more than one," Sumire explained, "and since Hatsune-sensei was renting the van anyway..."
"It's cool," Ritsu agreed, nodding, then qualified with a wink, "So long as I'm not the one who has to carry it back down again!"
They ate lunch—the house's great dining table only slightly cramped even with a full dozen people sitting around it—and Ui explained how the group had met Shimakaze, and through her, Yūdachi. She didn't go into a lot of detail about all that they'd learned since that meeting. Apart from not wanting to trouble Yui with the news that her beloved little sister had almost gotten herself flattened by a truck, they'd all agreed on the way up that it would probably take too long, and be too weird, to try and explain everything about their new friends to the senior band all at once. Instead, they decided to leave the background information at "they work with Kaitlyn-sensei's brother, the one Mio-senpai likes."
(Actually, Jun tacked on the last part of her own accord.)
With the formalities taken care of, Hōkago Tea Time conducted the new arrivals around for a tour of the house. Just as the members of the senior band had been, they were blown away by the place—even Miku, whom the students would have assumed had fancier places than this back in the Big Universe.
"I would love to shoot a video in that underwater room," the Vocaloid was saying as they all trooped back upstairs.
"Ooh, that would be great!" Yui agreed. "Up on the tower, too."
"This whole place would make an epic mover location," Mio said.
"So how do we want to do this?" Ritsu asked when they were back in the great room. "You saw the practice room in the tower, it's pretty small now that there's so many of us—you want to set up in here?"
After some discussion, they reached the consensus that this was a good plan. With all twelve of them working on it, it didn't take long to move the dining table over to one end, then rearrange the furniture in the living room end to make a sort of impromptu theater, with the instruments set up where the dining room would normally be. They left most of HTT's gear in the upstairs practice room for simplicity's sake, bringing down only a couple of amps and Mugi's keyboard, and within an hour or so, the whole thing was done.
Which was how Ui and company found themselves arrayed in front of their first-ever audience, if you didn't count the rehearsing they'd done in front of Miku over the last couple of days. Sumire was up in back, the time-honored drummer's position, with Jun on her left (the audience's right) and a bit ahead. Shimakaze was considerably farther forward than Mugi usually chose to set up, right out front on the audience's left, with Yūdachi next to her and Ui over on the far right, the latter sporting her Surf Green Stratocaster and the former holding a sharply angular guitar in a deeper, richer green shading to black.
Front and center behind a stand mic, Nodoka considered her audience, her expression tinged with a touch of apprehension that, though faint, stood out like a neon sign to her schoolmates, so unaccustomed were most of them to seeing anything like it.
"Huh," she said conversationally, then added with a wry grin, "Y'know, I wasn't too worried about this, but now that I'm here, I kind of wish we'd put it off."
"I know, right?" agreed Jun.
"You'll be fine," said Miku with an encouraging smile.
"Yeah, relax," Ritsu said. "I mean, we know you only started playing together the other day. We weren't any good then either."
"Ritsu!" Mio growled, bonking her on the head.
"Ow! Sorry! I didn't mean it like that!"
"Please," said Mugi. "I've really been looking forward to seeing what you've been up to."
"Me too!" Yui said, nodding.
Nodoka glanced around, silently polling her bandmates, and then seemed to settle into the moment, her smile less nervous.
"I only hope Nakano still respects me later," she said wryly, and then, as if addressing an audience that didn't already know them, she gave a slight bow and continued, "Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for coming. My name is Nodoka, and this," she declared, hands open to take in the girls on either side of her, "is Frame Shift!"
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
The Federation Lives Forever!
"Welcome to the Pleasure Dome"
Benjamin D. Hutchins
The EPU Team
van graphics consultant
Based on K-On! created by
and featuring characters from Kantai Collection created by
Miku Hatsune appears courtesy of Crypton Future Media/piapro
E P U (colour) 2018