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
with Matt Wagner
© 2014 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Chapter Three and a Half
"Got the Time"
To mark the end of their new faculty advisor's first week at the Academy, the girls of the Light Music Club's coterminous rock band, Hōkago Tea Time, debuted a brand new song at their after-school meeting that Friday. They had played it before, of course, both jointly and severally - Mugi and Mio had finished writing it not long before Ms. Yamanaka left - but this was the song's first performance in front of an audience.
Given that the audience in question consisted of four out of five regular members of the Art of Noise (one of the greatest bands in the "big universe", in the estimation of Hōkago Tea Time) and Kate-sensei's brother, who was filling in for their absent regular bassist, the girls could be forgiven for being slightly daunted by the prospect; but the only one who seemed to be as they tuned up and got ready was Mio. Yui wasn't bothered because nothing bothered Yui; she was socially fearless, evidently incapable of anxiety in any interpersonal context. Ritsu was no slouch in that department herself, and Mugi's serene acceptance of life's strange currents insulated her from such phenomena pretty effectively too. Under normal circumstances, Mio might have expected Azusa, the band's youngest member, to be at least a little nervous, but she was so pleased that they had played every day this week that her happiness in her work overrode any concerns she might've had.
So it appeared that it was only Mio who regarded the five slightly older people sitting expectantly around the clubroom's conference table with something a bit like dread as Ritsu said, "Are we ready? All righty then. One, two, three!" and set them in motion.
The song, like all of HTT's the elder musicians had heard to date, was powerfully, even relentlessly chipper, to an extent that would probably have been annoyingly poppy if it hadn't had some serious rock musicianship backing it up: It was, rather circularly, about how much fun it was to be in an after-school band. Meta-songs about the greatness of rock 'n roll were no new thing, of course; that was one of the holy trinity of rock song themes, the others being love (or at least sex) and fighting the system.
When they finished, there was a brief silence; before anyone else could say or do anything, Ritsu inquired, "Mio, yo. Are you feeling all right?"
Mio gave her bandmate a look that she probably meant to be curious, but came across more as startled. "Huh? What do you mean?"
"It's just that you don't really seem to be into it today," Ritsu said, tapping pensively at the back of her own neck with her drumsticks.
"No, no, I'm fine," Mio assured her unconvincingly. "I'm... maybe I'm just a little tired, is all. It's been a pretty busy week!" she added with an awkward laugh.
Yui and Azusa glanced in puzzlement at each other, then at Mugi, but if the blonde keyboardist had any insight into the rhythm section's odd conversation, she kept her own counsel about it.
"Well," said Kaitlyn diplomatically as she rose from her seat, "we have been working you pretty hard. Now that we've all got a sense of each other's abilities, though, we should be able to get into more of a groove. The hard part's basically over. No critique today," she added with a smile. "I think your new song has a lot of potential, and we can dig into it more next week. For now, take the weekend off and get some rest. I don't want to work you so hard my first week here that you regret my coming," she added wryly.
"That will never happen, sensei," Azusa assured her earnestly as she returned her Mustang to its padded bag.
The five Light Music Club girls left the school together in the gathering dusk, as was their custom, and stayed that way as far as they could before their different courses home started to diverge. Mugi left them first, at the light rail station not far from school; then Azusa and Yui peeled off down a side street, to split up a bit farther on.
Once she and Mio were alone together, Ritsu asked, "Are you really OK? I didn't mean to put you on the spot in front of everyone, but... well, your playing on the new song was pretty weak. You were kinda phoning it in."
"I'm fine," said Mio, just a little sharply. Then, seeing the faintly hurt look on her best friend's face, she sighed and relented slightly. "Sorry. I just... it's all been a lot to take on board, you know? I'm enjoying it, and I think it'll be good for us as a band, but... it's a big change."
Ritsu nodded. "Yeah, I hear ya." They arrived at her house then, and she asked, "You want to come in for dinner?"
Mio shook her head. "No thanks," she said. "I think I'll just head home. I might write some more lyrics tonight."
"OK, well... I guess I'll seeya Monday, then. Later..."
Mio bade her best friend goodnight, then continued on toward her house. She was about halfway there when her gearPhone chimed with an incoming message. She sighed, assuming it was one of Ritsu's habitual weird evening texts, and considered leaving it be until she got home, but the unacknowledged message itch got the better of her and she pulled the phone out to check.
From: "Corwin Ravenhair" <cvr3!scm.co.ur>
To: "Mio Akiyama" <akiyama_mio!sato.ac.ur>
Subject: Tomorrow morning?
Date: Friday Liu 11 19:17:32 ASC
If you have a little time tomorrow morning, would you be amenable to meeting up someplace? I have to be on the noon train back to Republic City, but there's something I'd like to talk with you about before I leave town, if you can swing it. Sorry for the short notice, but it just came up tonight.
Mio spent a moment wondering how in the world he knew her email address, until it occurred to her that it was patently easy to figure out (every student's email address at Sato Academy was in the same standard format). Then, reading it again, she wondered what in the world he could want to discuss with her that was so urgent he had to try and shoehorn it into his last morning in Sakuragaoka.
Maybe he'll ask you to run away with him, Mio, said the mocking voice of her inner Ritsu, and she blushed involuntarily even though she was 99.97 percent certain it could be no such thing. In conversations over the course of the week, it had come out that Kate's brother was happily married - and the father of a baby girl who would be three months old in a few days, although, inconveniently for purposes of silencing her inner Ritsu, that baby girl's mother was technically speaking someone other than his wife. Still, they all were reportedly happy with the arrangement, and Mio found it very hard to credit the notion that, even if he were looking for something else on the side, he would seek it out at a high school. He just... wasn't that type of guy.
Finally, after realizing that she'd been standing on a street corner two blocks from her house thinking about this for several minutes, Mio recalled herself to the here and now, thumbing in a message suggesting that they meet for breakfast at the crêpe place near the music store she and the other band members frequented, downtown. By the time she reached her home, she had confirmation that he thought that a fine idea and would see her there at eight.
Corwin was waiting in the corner booth at Master Crêpe when Mio arrived, looking a bit nervous - possibly even furtive. For his part, he was the picture of unconcern, raising a hand in cheerful greeting as she entered the restaurant. Approaching the booth, Mio noticed that he had his bass with him, propped up on the booth bench next to him in its hard travel case, and a duffel bag.
"Morning, Mio. Thanks for coming," he said as she took a seat opposite him. "Sorry again for the short notice."
"It's no problem," Mio replied, and then, a little hesitantly, "So... what did you... want to talk to me about?"
"Food first," said Corwin with a twinkling grin. "Then business."
He kept the conversation light and casual through breakfast, and Mio was surprised to realize that, rather than ratchet up the suspense and make her even more tense, as she'd been expecting, it had the effect of putting her at ease. She'd noticed that before, over the course of the week, going right back to their very first meeting on the previous Saturday - there was something oddly soothing about Kaitlyn's brother. The good-natured warmth he displayed, perhaps, or the uncomplicated straightforwardness of him. He was kind of like Ritsu in the latter regard, only without Ritsu's constant need to needle and tease, and so more inherently restful to be with.
When they'd finished eating, Corwin paid the bill (without making it seem like a date thing) and rose, gathering up his luggage. "It's a nice day today," he said. "Why don't we go to the park?"
They found a vacant bench in one corner of the city's pleasant downtown park, where they could have a little privacy but still be out in public, in view of the various other citizens who were out enjoying the day. Mio recognized that for what it was - another quiet little effort to put her at ease. It hadn't escaped his notice that what he was doing, asking a high-school girl to spend some time alone with him, could be misconstrued pretty easily if one were of a mind to.
Once there, he got down to brass tacks, saying, "OK. Unlike Ritsu, I didn't want to call you on this right in front of everybody, but you were a little off yesterday. I think I know why, though, and so before I leave town, I thought maybe I'd try to help you with it a little."
Mio blinked at him. "You do?"
Corwin nodded. "Mm-hmm. I've heard you play in concert, both on the original demo Kate got from Korra, and in the Student Council's videos of this year's freshman welcome show and last year's school festival." At the mention of the festival show, Mio glanced away, a furious blush building at the bridge of her nose. She hadn't realized that he'd seen that video, though she supposed it stood to reason. Maybe she'd just been in denial. Either way, she couldn't quite bring herself to look at him for a few seconds now that she knew he'd seen it.
"And the thing is," he went on, as if unaware of her discomfiture, "in all of those recordings, you sound totally different than you did yesterday. Totally different... and a lot better," he added with an apologetic look.
Mio sighed. "I know," she said. "It's just... I'm a very... timid person sometimes. I mean, you saw how I looked last week before you talked to me. One of my favorite bands showed up out of the blue to jam with us and I almost went and hid. I've always been like that. Shy. Nervous. When I was little I could barely bring myself to talk to anyone I didn't know, which was basically everybody."
Corwin chuckled, not in a malicious way, but rather as if he'd realized something pleasing. "That explains why Ritsu is your best friend, then," he said, and to her puzzled look, he explained, "It would take a human cannonball like her to make friends with someone like that in elementary school."
Mio couldn't help it; she had to laugh at that. Then, sobering, she went on, "I'm not as bad as I used to be back then, but... I'm still pretty shy. And so when I'm playing... sometimes I can lose myself in the performance, but others..." She shook her head. "That's why I decided to play bass when Ritsu talked me into taking up music with her. Because nobody notices the bass player."
"I hate to break it to you, Mio, but a person would have to be pretty damn dense not to notice you on stage," said Corwin with a little grin. Then, at her astonished look, he reddened slightly and said, "... Because you're tall. And stuff. Look, never mind that part," he went on, waving it aside. "My point is, you've got to stop thinking of yourself as 'just the bassist'. Because there's really no such thing, and because even if there was you wouldn't be it."
Mio still looked somewhere between startled and skeptical; sighing at himself, Corwin plowed on, "I mean, look at it this way: When you get self-conscious and you try to demote yourself to that 'doonk, doonk, doonk' business, you're doing a disservice to your bandmates by not being as awesome as you know you can be. And Mugi's too nice to ever call you on it, but when you sandbag those great bass parts she writes for you, it has to hurt. It could even be argued that you're shortchanging your audience."
She opened her mouth to tell him that if he was trying to reduce the pressure she felt, he was doing the opposite, but before she could speak, he raised a finger and said, "But. But. Most importantly. You're limiting yourself. You're cutting yourself off from 80, 90 percent of the fun - which is the payoff, the whole point of working as hard as I know you have to be as good a musician as you are."
Mio was almost too embarrassed by the compliment to respond; when she did, it was to say haltingly, "I just... I don't want to be a... a spectacle." Ruefully, she added, "Like I was at the school festival show last year."
"That was an accident," Corwin told her, "and sometimes accidents happen. Not just on stage, in life. It sucks, but the best thing's usually just to grit your teeth and get on with it. But as far as things you do on purpose go, you don't have to jump around and show off to be a great bassist. Have you ever watched the Who in concert with Ritsu?"
"Not in person," Mio said, unsure where he was heading with that, "but she has a bunch of their videos."
"Well, get her to show you one sometime. The clips from their 1978 Shepperton Film Studio concert on The Kids Are Alright would be perfect. Watch their bass player, a man named John Entwistle. Watch him and listen out for his part, and you'll see what I mean. On stage, he's almost retiring. Compared to the other three maniacs, he barely even moves. Daltrey's throwing his mic around, Pete's jumping all over the place - hell, Keith Moon puts on more of a show than Entwistle does, and he's stuck behind the drum kit."
Corwin grinned. "But if you listen to what he's playing, the man is going berserk. His live parts are always way more intricate than he plays in the studio versions of the same songs." Chuckling, he went on, "I bet you anything Mugi knows that, and it's Entwistle's live style she's thinking of when she writes you those amazing bass lines. He trained as a lead guitarist, you know, but then he decided to play bass because he liked the sound better. But he still played like a lead guitarist, especially live. Mugi knows you've got the chops to do that too, and she's trying to give you the stage to do it on." His little grin returning, he asked rhetorically, "Why not take her up on it?"
He waited for her to say something, but when she only sat regarding him in pensive silence, he smiled less wryly and told her, "You're good, Mio. You really, really are. You love what you do, and you have fun doing it. So why not let everyone else see that?" Switching back to the wry grin, he added, "Or at least hear it?"
"I... I'll think about it," Mio promised, still red-faced. "I'll try."
"That's all I can ask," Corwin said. His wristwatch gave a soft, musical chime; glancing at it, he sighed and added, "I have to go. Train to catch. But you've got my email address now, right? I'll send you my voice number too, just in case." Rising to his feet, he shouldered his duffel bag and continued, "Moose should be here middle of the week, and I'm sure he'll have his own advice for you, but if you want to talk some more about this - or, heck, anything else - I've got the time."
"I'll do that," Mio said, standing; then she bowed, like a student martial artist to her master, and said in what he recognized as a "dojo" voice, "Thank you, Corwin-sensei."
"I'm only two years older than you, y'know," he said wryly, and startled her once more by drawing her into a warm, friendly, secure-feeling hug. "If your school was coed, I'd have been a senior last year."
Mio stiffened for a moment in shock, and then surprised herself slightly by relaxing and returning the embrace. There wasn't a subtext in it, for all that Ritsu would have tried to add one if she'd been present to see it; it was just... nice.
"OK, fine," she said. "Corwin-senpai."
"I'll accept that, Mio-chan," he replied with a laugh, then released her. "Take care of yourself. I'll probably see you sometime over summer vacation."
Mio went with him to the train station to see him off. Once his train had departed, she went to Ritsu's to commence research. Ritsu was a bit confused as to why her best friend was suddenly rocking up at lunchtime on a Saturday and demanding to be shown ancient videos of the original Who lineup in concert, but she didn't require a lot of persuading to watch them again. Besides, she always enjoyed it when Mio got that fierce light in her grey eyes and forgot about her long-established custom of trying to disappear.
For the whole afternoon, Mio and Ritsu lay side by side, face-down on the latter's bed, with their chins propped on their hands and Ritsu's laptop open in front of them. They watched concert footage that Ritsu scrounged first out of her extensive personal collection, and then off the lightningweb via the "big universe" gateway in Republic City. They listened to studio tracks, comparing them with the live versions, and Mio discovered that Corwin was right; it was like there were two John Entwistles. One who sounded like Mio did when she was trying to be invisible; and one who sounded worthy of the nickname "Thunderfingers".
Finally, not long before suppertime, they ran out of research material, and Mio rolled onto her back and lay with a forearm across her brow for a while, digesting. Ritsu sat up, folding her legs under her, and regarded her friend with a curious look, but didn't press; she sensed that Mio was on the trail of something Big, maybe as big as her own discovery of the drums. She didn't know where the notion had come from, but she could feel the importance of the moment, and it silenced even her inherent need to crack wise and poke fun.
At length, Mio lowered her arm, letting it flop to the mattress by her side, and turned her head to look Ritsu in the eye.
"Can you call a special meeting for tomorrow afternoon? I want to try something before we see Kate-sensei again on Monday."
Ritsu grinned. "I can do that," she agreed.
"Wow, Mio-senpai," said Azusa, breaking the silence that fell after they finished playing through "Cagayake! Girls" again. "That was amazing."
"It sure was!" Yui agreed. "Where did you get the idea to play it like that?"
Mio, still a bit flushed from the exertion of her revised performance, smiled. "That's how Mugi wrote it," she said, with a gracious nod to the composer, who beamed cheerfully behind her keyboard. "I just... finally figured out what I needed to start playing it right."
"I'm so pleased," said Mugi. The others were expecting her to propose a celebratory tea break at that point; but instead, what she said, after adjusting her Triton's settings a little, was, "Shall we try another?"
"Sure, what the heck," said Ritsu with a grin. "We've got the time."
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
The Federation Lives Forever!
Chapter Three and a Half:
"Got the Time"
Benjamin D. Hutchins
with Matt Wagner
The EPU Team
Based on K-On! created by
E P U (colour) 2014