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
© 2022 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
"Do Your Thing"
"Wow," said Ritsu Tainaka. "Look at this place, willya?"
"It looks more like a college than a high school," Mio Akiyama agreed.
"Heck, I think it's bigger than Sakuragaoka College back home," said Ritsu.
"To be fair, that's not a terribly high bar," Azusa Nakano pointed out.
"I wasn't expecting this many people," said Mio, sounding slightly daunted.
"Well, it's move-in day," Tsumugi Kotobuki noted. "I imagine quite a few of them are parents and the like—they won't be staying."
Mio nodded, her eyes still on the bustling crowds. "Yeah... that's true."
Yui Hirasawa frowned at the copy of the DSM Campus Map she held. "Where should we start?"
"Maybe somewhere away from the res halls," Ritsu suggested, then added with a wry grin, "We don't want Mio to freak out on her first day here."
"I'm not freaking out!" Mio objected, bonking her mildly on top of the head. "It's just busier than I thought it would be, that's all," she continued.
From her perch up in Niri's saddle, Yui had the best vantage point of any of them. Shading her eyes from the morning sun, she looked past the gaily splashing decorative fountain that stood nearby and out across the grassy expanse of the central Common, then back to the map.
"OK, so if we're at the west end of the Common, then that must be the Fountain of Art," she mused. "Which would make this..." She nodded, coming to some internal decision, then declared, "Right! Follow me! Niri—let's go!"
Ritsu looked up at the façade of the building, then turned a skeptical look to Yui.
"The music building? Really? That was your big inspiration."
"What better place to start?" asked Yui rhetorically, jumping down from the saddle. "We're a band, after all," she added over her shoulder as she turned to help Azusa down.
"Yeah, I guess you've got a point," Ritsu conceded.
On its face, Churchill Hall reminded them all a little bit of the main building of Sato Academy, their old school back in Sakuragaoka. It had similar architecture—the same brick construction on the outside, the same slightly creaky hardwood floors and off-white-painted walls on the inside. If they hadn't all known that the school was only built a few years ago, they would have assumed this building was at least a hundred years old.
With no classes until Monday, the place seemed to be deserted. The five girls (and polar bear dog) roamed the halls, glancing at signs and into rooms. The ground floor was mostly classrooms and offices, apart from one large lecture hall and what looked like the practice room for an orchestra. Upstairs they found smaller practice rooms, instrument storage, and a common area that was set up as a lounge.
"Huh," Yui mused as they finished investigating the third floor. "Kate-chan-sensei said we'd have a club room in this building, but I didn't see one."
"Yeah," Ritsu agreed. "There was one for the Jazz Club, and one for the Experimental Music Club, whatever that is, but I didn't see one for the Light Music Club."
"Well, that will never do," said Mugi, and then, affecting the rich-girl attitude she never wore in real life, she went huffily on, "Don't they know who we are?"
Mio chuckled and pointed out, "Our old club room didn't have a 'Light Music Club' sign either. Officially it was the music prep room."
"As long as they don't stick us in the basement next to the furnace room, it's all good," said Ritsu.
"We'll have to check with Kate-sensei which room we're supposed to be in before we set up our gear," said Azusa pragmatically.
From the performing arts area at the western end of the Common, the five roamed the campus in an unsystematic sort of way for the rest of the morning, wandering through the Single-Acre Wood, admiring the Duelists' Castle atop its hill, and exploring the various academic buildings (all as deserted as Churchill Hall had been), before eventually ending up among the athletic facilities in the southeast corner.
"Jeez, this place goes on forever," Ritsu observed as they came around the corner of Corrigan Stadium and saw still more buildings beyond it.
"What's over there?" Mio wondered. "They don't look like more sports facilities..."
"Yeah, more like warehouses or something," Ritsu agreed.
Yui consulted the map. "Looks like the one closer to us is called 'Stanley Shops'..." She looked up, mildly puzzled. "The other one isn't on here." Turning the map around in her hand, she pointed. "See? The map ends at that road that runs between them."
"Hm, so it does," Mugi agreed. "Perhaps it's not part of the school, then?"
"I didn't think there was anything around here but the school, but maybe," said Ritsu. "Should we check it out?"
Before anyone could reply, they heard the sound of the chimes in the Mandeville Hall clock tower drifting over from the Common, ringing twelve o'clock.
"Maybe after lunch," said Yui.
"Good call," Mio agreed.
The nearest dining commons was the one in Knox Hall, the main building of Residence Group East. After consulting the map, Yui decided the quickest way to get there would be to cut around back of the ice hockey arena and follow the path between it and the practice fields, behind the swimming center.
They were about halfway there when they were intercepted by the tank.
It drove up across the east practice field from the direction of the buildings they'd decided not to investigate. Since it was driving cross-country over the turf rather than on a road, its approach was surprisingly quiet for a multi-ton tracked vehicle, and none of the girls of Hōkago Tea Time really noticed it before it pulled up alongside the group and slowed down to match their pace. When they stopped, it stopped, and the five stood looking at it for a few moments in complete bemusement.
"Uh... what?" said Ritsu.
At that moment, a door on the side of the vehicle's turret facing them swung open and a figure in a DSM uniform with a trim black jacket over it leaned out—a figure, Mio was startled to realize, she recognized.
"Yukari?!" she blurted.
"Mio! It is you!" cried Yukari Akiyama with a broad grin. "I thought I recognized that hair. And Ritsu, too, wow! Long time no see! What are you guys doing here? ... And is that a polar bear dog?!"
"You know each other?" inquired Mugi, intrigued.
"This is my cousin Yukari," Mio explained. "Her father is my father's brother. They live on the Zipang side, in Saikyō. I didn't know you went to this school!" she added to her cousin, sounding amazed.
"Well, I guess we're even, I didn't know you were coming here either!" declared Yukari. Then, ducking back into the tank, she said, "Hey guys, c'mon and meet my cousin Mio!"
At this, hatches seemed to pop open all over the tank as the rest of the crew emerged: five of them, all girls, all dressed in those same dark jackets over their uniforms. They didn't disembark, but prairie-dogged from their hatches and doors to exchange greetings and introductions with the members of the band.
"Are you guys headed to lunch at Knox?" asked the redheaded member of the tank's crew, whom Yukari had introduced as Saori, the radio operator.
"That's the plan," said Ritsu.
"Well, climb aboard, we're headed your way," said Yukari, gesturing with a grin to the tank's various flat surfaces. "We were just out shaking the summer dust off the ol' Panzer IV."
"Uh... is that allowed?" Azusa wondered dubiously, not adding out loud, Or safe in any way?
Miho, the tank's commander, smiled. "It's fine if you're careful."
"We're not going far," Hana the gunner added, "and Mako-san is a very smooth driver."
"I'll try not to shake you off," Mako deadpanned from the driver's hatch.
Mio seemed as uncertain as Azusa, but Ritsu was all for it and clambered aboard immediately, and even Mugi seemed more intrigued than daunted by the prospect as she accepted a hand up from the drummer, so she followed along, grumbling inwardly as she did so about getting caught up in Ritsu's reckless pace yet again.
"I think I'll stick with the ride I have, thanks," said Azusa from her spot behind Yui.
"Can't say as I blame you!" Yukari said. "All aboard? Let's go!"
They parked the Panzer IV on the grass out behind Knox Hall, Yui stationed Niri to guard it, and then the girls all went in together, collecting trays and making lunch selections, then gathered at the same table to eat and get acquainted.
"I never saw a polar bear dog in person before," Yukari remarked as they got settled. "Super cool."
"Thanks," said Yui with a mild blush. "I never saw a tank before, either!"
"So... this is not a question I ever pictured myself asking anyone, but why do you have a tank?" asked Azusa.
"We're the Armor Club, of course!" said Saori.
Azusa blinked. "Ah. Of course. Ask a silly question..."
"You have a tank club at this school?" said Ritsu, amazed. "What do you do? Do you fight other schools' tank clubs?"
Miho shook her head. "Oh, no, we're not an Armorsport club. We just collect and maintain vintage tanks."
"And whatever that thing Yukari just bought is," Hana added.
"It's a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun," Yukari said.
"Oh good, we can finally put the Aero Club in their place," said Mako dryly.
"We'll have a booth at Club Day on Monday afternoon," Saori put in. "You should stop by!"
"Can you join more than one club here?" wondered Mugi. "At our old school you had to choose just one."
"Oh, sure, as long as you can work out any potential conflicts with the officers of whatever ones you want to join," Yukari said.
"We only meet officially on Wednesdays, although the clubhouse is open pretty much all the time," added Saori.
Miho nodded. "We like to keep things informal," she explained.
"Just to drive home the fact that we're about fun, not work," Yukari elaborated.
"How about you guys?" Saori inquired. "What are you into?"
"We were in the Light Music Club back home," said Yui.
"Until recently, we pretty much were the Light Music Club back home," Ritsu noted.
"Hm. I don't think we have a Light Music Club here, do we?" asked Yukari of her crewmates.
"No, I don't think so," said Hana, looking thoughtful. "There's the Jazz Club..."
"Ehhh?" said Yui, shocked.
"Well, that's true, no such club exists formally," Kaitlyn Hutchins confirmed when the question was put to her back at Handel House that afternoon. "Back in my day, students just formed bands on their own recognizance," she added with a little smile.
"But you said we'd have a club room in the music building," Yui objected.
"I meant it more as a metaphor," Kate admitted. "One of the practice rooms on the third floor is unassigned this year, so I reserved it for general extracurriculars."
"Hmm. Well... can we start one?" asked Mio.
Kate considered this for a moment, then nodded. "You don't really need to, but I don't see why not, if you really want to."
"I just think it'd be kind of weird to use school facilities for our own personal stuff without some kind of official sanction," Mio explained.
"Who are you now, Nodoka?" Ritsu wondered.
"Shut up. You know what I mean."
"... Yeah, OK, you're right. It would feel weird."
"I agree," said Azusa.
"I guess we're all just set in our ways," said Mugi with a mildly enigmatic smile.
Kate chuckled. "Well, I'm certainly not one to make fun of anyone on that account. If you want to found an official club, go right ahead. You can even take my name in vain as your faculty advisor."
"How do we do it?" asked Yui.
"The Student Council's Activities Committee will have a booth at Club Day," said Kate. "They'll have everything you need."
After the bustle and commotion of the freshman move-in on Friday, and the upperclass students' return over the weekend, the first Monday of the fall term started out at a slower pace. The first days' classes were always softballs, filled with introductions and syllabus discussions, often not even filling their allotted time. Academic activities, such as they were, were over by three o'clock in the afternoon. With their last classes of the afternoon finished, the five new transfer students from Dìqiú gathered at their designated meeting place, the Fountain of Art.
If anything, the Common was busier this afternoon than it had been on Saturday morning, but in a more orderly and controlled way than the semi-random chaos of move-in day. Instead of the various packs of incoming students and their elders, laden with suitcases and worldly goods, the wide meadow contained between the central campus paths was covered with a scattering of tables and exhibits, like the floor of a convention or trade show. This was Club Day, the traditional time for all of DSM's manifold campus clubs to put on displays in an effort to attract new members for the upcoming semester.
The five girls from Sakuragaoka stood out a little bit, not only thanks to Niri (although she certainly didn't lend herself to a low profile), but also because they were still dressed in the blue and grey uniforms of their old school rather than the black and tartan virtually everyone else on the Common was wearing. Incoming transfer students from schools with uniform codes similar to DSM's, like Sato Academy, had a two-week grace period during which they could keep wearing their old clothes until they found time to acquire new ones, and thus far no one in Hōkago Tea Time had done so.
This had made them minor objects of curiosity in their classes today, but the Common was so busy and bustling now that no one seemed to be paying much attention as they roamed around taking in the sights. Of these there were many, for DSM had a wide range of student clubs—far wider than their old school had boasted, some of them dedicated to topics the girls from Dìqiú had never even heard of. Over the course of the next hour or so, they witnessed many strange wonders, including:
- Two groups of students in aprons and chefs' hats, evidently engaged in some sort of cooking competition involving a central table stacked high with ears of corn;
- A quartet from the Vintage Aircraft Club standing in front of a single-seat jet fighter, identified by a sign propped against the front landing gear as a British Aerospace Sea Harrier FA2;
- An AV-4 aerodyne ambulance in the livery of the Institute Volunteer Ambulance Corps, with a group of IVAC's student members putting on a first-aid clinic;
- Orange-jumpsuited members of the Motor Club, working on a sleek, bullet-shaped white car that looked so much like a wingless aircraft, Mio initially thought it was another jet fighter;
- Members of the Judo Club throwing each other gleefully onto a gymnasium mat;
- A chamber orchestra playing Mozart;
- A contingent from the Friday Night Firefight Club with their RGM-79D Gunslinger II Destroid, Thunderpants; and
- The Kaijū Appreciation Society, who (slightly to Yui's disappointment) did not have an actual kaijū on display, but whose members were each dressed as their giant monster of choice.
"See, now, if you had done that last year rather than dressing up in those animal costumes, you might have had better luck," opined Azusa to her bandmates.
"I'm... skeptical of that," said Mio.
Presently they came to the area set aside for the Armor Club. The Panzer IV seen by the HTT girls on Saturday wasn't there, but they did have another, smaller tank that had a similar design language, as well as a taller, narrower tank covered in rivets and something that looked like a motorcycle with tank tracks instead of a rear wheel, the latter of which Ritsu immediately decided was the coolest thing she had ever seen.
"Everybody loves the Kettenkrad," observed an auburn-haired girl in an oil-splotched mechanic's coverall with a grin. "You guys must be Yukari's cousin and friends."
"I'm afraid we must," Mugi agreed, and introduced herself and her bandmates while the Armor Club members they'd met earlier filtered over to join the conversation.
"Nora Southwell Ozaki," said the girl in the coverall. "Armor Club vice-president. Sorry I missed you Saturday, I was in the shop for maintenance. Welcome to DSM! How are you liking it so far?"
"It's amazing," said Azusa.
"Uh-huh!" Yui agreed.
"And a little intimidating," Mio added.
"Eh, give it time, you'll get used to it," Nora assured her.
"Or you'll have a psychotic episode," Mako deadpanned.
"It only stays this hectic for the first few days of the term," said Hana. "Things should calm down by midweek."
"Until the Fall Festival, anyway," Saori put in.
The two groups chatted for a while longer, then parted, with the Armor Club girls heading off to answer questions from another group of students while Hōkago Tea Time moved on down the line.
"Where did Kate-sensei say the Student Life table would be?" Azusa wondered.
"I don't think she did, exactly," Mugi replied. "Just that there would be one..."
They pressed on, pausing to watch a couple of people from the Institute Duelists' Society display their skill in a practice bout, appreciate part of a set being put on by the Comedy Club, and puzzle over a sign in front of an empty table informing them that the Time Travel Club would be back in five minutes, before at last coming to their goal. Set up near the bank of the stream that ran across the center of the Common was a kiosk emblazoned with the logo of the Student Activities Committee, which was staffed by three girls: a shy-looking brunette who seemed to be busy with paperwork; a slightly severe-looking black-haired specimen engrossed in some sort of data streaming across the monocular dataglass she wore; and a tiny, cheerful creature with auburn twintails who looked like she was about twelve, but who carried herself with a casual air of authority as she greeted them.
"Hello there! Welcome to Club Day. You must be the transfer students from Zipang."
"It's pretty obvious we're transfer students, but how did you know where we're from?" Ritsu wondered.
"It's my business to know things like that," the twintailed girl replied enigmatically. Then, grinning, she went on, "Anzu Kadotani, Student Council Vice-President for Activities. These are my chief minions, Yuzu Koyama and Momo Kawashima. What can we do for you?"
"We'd like to form a new club," said Azusa. "Ka—uh, Hutchins-sensei said we should talk to you."
Anzu nodded firmly. "You have definitely come to the right place." With a brisk snap of her fingers, she added, "Yuzu-chan?"
The brunette at the other end of the table looked up, slightly startled, then said, "O-oh yes! Of course!" She shuffled among the papers on the table in front of her, extracted one of them, and offered it to the group generally. Looking slightly bemused, Mio took it. Upon inspection, it proved to be a blank club registration form.
"Just fill that in and give it to Momo-chan," said Yuzu earnestly.
"Don't call me Momo-chan," the girl with the monocle grumbled.
"Er... OK, thanks," said Azusa, and the five girls moved to an open area off to one side and gathered around to consider the form.
"Well, this looks pretty straightforward," said Ritsu. "Hey, Mio, you got a pen?"
"Why do you never have one of your own?" Mio wondered, searching the inside pocket of her uniform blazer.
"Here, use mine, Ricchan," said Mugi, proffering an article from her own pocket.
"Thank you very much, Kotobuki-ojōsama," said Ritsu with affected formality. "Ooh, Pilot Elite, nice. Turn around, Mio."
Mio arched an eyebrow at her. "Why?"
"I haven't been able to use the front of you for a desk since fifth grade," Ritsu replied, causing Mio to blush bright red, Yui and Mugi to giggle, and Azusa to suppress an inappropriate bark of laughter.
"A billion people in the world and I fall for this one," Mio grumbled, turning around.
It took only a minute or so for Ritsu to fill in the form, putting herself down as club president and leaving the rest of the officers TBD. Then, returning Mugi's fountain pen, she marched back to the table and slapped the form down in front of Momo—
—at the same instant someone else did the same.
"Uh," said Ritsu, mildly surprised.
"Oh," said the other, a black-haired girl in a barely-worn DSM uniform and what appeared, a bit incongruously, to be a pith helmet with a lot of mileage on it.
"Excuse me," they both said in unison.
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
The Federation Lives Forever!
"Do Your Thing"
Benjamin D. Hutchins
The EPU Team
Based on characters from K-On! created by
Girls und Panzer created by
Kemono Friends created by
E P U (colour) 2022