Korra put her head into the sun parlor and found Corwin Ravenhair by himself, fiddling around with something on the DesignDesk station.
"Hey," she said.
Corwin looked up and smiled. "Hey."
"You appear to have been abandoned," Korra observed.
"Yep," Corwin agreed. "To be fair," he added, "I could've gone with, but I'm pretty demonstrably useless at ladies' fashion shopping, so..." He shrugged. "Better to stay behind and preserve the honor of the regiment, I think."
Korra chuckled. "You can't be any worse at it than Lhakpa," she said, crossing to sit down at the desk.
"Probably not, but she enjoys sucking at it a lot more than I do," Corwin replied. "Whatcha got there?"
Korra held up the object in her hand, turning it so it caught the afternoon light: an optical disc of what, to Corwin, was an unfamiliar size. It was little bit smaller in diameter than the ancient MultiDisc form factor he was used to, and the spindle hole in the middle was square with slightly radiused corners, putting him in mind of old Earth Kingdom coins.
"Something Karana gave me when I stopped by the arena earlier," she said. "It's a demo disc for a band some of the girls over at Sato Academy in Sakuragaoka have. Apparently it found its way to Karana by way of the pop club up at Piandao - you know how musicians like to network," she added with a grin. "She said they're big fans of Kate's, and were hoping they could get it to her via me."
Corwin grinned. "I like a band that's not afraid to dream big," he said. "Have you listened to it yet?"
"Nope, I just got back," said Korra. "Shall we?"
"Sure, I'm just killing time anyway," Corwin replied, putting the DesignDesk in sleep mode. Korra turned her chair around and scooted over to the long table, switched on the portable stereo standing at one end of it, and stuck the disc into the Lightdisc slot.
There was no sound for a second or two; then the clatter and thump of a mic being plugged in, and the unmistakable rustle and jangle of an idle but restless band. Footsteps receded from the mic, the fidgety noises stopped, and there was a moment of silence.
"Uh, hello out there!" said a high-pitched, slightly breathy voice. "We're Hōkago Tea Time. ... You probably knew that already. Oh! Unless you found this disc on the train or something and it isn't marked. That could happen!" Her voice became slightly muffled as the speaker turned away from the mic. "You guys, we should do that! Make some copies and just leave them lying around for people to find - "
"Yui, we're recording," another voice said, with a note of long-suffering, fond exasperation in it that made both Corwin and Korra giggle.
"Oh! Right! Sorry! We're Hōkago Tea Time - "
"You said that already," a third voice interjected.
" - um, and, we hope you like our songs. This one's called 'Rice Is a Side Dish'!"
The third voice counted them in - "One, two, three, four!" - to the tapping of a hi-hat (so Corwin guessed its owner was the drummer), and they were off.
Korra and Corwin listened to the first three tracks without speaking, nodding their heads to the beat. The band was a little rough, as might be expected from what was evidently a high school music club, but they had a lot of energy and their talent was evident. They sounded like a four-piece - guitar, bass, drums, and a keyboard - and it appeared they had two singers. The girl with the high voice ("Yui", evidently) sang most of the leads, but one of the others - Corwin thought she was the one who had said "we're recording" - took over for the second track. Most of their lyrics were in Kokugo.
"They're pretty good," Korra observed partway into the fourth track, which Yui, who also did most of the talking, had introduced as "My Love Is a Stapler". (This had confused Korra for a few moments, until she parsed enough of the lyrics to determine that it was a metaphor based on the idea of "my love" as in "for you", and not actually a declaration that the singer was in love with a stapler.)
Corwin nodded. "Their lead singer has a really cute voice," he said. "I can see where some people would find it kind of annoying, but I like her style. She's got a certain... je ne sais quoi."
"I know exactly what you mean," said Korra in a slightly affected deadpan, and they both broke up snickering at the old injoke. "The other one sounds more grown-up," she added as the band's second vocalist took over the lead for the next verse.
"Yeah," Corwin agreed. "She kind of changes their whole sound. That's pretty cool." He nodded through the second chorus, the fingers of his own right hand unconsciously miming bass fingerings. "Yeah," he repeated. "I think Kate will dig this." He turned a thoughtful look to Korra. "Was there a picture with the disc?"
Korra rolled her eyes. "Boys, that's all you ever think about."
"I'm just curious!" Corwin insisted, reddening. Giggling, Korra reached up and shoved his shoulder, causing his stool to swivel him through a full 360° turn.
The fifth track was unmistakably a rock arrangement of the girls' school song: all but obligatory for school bands, and nicely accomplished in this case. It sounded like all four of them had vocal parts in that one, and Corwin found himself wondering idly which of the unfamiliar voices was whose.
The demo's sixth and final track was a straight-up rock anthem with an insanely catchy hook, and got them both nodding along again.
"This is the peppiest song I've ever heard about the agony of unrequited love," Corwin observed midway through the second chorus.
"I know, right?" Korra agreed.
They listened silently through the rest of the song. When it finished, there were a few extemporaneous remarks from band members before the recording abruptly cut off with a click. Corwin and Korra sat looking at the LD player for a couple of seconds, then turned to each other.
"Not bad at all," Corwin pronounced. "Ship it! Shame there's only six tracks."
"Well, it is an off-the-cuff demo," Korra said. She reached to remove the disc from the player, considered for a second, and then hit PLAY again instead.
"Makes me want to start a band," Corwin said after the first track was underway again.
"Yeah, me too," Korra agreed. She put her feet up and leaned back, hands behind her head, to regard the ceiling thoughtfully. "I wonder where my old guitar ever ended up..."
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
© 2014 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Virtually every school day, the five members of the Sato Academy Light Music Club convened in their clubroom on the third floor of the main building as soon after the final bell of the day as they could manage. On an average of three days out of five, their faculty advisor, Ms. Sawako Yamanaka, joined them there a short while later, after she'd finished up the last of her duties in the staff room.
Today, that took her a little longer than usual, because today was not a normal Friday. She wasn't just tidying up her desk for the weekend this time. Rather, she was squaring it away for the comfort and convenience of the new person whose desk it would be come Monday. She wouldn't be back herself - not for at least the rest of the term, and possibly not at all, depending on how things worked out.
It struck Sawako, as she finished putting everything away, how little effort it had taken to make her place ready for someone else to take over. Now, granted, she hadn't been at the Academy all that long - it was only her third year as a member of the faculty - so her desk hadn't had time to accumulate the wealth of small items and personal touches that some of her more senior colleagues' stations had. She had nothing else beyond that, either - no extensive personal library on a bookshelf elsewhere in the staff room, like old Mr. Horigome, the literature teacher, who had been a well-established faculty member when Sawako herself was a student at Sato Academy, some years before.
Still, she felt a little bit melancholy about it as she shouldered her laptop computer bag, placed her chair in the kneewell just so, and left the desk as she had found it, two and a bit years before. She paused in the doorway, considering the empty room, and then sighed, closed the door, and went up the stairs to the Light Music Club's domain. The big main music room was where she, a music teacher, had spent most of her professional time, but the little room across the hall where the Light Music Club held court was where her heart belonged.
The five club members looked up from their tea at the sound of the door, smiling in welcome. As always, club president Ritsu Tainaka was the first to speak, declaring grandly from her chair around the club's improvised conference table,
"Welcome!" She gestured to the empty chair at the end of the four-desk conglomeration, where blonde and kindly Tsumugi Kotobuki was already arranging things in a neat place setting. "Your place is prepared," Ritsu went on. "Miss Kotobuki, what do you have for our conquering heroine today?"
"Well," said Mugi, happily playing along, "naturally, for an occasion like today's, I broke out our special reserve spring tea, the TGY Oolong. And for dessert, we have this lovely wildberry cheesecake!"
Sawako sat down, bowed her head over the teacup Mugi was placing, and breathed the scent of the tea, then sighed.
"Spirits, I'll miss this," she said.
"Before too much longer, you'll be rolling in desserts," Ritsu pointed out.
Mio Akiyama chuckled. "You guys should put that on your tour rider," she suggested. "'Dressing room must have tea and an assortment of no fewer than a dozen cakes.'"
"'At least two of which must be montblancs!'" Ritsu added eagerly.
Yui Hirasawa blinked, then dug into the pocket of her blazer for her gearPhone to make a note. "That's a great idea, Mio-chan! I have to remember that for when we're on tour."
"We won't need to demand tea and cakes from the tour organizers, though," Azusa Nakano pointed out pragmatically. "We'll have Mugi-senpai with us."
"Hmm, that's true," said Yui. "Although she might get tired of making our tea herself once we're all world-famous," she added thoughtfully.
Mugi smiled and poured her bandmate another cup of the Oolong. "Don't be silly," she chided Yui cheerfully. "We wouldn't be Hōkago Tea Time without tea."
"Are we still going to be called that once we've all graduated?" Azusa wondered.
"We'll always be Hōkago Tea Time!" Yui insisted.
"I don't see why not," Ritsu agreed, then added with a wink, "It's just a question of how long after school."
"I guess you have a point," Azusa agreed, nodding, and then she and the others trailed off as they became aware that their erstwhile faculty advisor was making an odd, hard-to-categorize noise. They weren't sure whether it was giggling or sobbing; as they all turned to look, they realized it was both, as she was observing their byplay with a tearful smile.
"I'll miss this even more," said Sawako, sniffling.
"Awww, Sawa-chan, why'd you have to go and do that?" Ritsu demanded, her golden eyes filling with tears as well. "Now Mio's gonna start crying like a baby."
"Shut up!" Mio snapped with a sob-laugh of her own, dashing unproductively at her own eyes - and the six of them were off, none of them sure whether to laugh or cry and all of them making a creditable stab at doing both at once.
Once they were done with that, they finished their tea and cheesecake, and then the band geared up and played one last little show for their departing advisor. With the hour growing late and the shadows lengthening, they all knew they should be getting on home, but a strange, magnetic reluctance to let the afternoon end permeated the air, holding them all back.
Finally, Sawako broke the spell, saying with forced nonchalance, "Well, I suppose I had best be off. The next few days are likely to be fairly busy."
"Yeah, I suppose you should," Ritsu agreed, equally unconvincingly. "Oh, hey, before you go, though, we have a couple of things for you."
"Just some little stuff," Yui agreed.
Ritsu zipped open her school bag and took out a flat, wrapped parcel, which she handed to the surprised-looking teacher with a smile. "Here's a little something to remember us by."
"This is a good-luck charm I had blessed at the Fire Sages temple near Yui-senpai's house," Azusa said, placing a small, carved item on a cord atop the package.
"And here's some of the special reserve tea that you can make at home," Mugi chimed in, adding a neatly wrapped box to the pile.
"And some of your favorite chocolates!" Yui added.
"And last but not least, something to say 'thank you' for all the work you did on our stage presence," said Mio without a trace of irony - and then, while Sawako stood there blinking bemusedly with her hands full of swag, the tallest of the club members leaned forward and deftly placed a set of cosplay cat ears on the teacher's head.
"We double elkdog dare you to wear them on stage," Ritsu declared with a wicked little grin.
Sawako stared at her for a second; then, her face settling into a sly little grin of its own, she replied in her husky heavy-metal voice, "I think that can be arranged."
All six were still giggling, their earlier dismay cast aside, as the girls showed Sawako out; they stood at the top of the stairs and waved as she paused on the landing, then went back into the clubroom while she went on her way.
She was crossing the lobby, heading for the exit with all the determination of an explorer at the start of a new expedition, when a familiar figure in a shapeless beige cardigan appeared from off to the side and beckoned to her.
"Ms. Yamanaka," said the school's middle-aged literature teacher.
Sawako stopped and gave him a cordial nod. "Mr. Horigome," she replied.
Horigome stood and regarded her in silence for a moment. He had been the Light Music Club's advisor in Sawako's student days, and so something of a personal nemesis. He was the only one of her colleagues here who had known about her past before the news broke earlier in the week, and though he had never blown her cover, she had never entirely felt at ease around him. The memory of all the scoldings he'd given her and her bandmates (unsurprisingly, Death Devil's music was not to his taste) was too vivid. He was the one who had rejected their life plans questionnaires with their hopeful and optimistic career choice of "musician", remarking that they had better learn to be realistic if they wanted to get anywhere in life.
Now, after looking thoughtfully at her for a few seconds, Horigome said gravely, "I'm glad I caught you. There's something I feel I need to say to you before you leave."
"... Yes?" Sawako replied, bracing herself for who even knew what.
Horigome kept his lugubrious gaze on her for another second or two, then cracked a wry little smile, bowed to her, and said, "I stand corrected, Ms. Yamanaka." Then, just to boost her already considerable shock into the stratosphere, he threw the horns and added, "Death Devil rules."
Sawako stared at him in utter disbelief for several seconds; then, feeling fresh tears come to her eyes, she returned the bow (unable to match the salute because her hands were full) and said haltingly, "I... you... don't know what that means to me."
Horigome chuckled. "I can guess," he said. "Good luck, Sawako. I'll be watching out for news of your success."
Up in their clubroom, the five members of the Light Music Club stood clustered together by one of the windows and watched as their once(-and-future?) faculty advisor walked away. She paused at the gate to the school grounds, looking back, and then squared her shoulders and went on her way, disappearing up the street.
"There she goes, off into rock 'n roll history," said Ritsu with an air of great satisfaction. "Our little Sawa-chan's grown up and left us."
"I wonder if we'll ever see her again," Yui mused wistfully, looking on the verge of tears again.
"Of course we will, senpai," said Azusa. "She already invited us to their first show, whenever it is."
"Besides," Mugi added cheerfully, "that cheesecake she just ate was full of nano-trackers. By now they'll have spread throughout her body, so wherever she goes, my satellite network will find her."
"Oh, well, that's convenient," said Yui.
"That's our Mugi-chan," Ritsu agreed, nodding, and the others all made absent-minded sounds of agreement as well.
There was a short pause.
"... Wait, what?" said Mio.
Mugi beamed. "Kidding!" she declared.
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
Next: Chapter 3: "Arrival"
E P U (colour) 2014