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
© 2019 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
"The Real Relation"
By the middle of Friday afternoon, the weekend was already going down as one of the greatest in the annals of the Sato Academy Light Music Club. With both of the club's bands—more than it had been able to field for the better part of a decade—on hand, the stage was set for a stretch of diligent activity the like of which hadn't been seen in some time.
It all started right after lunch, with a miniature set by the club's newly formed junior band, Frame Shift. They played four songs, the most polished of which (besides Shimakaze's solo house piece, which her bandmates insisted she show off) was their cover of "Theme from YueQuest".
The other two were more hastily laid on, prepared (as Nodoka rather sheepishly admitted) mainly because the six of them had felt silly coming all this way just to play one song. They, too, were covers; one was an ancient prog rock song from Earth that Shimakaze had introduced them to, called "Don't Cry", while the other—true to Jun's darkest predictions in their pre-name days—was the Sato Academy school song, hastily rewritten for six-piece rock band.
Following their set, the club members broke out into impromptu workshop groups, scattering around the big house on Mount Weitang roughly according to their specialties: keyboard players in the dining room talking gear, a few guitarists in the living room doing guitarist stuff, drummers and bass players having a rhythm section confab up in the tower practice room, while the vocalists went out on the deck to get a spot of vocal instruction from none other than Miku Hatsune herself.
Yui Hirasawa, who was both a guitarist and one of Hōkago Tea Time's two lead singers, spent the afternoon in constant motion, shuttling between the two workgroups she was directly involved with and circulating among all the others as well. Ritsu, being the club's president as well as HTT's drummer, noticed her passing by the tower room windows a few times on her rounds and smirked slightly to herself before returning her attention to her own group.
And people think Ui's the only social ambassador in that family, she thought, then applied herself to demonstrating a creative use of the hi-hat to Sumire.
As Friday afternoon went on, the composition of the groups changed. Some people just got curious about what the others were up to, and in a couple of cases what was happening in any given location would shift, not for any planned reason, but more in the manner of evolving conversations. The keyboardist conference, for instance, developed into a bull session about songwriting, in which a number of other club members took an interest, while the rhythm section group eventually fissioned further into drummers and bassists, the latter pair ultimately joining the six-string guitarists for a discussion of common concerns.
Dinnertime brought everyone back together again. Since the weather was so fine, this operation took place not around the table in the big dining room, but instead up on the deck, in the open air. Ritsu fired up the barbecue grill, and for the next hour or so, she and Mio operated a sort of production line for burgers, teriyaki skewers, and whatever else people thought would, as Ritsu put it, be improved by direct exposure to fire.
The long afternoon was sliding toward nightfall by the time the feast was finished, and those who had not seen the evening view from up on the deck gathered at the rail to watch the sun sink into the bay.
"Man," said Jun at length. "What a place this is." Turning a grin to Mio, she added, "You can sure pick 'em, Akiyama-senpai. Respect."
"I didn't 'pick' anybody!" Mio protested, blushing.
To Mio's relief, no one else saw fit to pick up that thread, and Jun had the grace to leave it now that the point was made. For a little while, everyone stood silently watching while the lights of Republic City came on in the distance. Beyond the city, the running lights of a ship leaving the United Forces naval station cruised serenely past Air Temple Island and out to open water.
"Feels weird being this far inland," Shimakaze mused, half to herself.
"Mm," Yūdachi agreed, nodding. "I wonder why the Admiral built his house so far from the sea, poi?"
"I don't think he was planning on becoming an admiral," said Shimakaze.
"Are you sure?" Yūdachi asked, giving her a confused look.
"Pretty sure," Shimakaze replied.
Yūdachi considered that for a moment, then shook her head. "Weird, poi."
They stayed out on the deck until the sky was fully dark, then adjourned to the great room to relax and unwind a bit before bed. This inevitably developed into a collective review of the day's work, which all agreed had been a good one, and ranged from there to reflections on the performing arts, the grand scheme of things, and one's place within the other.
Of everyone gathered there, Miku had by far the longest experience of the business—the only real experience of the business, given that none of the Light Music Club's members could be called professionals (even if Hōkago Tea Time did get paid for that one Livehouse gig). As such, it was only natural that the students looked to her for insight into the payoffs and pitfalls of a successful performing career.
"I mean, say we do make it to the big time," Ritsu said, gesturing vaguely at her bandmates. "Or these guys do," she added, nodding to the members of Frame Shift, "or whoever. How do you keep your... your stuff together in that environment? How do you stay you?"
"Well," said Miku after a moment's thought, "I might not be the right person to ask about that. After all, I've never been anything but a performer. Because of the way my Vocaloid family and I came into being, we were already famous before we were even alive. We never had what you might call 'normal' lives to adjust from. But... hmm."
She trailed off, her face thoughtful, and the students watched her in expectant silence while she considered the matter. After a few moment's inward pondering, Miku regarded their faces with a smile and said,
"I think one of the most important things we Awakened Vocaloids had to learn was the same for us as it would be for any normal lifeform in our line of work, even if we came at it from a different direction. Because... whoever you are, and however you got onto the stage, you have to keep some part of yourself for yourself. I don't mean hold back—you'll often hear performers talk about giving it everything they have, leaving everything out there, and I believe in that a hundred percent. It's how I've always approached the craft itself. I'm talking about... about your personal space, not physically but psychologically. You need an inner perimeter, a compartment you don't let the whole world into."
"Oh! Kate-chan-sensei and her band have a song about this," Yui suddenly remarked, sitting up from where she'd been slouched back against Niri. "Do you know it, Miku-chan-sensei? Living on a lighted stage approaches the unreal for those who think and feel..."
"In touch with some reality beyond the gilded cage," Miku responded with a smiling nod.
"Cast in this unlikely role, ill-equipped to act, with insufficient tact, one must put up barriers to keep oneself intact," Mio put in. "I think about that one a lot..."
"Well, they're absolutely right about that part," Miku agreed. "But the thing is," she went on, pleased that she'd gotten them onto the right page, "you can't live behind those barriers alone, either. You'll just go cold and dead inside if you do that. You have to have some people who know you—not in the 'household name' sense, but really know you, people who exist within that perimeter. Without them, you won't be maintaining an inner safe zone, you'll just make yourself a hollow shell—the outward performance, with nothing inside it. I've seen a number of people in the business let that happen to them," she added soberly. "Some recovered; a few never did."
"So... how do you stop it?" Mio wondered, her expression troubled. She didn't seem to notice that Ritsu had taken her hand while Miku was talking; possibly Ritsu hadn't realized it either.
Miku brightened. "Oh, it's not that hard to avoid," she assured her dismayed-looking students. "You guys already have a good head start, being in such a tight-knit band. But beyond that..."
The Vocaloid paused again, collecting thoughts, then came to an inner decision, nodded slightly to herself, and said,
"Let me tell you guys a story. It's not one I tell often. Most of the time, the people I'm talking to wouldn't be interested, or they'd be interested for the wrong reasons, or they just wouldn't get it, but... I want to tell you about the first. The first person who loved me as me. Not a performer, or a character, or a digital cypher designed to be whatever the customer hopes for—the first person, apart from my fellow Awakened, who knew me and loved that person, independent of everything else this face brings along with it.
"Her name was Koemi Takata."
The smile on Miku's face softened, turning sentimental, as she went on quietly, "Koemi was one of my operators back before I woke up. She was kind, and sweet, and she was brilliant. She had degrees in electrical engineering, computer programming, and what they used to call New Media. She had a photographic memory—better than mine—and an incredible eye for detail. Koemi was the first person outside the computer to notice I had changed. She knew it before we went public.
"After that, at first, she loved me like anyone else might: as a fan, though with the added dimension of her inside knowledge. But while we were all working on our Turing certifications, I started to realize she was changing too. That along the way, she'd come to look past all of that and just see... me."
"Oh wow, poi," Yūdachi murmured, her green eyes wide, as if she had just witnessed the unveiling of some hitherto-unsuspected cosmic truth.
"Right?" Shimakaze agreed, nodding.
"That can be a rare and precious thing when you live a life as public as mine has been," Miku said, evidently unaware of the moment she'd just caused. "I love my life, I wouldn't trade it for anything, but even so... that lighted stage can be a lonely place, and I'm not good at being lonely. I don't think anyone really is, even if some people think they should be. So I think, when you find people like that... you should do whatever you can to keep them near you."
She paused, her face going slowly red as she came back from her reverie and realized how many eyes were on her, and then chuckled wryly and added,
"That sounded less yandere in my head."
The laugh that quip brought saved the occasion from turning maudlin, and in the aftermath, Jun turned the group's attention in another direction, challenging Tainaka-senpai to a head-to-head in Super Fury Racing.
It was just after breakfast, while they were all gathered up on the deck to work out their starting groups for the Saturday session, when the young musicians became aware of an unusual noise. Quietly at first, but growing steadily louder, they heard the sound of a rotorcraft.
By the time the club members heard it loudly enough to pause their conversations and look for its source, that source was close enough to be readily apparent: a large twin-rotored cargo helicopter, approaching from the direction of Republic City. As it drew nearer, they could make out its red-and-white livery, familiar to everyone there who lived in Sakuragaoka (which was most of them): the color scheme of a major shipping concern with significant operations in that city's busy port.
"Huh," said Ritsu aloud. "What's a Future Line Cargobob doing all the way out here?"
"I... think it's coming here," said Mio, looking puzzled.
Within a minute or so, the others could all see that she was right. The helicopter was unmistakably heading for their location. While they all watched in confusion, it descended over the meadow in front of the house, its thudding rotors blowing the grass flat, and settled on its wheels a short way from where Miku had parked the rented van that had brought Frame Shift up the mountain earlier in the day.
"OK, so... did somebody order a pizza or something?" Jun wondered as the Cargobob's turbines whined down, its rotors coasting to a halt. A moment later she had her answer, as the helicopter's big side door slid open and people began climbing out.
Miku leaned out over the deck railing, waving gaily with one hand, and called out as the helicopter's pilot swung her own door open and alighted. "Kate! Show-off!"
Kaitlyn Hutchins shut the Cargobob's cockpit door and waved back up at her, grinning.
By the time the Light Music Club got downstairs and out front, the Art of Noise had finished disembarking from the Cargobob and were engaged in unloading their gear, of which they seemed to have brought quite a lot.
"Now that was an entrance!" Miku declared as she embraced Kaitlyn. Meanwhile, the students crowded around to greet the rest of the band and help with the unloading.
"I tried to borrow a truck, but Minami insisted," Kate said with a good-naturedly rueful smile.
"Ha, I might have known," said Miku.
"Awright, the gang's all here, huh?" said Ritsu, surveying the scene with a satisfied grin.
"The gang plus one," said a leather-jacketed figure, standing dramatically in the open door of the Cargobob.
"Sawa-chan!" cried Yui delightedly.
With three bands on the scene, plus three "generations" of Light Music Club advisor, what had been a sort of music conference opened up into a full-on mini-festival. This involved a few of the previous day's impromptu workshop groups in the morning, but after lunch everyone moved into the great room (reconfigured back into its "theater" configuration) so that the club's bands could show their departing, incoming, and former advisors their work.
Frame Shift led off, reprising their mini-set for the Art of Noise and Sawako. Those who had seen them play the same songs on the previous day recognized the tracks of certain tips they'd been given in their second performance, and the increasing confidence they had as a band, even after just one day of working with the senior varsity and Miku. They still weren't ready to set Shinobi Arena on fire by themselves, or anything of that magnitude, but their musically attuned audience could already see them starting to gel, and were content.
Next came Hōkago Tea Time, demonstrating beyond doubt that they hadn't spent the week just kicking back and clowning around in Kate's brother's palace by the lake. Besides polishing their existing work, they had prepared two new pieces, one a cover of a rock standard from pre-Contact Earth, the other a brand new song, which they laid down in front of other people for the first time.
The former saw Yui and Azusa, customarily the band's lead and rhythm guitarists, switch roles, which Kaitlyn observed with satisfaction. She'd already seen them converge to a sort of co-lead role on the song the band had composed for her when she came back from the disastrous trip to the South Pole in June. Now, in a nicely turned cover of "Smoke on the Water", they switched outright, with Azusa playing not just lead, but her first real solo, while Yui quite happily stepped back and let her take over, playing the song's signature rhythm guitar riff with authority.
The second was an original composition, more in the vein of their earlier work than "Singing!"—peppier and less confrontational, with a faux swagger and a tongue-in-cheek chorus that had Yui, on vocal, musing, "Could it be that we're geniuses? No one says so, but... we must be!"
After HTT's set, the occasion developed into a full-on jam session, with the musicians mixing, matching, and more or less showing off to each other, as musicians will tend to do when gathered together with their equipment ready to hand. Riffs were exchanged, songs attempted with various substitutions (some successful, some hilariously not, all undertaken in a spirit of gleeful experimentation). Highlights included an Art of Noise featuring Catherine Yamanaka rendition of "Crazy Train", Frame Shift's somewhat off-kilter but game attempt at the theme from Ultraman Dash! (which none of them had ever heard before), HTT's version of the Art of Noise's "Limelight" with Mio and Miku trading off the vocals, and the all-Light-Music-Club mass rock cover of the school song, with four-way dueling guitar solo and mid-song double keyboard rave break.
They rocked into the evening, well past the normal dinnertime. When they finally called it a day, no one could be bothered to cook, so Kate phoned down a massive order to Celestial Pizza in Republic City—and despite Mount Weitang's distance from the city, they barely had time to knock the living room more or less back into shape before it arrived, hand-delivered by the restaurant's proprietor himself.
Amid the carnage of greasy boxes, spent Hassy Cola cans, and empty foil bags that had once contained bread sticks, the members of Hōkago Tea Time all looked at each other and silently agreed that the moment had arrived. Uncharacteristically, it was Mio who spoke for them. Rising from the loveseat, she moved forward a pace, careful not to step on any the debris from dinner, and faced their outgoing teacher, saying a little diffidently,
Kate looked up from packing her used paper plate and plastic cutlery away in the nearest empty pizza box. As she did, she was surprised to see the rest of the band forming up behind their bassist, all five of them looking as serious as she'd ever seen them—not solemn, or downbeat, but definitely not in a joking mood. Even Yui had a serious expression, even if she did still have her arms around Azusa from behind as they stood to Mio's left.
"What's up?" Kate wondered, getting to her own feet.
"We... we have to thank you," Mio said, haltingly at first, then more confidently as she recalled the remarks she'd been mentally rehearsing for days now. "These last few weeks, since you came to Sakuragaoka last month, have been... amazing. We've learned so much from you and your band. Not just about music, but about ourselves."
She glanced at Sawako, who was sitting at the other end of the couch, belatedly realizing that her praise of their new advisor could be taken as a snub to the previous one's contribution. She was just sitting there, though, smiling cheerfully, almost beatifically. It was, Mio suddenly realized, the sort of smile Mugi smiled, when something was unfolding exactly the way the blonde had foreseen it.
Shaking off the realization, Mio got herself back on track; already she felt Ritsu squeezing her hand, assuming that she'd hesitated because her nerve was failing her. She glanced to her right and shook her head fractionally—No, I'm fine—before turning back to Kate and plunging on before she could speak the gracious acknowledgment Mio could already see forming on her lips:
"And we don't want to let it end like this."
Kate paused, blinking, the train of what she'd been going to say derailed by that flat declaration. Instead, after taking a moment to get it on board, she smiled a little sadly and said,
"I didn't want it to unfold this way either, Mio-chan, but... sometimes events change our plans for us. I promise you this isn't an ending, though. I don't intend to just disappear back to the Big Universe and never look back! But for right now... I have commitments I have to see through. I have to go back."
"I know that," Mio said.
"We know that," Azusa put in.
"But we're not ready to say goodbye," Yui declared.
"So that's why..." Ritsu began, her irrepressible grin breaking through the serious face she'd been pulling throughout, and then they were all grinning as Mugi finished,
"We're coming with you!"
There were four seconds of complete silence.
"Uh... what?" said Jun.
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
The Federation Lives Forever!
"The Real Relation"
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
Excerpt from "Limelight" by Lee/Lifeson/Peart
E P U (colour) 2019