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
"Make Some Noise"
Azusa arrived first, her nerves jangling with excitement. Not only was this the first time she had ever been invited to a faculty member's home, it was coming hot on the heels of one of the best days' practice she'd ever had, and she was keyed up at the prospect of a second one right in a row.
She stopped in front of the house, double-checking the address on her phone; this was the place, all right. A nondescript modern two-story on a pleasant residential street, far enough from the city center to be quiet and with a decent amount of space between the houses, but not so far as to be hard to reach, particularly as this block was just off one of the main streetcar lines. It had taken Azusa no more than fifteen minutes to get here from her own home.
Now she hesitated on the sidewalk out front, wondering whether she should go and ring the bell or wait for the others to arrive. A moment later, that decision was taken out of her hands as Mio appeared, walking up from the opposite direction. Like Azusa, she was dressed in civvies and carrying her instrument on her back, and like Azusa she looked excited. Spotting her young colleague, she raised a hand in greeting and quickened her pace.
"Good morning, Mio-senpai," said Azusa brightly as Mio reached her.
"Good morning, Azusa-chan," Mio replied. "Are you the first one here?"
"Looks like it," said Azusa; then she admitted sheepishly, "I couldn't decide whether to go inside or wait for everyone -"
"Aaaazu-nyaaan!" a voice cried from behind her, and Mio noticed with interest that - although she braced herself slightly for impact - Azusa didn't go as visibly tense as she usually did when she heard that cry. To the bassist's mild surprise, she actually smiled and turned a bit to her left, adjusting her stance so that Yui wouldn't collide with Muttan as she crashed into her beloved kōhai.
"It's been so looong," Yui said happily, rubbing her cheek against Azusa's.
Azusa rolled her eyes, but still with a smile, as she replied, "You just saw me yesterday, Yui-senpai."
"I knoooow," Yui said. "All those empty hours in betweeeen..."
Azusa snorted and - to Mio's mounting amazement - petted Yui on the head. "Now you're just being silly."
"I can't help it," Yui agreed matter-of-factly, releasing her at last. "Yesterday was so much fun!"
"It was fun," Azusa said. "I see you brought Gīta today," she added, glancing at Yui's gig bag.
"Uh-huh!" Yui said, nodding. "I think he was starting to get a little jealous yesterday."
"Right," said Azusa.
"Jealous of what?" Mio asked.
"Oh, you'll find out," said Yui coyly. Then, looking around, she wondered, "Where's Ritchan, Mio-chan? I thought she'd be with you."
"She said she had a surprise for us," Mio said, shrugging. "I have no idea what she was talking abou -"
The high peep of a vehicle horn from the street interrupted her, and she and the two guitarists turned to see a figure on a bright yellow Future Industries motorscooter pulling up to their location. While they watched, the rider steered into the house's driveway, stopped not far from the entryway, shut down, climbed off, and set the scooter's center stand. Then, with a satisfied sound, she turned toward them, flipped her goggles up onto her helmet (which matched her scooter's paint job), and pulled it off, shaking out her light brown hair.
"... Ritsu?!" Mio blurted as she, Yui, and Azusa gathered around.
"What ho, ladies!" said Ritsu cheerily, hanging her helmet on one of the scooter's handlebars. "Phew! Too hot today to have this on if I'm not moving," she added, then unzipped her leather jacket and flopped it back off her shoulders.
"You have a scooter, Ritsu-senpai?" Azusa inquired, realizing as she did it that it was kind of a stupid question.
"Wow!" said Yui. "That's so cool, Ritchan!"
Ritsu's grin widened. "I know, right?" she said.
"When did you get that?!" Mio demanded.
"Just now!" Ritsu replied. Placing a proprietary hand on top of the scooter's headlight fairing, she went on, "It's brand new. Well, to me, anyway. It's actually a 275 model, but it's not like they ever change these things."
Mio walked slowly around the vehicle, taking in the dings and scratches in its finish that she hadn't noticed the first time. Now that she looked more closely, she could see that it did show its age, but it looked as if it had been well-maintained by its previous owner; the tires were practically new, and everything was clean and looked, as far as her inexperienced eye could tell, in good working order.
"Where did you get it?" Azusa wondered.
"Eh, I found it sitting outside the noodle place on Fourth," Ritsu replied casually, rummaging in her school bag on the cargo rack behind the seat. "Some mook left the key in it, so I figured it was fate." She looked up from her work, saw all three of her friends staring at her, and rolled her eyes. "My uncle gave it to me, jeez." Withdrawing her signature hairband from the bag, she scraped her bangs out of her eyes with it, settled it in place, and asked them, "C'mon, do you seriously think I would steal a scooter?"
"It's hard to know what you wouldn't do sometimes," Mio said, eyeing her narrowly.
"Are you guys going to stand around out here all day, or were you thinking of coming in at some point?" asked Azalynn mischievously from the house's front door. "Nice bike, by the way."
"Heh, sorry, sorry," said Ritsu, hands behind head, as they all started heading for the door. "And thanks."
Holding the door for them, Azalynn looked over the group, then tilted her head inquisitively and asked, "Where's Mugi-chan?"
"She told me she'd be a little late," Ritsu replied, taking her jacket the rest of the way off in the entryway. "Something about she already had a lunch date." She knelt to unlace one of her boots, then noticed that all other sounds of conversation had ceased. Looking up, she saw that her bandmates and Azalynn were all staring at her. "... What."
"Mugi-chan has a lunch date and you didn't think it was important enough to mention it until someone asked you?" said Azalynn. "Are you feeling all right, Ritchan?"
Ritsu thought for a second, then stood up, her golden eyes wide with shock. "Holy dogcow, you're right!" she said, slapping her forehead. "I got distracted by scooter get!"
Mio folded her arms. "I refuse to believe that's even a sentence."
"Well, it's got a verb in it," Ritsu replied, pulling her jacket back on. "Come on, you guys, we've got to investigate! I only hope it's not too laaaacccckkk."
Mio finished pulling her back by the shirt collar and released her to slump, coughing, to the foyer floor. "Leave Mugi alone," she said flatly.
"you could've just said 'stop', mio..." rasped Ritsu, feeling at her throat.
"Right, that would've worked," Mio agreed sarcastically.
"Oh, come on, Mio-chan, aren't you even a little bit curious?" asked Yui as they all started taking off their shoes.
"Of course I am," Mio said. "But I respect Mugi's private life, too. If she wants us to know about... whatever's going on... she'll tell us."
"Awwww, but," Yui whined.
"I always kind of assumed we were Mugi-senpai's private life," Azusa mused as the four of them followed Azalynn into the house.
"You don't suppose she's got a boyfriend?" Yui said, then looked puzzled as all the others (including Azalynn) poorly concealed snickers. "Huh? Why is that funny?"
"When you're older, Yui," said Ritsu with a fond smile.
"Hmph," said Yui, pouting. "Don't treat me like a child, I..." She trailed off, a look of delight spreading onto her face, as they entered the house's living room, which took up virtually all of the ground floor apart from the entryway and kitchen. "Corgi!" she cried, dashing into the room, and then she fell to her knees and embraced a furiously wagging dog of that very kind. "Whoooo's a good doggie?" she wanted to know.
"I see you've met Ein," said Kaitlyn, smiling, from halfway down the stairs that ran along one side of the room.
"Your dog is called Ein, Kate-sensei?" Azusa wondered.
"Well, he's not really my dog," Kate allowed.
"It's short for Einstein," said Azalynn happily as she joined Yui in making much of the corgi. "'Cause he's the smartest dog in the universe! Aren't you, Einy? Yes you are!"
"Really?" asked Yui. "Are you a smart doggie?"
"Watch!" Azalynn said. "Einy! What's the cube root of a hundred and twenty-five?"
"Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!" the dog replied.
"Yup, he's better at math than Yui," Ritsu observed, making Mio (who had once conducted an epic algebra cram session for Yui's benefit) snort a little guiltily.
Just then, the sliding glass door at the back of the room opened and Moose MacEchearn entered, wearing an immense apron emblazoned with the slogan "HIGH GRAVITY CHEF" and holding a pair of grill tongs. "Ah, good, you're here," he said. "We're just about ready to get started."
Before anyone could reply, Sergei the tiger prowled around him into the room, and Yui's delight in the occasion reached a level that had theretofore been purely theoretical.
An epic barbecue later, most of Hōkago Tea Time and all of the Art of Noise were lounging around the living room - on couches or chairs or just the floor - basking in repletion.
"That was amazing," Yui observed rapturously from somewhere in a contentedly dozing heap of corgi, tiger, and Azusa.
"It sure was," Ritsu agreed, stretched out full-length on one of the couches with her head in Mio's lap. "My compliments to the chef."
"Thank you kindly," said Moose.
"Why, in this entire huge room, do you feel the need to lie right there?" Mio wondered, though in the mildest possible tone.
"Is there some reason why I shouldn't?" Ritsu replied blithely.
On one of the other sofas, Kate and Miki glanced at each other with identical private smiles - Adorable! - and then turned to the business at hand. "Not to drag business into pleasure," said Kate dryly, "but part of the reason I invited you girls over today was for a bit of the former. Ritchan, did Mugi-chan give any indication of when she thought she'd get here?"
"About two o'clock, I think?" Ritsu said, and a moment later the doorbell rang. Blinking awake, Azusa surfaced from the tiger pile at the sound.
"I'll get it," said Dorothy, who was the only person in the room not fighting off food coma. She returned a minute later with Mugi in tow.
"Hey, Mugi," said Ritsu, raising a hand in greeting without getting up. "You missed a boss barbecue."
"I'm very sorry," said Mugi, reddening a little, as she bowed contritely to Kaitlyn. "I had a prior engagement."
"It's all right, no worries," said Kate, smiling. "Now that you're here, though, I have a couple of announcements. First: Azalynn's search didn't turn up any studio that was really suitable for our needs, anywhere close enough to the city to be worth renting."
"Aw," said all five members of Hōkago Tea Time sadly.
"So," said Miki cheerfully, "we're building our own. It should be ready for us to take possession around the middle of July."
Mio raised her head off the back of the couch she was sitting on to look at him. "You're just... building your own recording studio? In a place you're only visiting for a while?"
"It's the surest way to get one that meets all our requirements," said Dorothy.
Mio let her head fall back against the cushion. "I really envy adults," she said.
"Second," Kate went on, "I'm leaving town for a couple of days, starting after school on Wednesday - going down to the South Pole to spend the last day of the Glacier Spirits Festival and my brother Corwin's birthday with him and his family. I should be back in plenty of time for school on Monday. If anything comes up while I'm gone, Mr. Horigome says he'll help you out however he can." She smiled a little slyly. "I expect you can look after yourselves for a couple of days."
"Oh," said Mugi, looking disappointed.
"What's wrong, Mugi-chan?" Yui wondered.
"Oh... nothing," said Mugi unconvincingly. "It's just... if you're not going to be around on Friday, you'll miss my surprise."
"What surprise?" Miki asked.
"Well..." Mugi walked to the middle of the room and knelt by the coffee table, then rummaged in the big, festive summer handbag she carried and spread a row of brightly colored paper slips out upon it. "I just came from having lunch with Sawako - Miss Yamanaka," she clarifed, going a little bit red again.
"I'm glad you cleared up which Sawako you meant, we know so many of them," said Ritsu. "Ow," she added in an almost conversational tone as Mio rapped the crown of her head with a knuckle.
"No fair, you got to see Sawa-chan without us?" Yui burst out.
"We met at my father's company's tearoom," Mugi explained apologetically. "It isn't really suitable for large gatherings."
"How is she doing, Mugi-senpai?" Azusa asked.
Mugi smiled. "They're all working very hard - they were quite out of practice, as you might imagine, and it's taking a lot of effort for them to get back to where they were. But," she added, her smile becoming a little mischievous, "they're almost ready to try a few small, experimental shows. The first one is Friday evening, at the Livehouse club, downtown." She indicated the items she'd placed on the table. "She gave me tickets for all of us and asked me to let you all know."
Ritsu bounced up from the couch, nearly clocking Mio's chin with her head before she thought, at the last moment, to duck. "No way! Miss Kawakami's place, where we played last New Year's? Sweet!" She picked up one of the tickets and grinned, throwing the horns with her free hand. "Death Devil in concert!"
"Wow, so soon?" Azusa remarked, crawling to the table and picking up a ticket as well. "That's brave of them."
"We should all be sure and go to show our support," said Mio.
"Absolutely," Yui agreed.
"She gave me twelve tickets, because she thought Ui-chan and Jun-chan might want to go too," Mugi said. "But we didn't know you would be out of town, Kate-sensei," she added sadly.
"Well, I'm sorry to miss it," said Kaitlyn, "but Friday's my brother's birthday, so I'm afraid that takes precedence. I'm sure Sawako will understand. And there must be someone you can give my ticket to," she added.
"We could invite Nodoka-chan," Yui mused.
Mio snickered. "I'm not sure Death Devil would really be Nodoka's cup of tea," she said. "I think you forget sometimes that she's a normal person, Yui," she added indulgently.
"Don't you believe it," Yui replied, grinning. "She only seems that way at school." Drawing herself up importantly, she intoned with a didactic air, "Not only is Nodoka-chan stranger than you suppose, she's stranger than you can suppose, Mio-chan."
"I'm... skeptical," said Mio.
"You'll learn," Yui replied with sublime self-assurance.
"By the way," said Mugi, "whose yellow scooter is that outside?"
"Hi!" said Ritsu, putting up a hand. "Why?" She blinked as a sudden, frightening thought struck her. "Oh no, did something happen to it?"
"What? No, not at all," said Mugi. "I was just admiring it on my way in. I thought it was an interesting coincidence that it's the same color as your drums, Ritchan."
Ritsu slumped with relief, then grinned, folding her hands behind her head. "Well, not so coincidental," she admitted. "Uncle Toshi's had that scooter for pretty much my whole life. I got my drums used, but I picked that particular set mostly because they were that color."
"Who knew Ritsu had such a sentimental heart?" Mio inquired rhetorically.
"Hey!" Ritsu cried, rounding on her. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Now, now, now, now," said Mugi soothingly.
"Hmm, only four," Yui noted.
"Right!" said Kate, rising. "Speaking of drums," she added, nodding toward Dorothy's rig in the corner of the room, "this place isn't a proper studio, but it's only two in the afternoon and I have an acoustic damper if the neighbors complain." She grinned. "What do you say we make some noise?"
As the others all scrambled for their instruments, Mugi added cheerfully, "And then I brought cake!"
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
The Federation Lives Forever!
Chapter Six: "Make Some Noise"
Benjamin D. Hutchins
The EPU Team
Based on K-On! created by
E P U (colour) 2014