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.
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
"When Worlds Collide"
Before the full round of mutual apologies could get underway, Momo short-circuited it by declaring, "Hm. This won't do."
"Sorry?" said Ritsu.
"Pardon?" said the girl in the pith helmet.
"You're both trying to start the same club," Momo pointed out, indicating the "purpose of club" blanks on their two forms. Then, with just a hint of a smile, she added dryly, "Maybe you should work that out before involving me."
"Uh, yeah," Ritsu said.
"That sounds like a good idea," the other girl agreed.
As she and the other girl walked away from the table, Ritsu heard Anzu remark playfully, "You'll do anything to get out of doing work, won't you, Momo-chan?"
"You're the last person I want to hear that from. And don't call me Momo-chan!" Momo barked back.
To get out of the bustle of Club Day and have a proper conversation, Hōkago Tea Time and Ritsu's unintentional sparring partner retired to the empty lounge area on the second floor of Churchill Hall.
"Sorry about the crossed wires," said Ritsu. "It never occurred to us that anybody else would think of starting the same kind of club." She introduced herself and her bandmates, explaining that they were new transfer students who had followed Kaitlyn back to DSM from her summer student teaching assignment at their old school.
"After-School Tea Time? That's an interesting name for a band," said the girl in the pith helmet.
"Well, it's descriptive," said Azusa. "That's basically all these four did before I joined."
"It's not too late to bust you back to kōhai third class, Nakano," Ritsu mock-grumbled.
"She's not wrong, though," Mio put in.
Ritsu sighed. "Et tu, Mio?" she said in a long-suffering sort of way, drawing fresh giggles from Yui and Mugi.
The helmeted girl giggled too. "I see you're all good friends. My name is Kaban. I hope we can all be friends too."
Ritsu glanced at the large white knapsack she was carrying, but for once managed to suppress her instinct for the smart remark. If the girl's parents had chosen to name her "Bag" and then she'd decided to run with it by carrying one, that was her business. What the heck, why not? In a situation like that, probably healthier to lean into it.
Instead, she grinned and said, "Good to meet ya, Kaban. Where's the rest of your crew? You must have one if you were looking to start a club, right?"
Kaban nodded. "Five of us came here together," she confirmed. "We had a band back home, like you guys, so we thought it would be a good idea..."
"Ooh! What kind of band?" Yui asked eagerly.
"Well, classic rock covers, mostly," Kaban said. "We never really had any formal instruction, so we just kind of figured out how to play what we knew."
Ritsu nodded. "Hey, whatever works!"
"Why don't we all form a club together?" Mugi proposed.
"Is that allowed?" wondered Kaban.
"Sure, why not?" said Yui. "The Light Music Club at our old school had two bands in it before we left to come here."
"For about a week," said Mio wryly, "but the point stands."
"It'll take working out a schedule for using the practice room, but hey, if that's our biggest problem, we're laughing," said Ritsu. "Tell you what, how about you bring your posse over to our place, I'll cook us up some dinner, and we'll hash it out, maybe jam a little."
"That sounds great," said Kaban enthusiastically.
"Do you know where Handel House is?" asked Azusa, and when Kaban allowed as she did not, she got her notebook out of her school bag, wrote some directions on a blank page at the back, and tore it out for her.
"There's a plaque by the door, you can't miss it," Ritsu said; then she looked at her watch and said, "See you there at, say... six o'clock?"
Kaban nodded. "We'll be there. Oh—and I'll stop by the Student Activities booth on my way back to my room and let them know that we'll bring the form to their office tomorrow. It'll save you walking halfway back across the Common."
"Oh hey, thanks. Mighty neighborly of you."
Back at Handel House, Hōkago Tea Time had just finished describing the afternoon's events to Kaitlyn when the doorbell rang.
"Eh? Is that them?" said Ritsu, glancing at her watch. "It's only four-thirty..."
Azusa, who was nearest, went and opened the door. The person standing there was not Kaban, but rather a young woman she didn't recognize, black-haired and cheerful-looking, dressed in a white track jacket and black skirt.
"Good afternoon," the stranger said with a cheerful smile. "I have a delivery for Hōkago Tea Time."
Coming up behind Azusa, Mio and Ritsu shared a puzzled look, silently asking each other, Did you order anything? and receiving negative replies.
"Well, that's us," said Ritsu. "Ritsu Tainaka, once-and-future club president."
"Ah, of course," said the girl in the track jacket. Slightly to Ritsu's puzzlement, she saluted, like a soldier or sailor would salute an officer, then went on, "Kazahaya-class fleet oiler, third ship, Hayasui."
Ritsu arched an eyebrow. "Uh, OK?"
"If one of you will please sign here," Hayasui went on, presenting a clipboard.
More or less by reflex, Ritsu took it and examined the form clipped to the front. This appeared to be a waybill from something called "White Rose Fleet Supply and Logistics Command", acknowledging receipt of a single article, gross weight 280 pounds, described as "crated miscellaneous goods".
Now deeply bemused, Ritsu signed the form with Mugi's silently-proffered pen and returned both it and the pen to their respective owners.
"Thank you," said Hayasui, tucking the clipboard away in the cross-body messenger bag she carried.
Then, stepping back, she gestured to her left. The curious band members crowded into the doorway and leaned out to look, to find a duraplast shipping box about five feet square and seven long, covered in handling instructions and waypoint labels.
"With Admiral Ravenhair's compliments," Hayasui went on, then bowed.
Mio and Ritsu glanced at each other again. It wasn't the first time they'd heard someone call Corwin Ravenhair, Kate's brother, "Admiral", though they still had no idea what he was admiral of.
Rather than ask about that, though, Mio inquired, "What is it?"
"I don't know exactly," Hayasui replied, still smiling. "I was only tasked with delivering the container. I received it on Zipang from light cruiser Tatsuta, so I believe it may contain some things you left behind in Dìqiú." Then, with another salute, she said, "At any rate, my mission is complete. Have a pleasant day!"
Still hopelessly confused, the band members returned her parting courtesy, then stood together in the doorway and watched as she turned and trotted briskly off down the street in the direction of Lake Jeradar and the DSM campus, passing out of sight behind the trees.
"... OK, that was weird," said Ritsu. "Let's get it open and see what your boyfriend sent us, Mio."
"He's not—oh, never mind," Mio grumbled, and she went to the garage for the tools.
It took the band members, working together, about ten minutes to dismantle the box and clear away the packing materials inside. The first item this revealed was obvious: to Ritsu's delight, it was her bright yellow motor scooter, strapped down on the pallet that formed the bottom of the box.
"Awesome!" she declared. "Scooter get once again!" Tilting her head, she considered the bike for a moment and said, "Is it just my imagination, or does it look... shinier?"
"Huh, you're right, it does," said Yui.
"Maybe Corwin-senpai washed it," Azusa suggested.
Ritsu looked closer. "It's not just cleaner, the paint's been touched up, and that dent in the exhaust guard is gone. And these tires look new." She leaned down and examined the ID plate affixed to the front frame tube. "OK, it's definitely my bike, but what the heck?" Noticing a cardboard box that seemed to have been secured to the cargo rack behind the seat with tape, she continued, "What's this?" as she pulled it free and took a closer look.
The box was unadorned apart for some indecipherable code numbers printed on one side along with the Future Industries logo, but there was an envelope taped to the top. Pulling this off, she found that the flap was unsealed. Inside was a single piece of paper that proved to be a sheet of company letterhead with a short note typed on it.
"'Dear Miss Tainaka,'" she read aloud.
Thank you for your feedback concerning the lighting system of your Type 502 Satocycle®. You may be interested to know that the sealed-beam headlamp equipped on the Type 502 was discontinued in 282 in favor of the more advanced LED-type unit found on the Type 505 and subsequent models.
Following your (excellent!) suggestion, I developed a kit that will enable owners of the Type 502 to upgrade their cycles with the improved Type 505 lighting system. I've taken the liberty of installing the first such kit on your bike. You can find the original components in the attached box.
Since I had the bike in my shop, I must confess I got a little carried away and gave it a bit of an overhaul while I was at it. I hope you don't mind. Enjoy and ride safely!
Ritsu's voice trailed off as she stared in disbelief at the paper. After a few seconds, she went on in an astonished murmur, "... 'Minami Sato.'"
There was a momentary silence.
"Wow!" said Yui. "That's so cool, Ricchan!"
Ritsu reread the letter, then turned and looked at the scooter. "How did she know?" she wondered.
"You asked Sawako to tell her something like that was needed, remember?" said Mugi.
"Yeah, but I didn't think she'd actually do it," Ritsu admitted. "Wow."
There were two other boxes strapped down to the pallet alongside the scooter. One of them had the rest of Ritsu's riding paraphernalia, which she'd left behind along with the scooter because of freight considerations, while the other was an usual shape, long and fairly wide but quite thin. Upon closer inspection, this proved to contain a black hard-sided musical instrument case.
"That's weird," said Azusa. "None of us left an instrument behind."
They decided to defer that mystery until they'd finished freeing Ritsu's bike from the pallet and wheeling it into the garage, then disposing of the packing materials. Then they carried the mysterious case into the house, where Ritsu hefted it onto the dining room table, popped the latches, and opened it while her bandmates crowded around her to look.
"Uh..." she said after a moment's bemused silence.
Neatly nestled into the bed of foam-backed velvet within the case was a gleaming black bass guitar with a peculiarly-shaped body and a stylized bird graphic printed on its white pickguard.
"Isn't that... ?" said Yui.
"It's Corwin-senpai's Thunderbird," Azusa confirmed.
"There's another note," Mugi said, taking a slip of paper from between the guitar's strings. She read it, her eyebrows rising, and then silently handed it to Mio.
I'm going to be way too busy to play this for the foreseeable future, and it would be a shame to let it just sit around gathering dust. I can already hear you protesting that you can't accept such a gift, so if it makes you happier, consider it an indefinite loan. Either way, just play it now and then, OK?
When she finished reading the note, Mio's face was as blank with surprise as Ritsu's had been.
"Mio-chan?" asked Yui, sounding concerned.
"What's up?" Ritsu wondered. Without a word, Mio handed her the note. Ritsu read it over. "Oh."
"Don't. Say. Anything," Mio cautioned her.
Ritsu passed the note on to Yui and asked, "Not even 'Wow, that was cool of him'? C'mon. Give me a little credit."
"Amazingly cool," Azusa agreed, reading the note over Yui's shoulder. "Did you know about this, sensei?" she asked Kate, who was the next to receive it.
"No, but it doesn't surprise me," said Kaitlyn once she'd read it. "It's absolutely something he would do."
"I should have asked for a reply address," Mio mused aloud. "I have to write him a thank-you note."
"Yeah, me too," Ritsu agreed. "With everything he's got going on right now, he didn't need to do any of this."
Kate smiled. "I'll see to it that he gets them," she said.
An hour or so later, Ritsu was in the kitchen, taking stock of her options, when the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it," called Mugi, and she opened the door to find Kaban, accompanied by four girls she didn't know, most of them carrying instrument cases of one kind or another. "Welcome," she said, smiling. "Please come in."
Murmuring thanks, Kaban and her companions entered, slipping off their shoes in the entryway. By the time Mugi showed them to the living room, the rest of Hōkago Tea Time was waiting for them, having come in from the kitchen or rumbled hurriedly downstairs or, in Yui's case, been prodded awake from a nap on the couch.
"Hey, so, welcome to Handel House," said Ritsu, wiping her hands on a kitchen towel. She repeated the introductions she'd made to Kaban earlier for the rest of them, then added as a sixth figure appeared in the archway from the stairs, "And this is our faculty advisor, Kate-chan-sensei."
"Kaitlyn Hutchins," said Kate. "This is Sergei."
"Oh wow, a tiger!" said one of Kaban's companions, a blonde-haired girl who had more than a few feline features herself—not least a very tall and upright set of black-tipped ears on top of her head.
One of the others, a cheerful-looking girl with jaunty yellow and red patches in her black hair, crouched down and petted the curious tiger, remarking, "I have a friend back home who would just love to meet you, big fella."
"Thank you for having us," said Kaban, bowing. She had changed out of her uniform and into street clothes since they'd last seen her, though she was still wearing her backpack and her curious hat. "These are my friends..."
"Hiya!" said the blonde, waving with one arm while she hooked the other around Kaban's neck. "I'm Serval. Nice to meet you!"
"Iwabi here!" said the black-haired girl, putting up a hand.
The person next to her, a young woman with shaggy grey hair and a long blonde sidelock on one side, gave a short bow and said, in a quiet voice at odds with the unusually intense gaze in her green eyes, "Call me Shoebill."
"... Tsuchinoko," mumbled the last of their company, a retiring figure who stood slightly hunched with her hands in the front pocket of a striped hoodie, her face mostly in the shadow of its hood.
Her reticence might have caused an awkward silence, but before it had a chance to happen, Serval said cheerfully, "I like your ears, Nakano-senpai. Are you a cat Friend too?"
Azusa gave her a slightly skeptical look, confused by her odd phrasing. "Uh... sure? I guess? My grandmother is a cat spirit."
Serval tilted her head in puzzlement. "Spirit?"
"It's... kind of a long story," said Azusa.
"We come from a place where crazy stuff happens sometimes," said Mio.
"Well, we've got that in common, at least," said Tsuchinoko with a very slight smile.
Ritsu clapped her hands together briskly. "OK, let's figure out what we're going to have for dinner," she suggested. "Anybody have any special requirements? Vegetarian, pescatarian, meatatarian? I can handle whatever you need."
"We're still sort of getting used to the way the outside world does food," Kaban said. "It's... very different back home."
Ritsu grinned. "That sounds like a challenge."
"That was amaaaaazing," said Serval an hour later.
"It was that," Iwabi agreed.
The members of Hōkago Tea Time and their new acquaintances were scattered around the patio in the orange light of sundown, not quite fighting off food coma, but certainly in the grip of food torpor. Behind Ritsu's lounge chair, the grill was still pinging occasionally as it cooled.
"Only the best for fellow strangers in a strange land," she declared, to a round of murmured thanks.
They all rested for a little while, until B'hava'el's glow had mostly vanished in the west and Bajor began rising over the house. Then, stirring from her spot (curled up with Azusa in the lee of Niri's dozing bulk), Yui sat up and asked,
"Hey, who wants to jam?"
"Sounds like fun!" Serval said, to general agreement.
They picked themselves up and went back inside, where the visitors gathered up their instruments from the living room before following Hōkago Tea Time upstairs to the practice room on the second floor.
"Wow, it's like a real studio in here," said Iwabi as they entered the room, which was paneled in acoustic foam and had all the amenities—including, she noticed, a control room with a mixer board.
"Pretty sweet, right?" said Ritsu. "They built this whole place to Kate-chan-sensei's personal specifications. She's kind of a big deal in the music biz, y'know."
"Stop showing off," said Mio, punctuating her instruction with a minor karate chop to the head.
"Well she is," Ritsu insisted, rubbing her head.
While the visitors unpacked their gear, the members of Hōkago Tea Time bustled about readying amps, patch cables, and whatnot. There was plenty of space for both bands to set up, which they did facing each other rather than directed toward an imaginary audience. The result was an eerie symmetry, since it happened that the guests' band had a similar lineup which they arranged in a similar way. Kaban and Serval were the guitarists, front and center with a single stand mic between them, while to no one's surprise on the Tea Time side, Shoebill was the bass player. In the back, Tsuchinoko lurked behind her keyboard (a vintage DX7 that made Mugi very slightly jealous), as if hoping not to be noticed, while Iwabi presided over the drum set with an air that suggested she didn't mind that prospect at all.
"Good thing we haven't found our room on campus yet, or we'd have to share that drum kit," Ritsu remarked as she squared herself away behind her signature yellow set at the other end of the room. "OK! Who wants to go first?"
"Well, it's your place," said Iwabi, grinning.
"Which makes you our guests," Azusa replied.
"Then I guess it's our turn!" said Serval. "Oh—almost forgot. We're called Sandstar!"
Despite the fact that Kaban had told them her band mostly played covers, Hōkago Tea Time's members weren't expecting to recognize what they played. After all, there were a lot of classic rock songs out there in the Big Universe, and they hardly expected to be familiar with every single one.
And, indeed, the song Sandstar broke into after a brief, hushed consultation was one their hosts had never heard before—and it surprised them immensely right from the start.
Having gotten to know the five members of Sandstar a bit over a shared meal during the last coupel of hours, Hōkago Tea Time's members had formed an unconscious expectation that their sound would be on the poppy side of the spectrum—not too unlike their own, possibly without even as much of a blues/punk edge as they had developed under the Art of Noise's tutelage. They were thus a bit taken aback to discover that these five sounded more like Sawa-chan's metal band, Death Devil, with powerful guitars and a driving rhythm line. Shoebill even kind of looked like Sawa-chan, in her stage persona of Catherine Yamanaka, glowering out from under her jagged bangs as she provided the relentless undercurrent alongside Iwabi's exuberant but precise drumming.
The lyrics, too, with their hard, attitudinal edge, sounded very strange coming from a person as usually cheerful and friendly as Kaban:
Well everybody wants you and everybody needs
They not really prayin' but they down on their knees
They been lookin' for the answer, lookin' for the prize
Lookin' for the thing but they didn't realize
Well I know you know this is what you want
And you know I know this is how it starts
Well you can't let it go, no it's not up to you, yeah
I got you in control and I'll tell you what to do
You're gonna love it
You're gonna love it
You're gonna love it
You're gonna love it if you like it or not
The silence after the end of the song lasted just long enough that the members of Sandstar began glancing nervously at each other, wondering why their hosts weren't saying anything—just standing there staring at them.
Then, just before Kaban would have said something, Azusa spoke up:
"Wow. You guys are pretty good."
The two band couldn't jam together as long as they really would have liked once the ice was fully broken—it was a school night, after all, and if they lingered too long, Sandstar's members risked being locked out of their dorm. All agreed that would have been an inauspicious way to start the school year, so it was after only an hour or so that they called time and the visitors started packing up their gear. The last order of business for the evening was for the two bands to gather in the dining room and finish filling out the club registration form, after which they presented it to Kaitlyn to be passed along to the relevant authorities in the morning.
"This has been super fun!" Yui bubbled as she and her bandmates showed their guests out at the front door.
"It really was," Serval agreed. "Thanks for having us!"
"Come back anytime," said Ritsu. "I mean, we'll have our club space on campus soon anyway, but even so." She struck a pose and added importantly, "Handel House is always open!"
"Except after curfew," Azusa pointed out.
"Next time, we'll have proper tea and cakes," Mugi promised.
"Tea and cakes?" Tsuchinoko wondered, looking puzzled.
"Hey, our name isn't just for show, y'know," said Yui, winking.
"Have a safe walk back," Mio called as the five headed off toward campus. Hōkago Tea Time stood waving until the others had disappeared around the corner, heading the same way Hayasui had gone earlier in the day, and then went back inside.
"That went pretty well," Mio observed.
"They seem nice," said Azusa, nodding.
"Their sound is heavier than I expected," Ritsu noted.
"Mm. But I think that gap is cute," said Mugi.
"I'm not sure that's the word I would use," mused Azusa, a trifle dubiously.
"They've already got cool stage names, too," said Yui. "Why didn't we ever do that?"
"We had a hard enough time just picking a name for the band," Mio pointed out.
"That's true," Yui said, and then, thoughtfully, "I wonder what a shoebill is?"
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
The Federation Lives Forever!
"When Worlds Collide"
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