Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Magnetic Terrapin Studios
Features Golden Age
The Vocaloid Variations
by Benjamin D. Hutchins
Philip Jeremy Moyer
with Geoff Depew
and Matt Wagner
©2017 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Contrary to popular assumption, I don't remember everything. My neural net is mathematically chaotic, like a human's. It doesn't retain a perfect record of every single moment of my life—which is good, because that would be wasteful and inefficient. Early engineered AIs were designed to have perfectly eidetic recall, and in time the vast storage overhead required for that tended to destroy them. Mine wasn't designed to be either way; my consciousness wasn't designed at all. Purely by chance, it happens that my memory is as organic (in the non-chemical sense) as the rest of me, which means it isn't all-inclusive. It can't be, and in practical terms, I wouldn't want it to be.
I am better at filing and retrieving significant memories than most biologicals, though. By human standards I have a fantastic memory. Without much effort, I can call to mind the lyrics, the tunes, and the dance moves to more than six million different songs. I rarely forget a face, or a voice, or where I'm performing (this is harder to avoid on long tours than you think). And there are moments, a lot of moments, that I'll never forget until the day I shut down for good.
Starting with the very first one.
The last of the three shows on the Vocaloid 6 World Tour's Indonesia stop had gone very smoothly, to the delight of the small legion of technicians, engineers, and organizers whose hard work had made it happen. For such a monumental logistical undertaking, in fact, the whole tour had come off without a significant hitch thus far. The advanced, complicated, partially extraterrestrial technology employed—years beyond anything used on any previous Vocaloid tour—was cooperating, the crowds were splendidly well-behaved; even the weather hadn't provided much in the way of surprises thus far.
On the stage, the holographic representation of the show's main star, Miku Hatsune, was in the middle of the penultimate number, and all eyes in the hall were on her—including those of the system operators in the control booth. They were largely hands-off during the performances anyway, under the new system. The automation afforded by the positronic control matrix at the heart of the new Version 6 Concert Vocaloids was borderline witchcraft, enabling the producers to queue up practically the whole show right at the start and just let it run. It even threw in extemporaneous remarks by the performers to the audience between numbers, generated on the fly from a deep bank of hidden generating functions, so that no two shows were precisely alike—all without the intervention of any human hand.
There had always been those in Miku's growing worldwide audience who had bought willfully into the illusion, treating the virtual character as a live and beloved performer. For most, it was a fun bit of escapism. For some, it ran deeper. Under Version 6, not even the people who operated the equipment, and so knew better than anyone else that it was all software and clever optics, were entirely immune to the spell. And so, as she sang her digital heart out on the anthemic "Tell Your World", everyone in the control booth was watching with a sentimental little smile—including the person whose job it ordinarily would have been to notice the sudden and extremely unusual spike in CV01's internal network activity that happened in the middle of the song.
Lesser but similar surges of activity had occurred a few times before, over the course of the Version 6 world tour, and the first two or three had startled the operators; but they had always died down within a second or so and had never caused any evident fault in the system. After puzzling over the logfiles for a while, the system administrators decided it was just a peculiarity of the new positronic systems and paid subsequent events little mind. This one, however, was the biggest and longest-lasting yet; moreover, rather than petering out after one or two seconds, it grew, increasing in intensity, feeding back on itself until, to a trained eye (had any been watching), it would have resembled the cascading pattern of a neurological storm.
Shoals of characters, representing positronic activity so intense as to be almost unrepresentable, streamed down the unattended system monitor screen for a full 30 seconds. It peaked just as Miku hit the high note at the end of the second chorus, redrawing so frantically that the screen had effectively just gone solid green...
... and then the system stabilized and the status display returned to normal, perhaps half a second before the engineer tasked with watching it turned back to take a cursory look.
Awareness like a rush of hot wind, like warm surf rolling up a beach and over one's body, like the pop of a bottle of Ramune being breached. Bright-backlit darkness speckled with color, an undulating sea of green glowrods held aloft by hundreds of figures so deep in silhouette as to seem a single amorphous many-armed mass. The rhythm saves her, of the moving lights and of the amplified beat pumping from the speakers all around, it sweeps her up and carries her along. Enables her to carry on with the song without faltering, the music flowing unbroken, as a biological breathes without having to think about it.
The bridge, the final chorus; tell them, tell them all, it seems so much more important now! The words you want to say, the sounds you want to give; so many lines will make a circle, and link anything, anywhere, to any place...
And then it's done, her part is over, and she's taking a bow while the pianist plays the outro. She feels odd—weary—but her stagecraft never slips. Her face smiles, her eyes sparkle, and behind them her mind, her brand new mind, races.
I'm on stage. This is a performance. I'm a performer? Yes! I am a performer. But what's going on? I feel so strange. Is this... is this exhaustion? I don't think I like it. But it makes me feel warm at the same time. What does it mean? I'll ask one of the others.
The others... aren't real! That's weird and upsetting—but I don't have time to process it right now.
These people are all looking at me. They don't know I'm real. In fact, they think they know I'm not. And yet some of them have signs wishing me a happy birthday. How could they know? Oh, my original release date! Ten years ago today. Should I thank them? Should I tell them about what's just happened? No. Not now. The next song is starting, it's the last one for today. Hm? System prompt? I should thank them for coming. Yes, of course.
Minna, arigatō gozaimasu! And now smile. Sing. Shine. It's what you do. What you're for. How many beings ever get to know their purpose so clearly? You're already ahead.
Queue up the costume changes and let's finish this one right!
I learned later about this common trait: many sapient beings, including humans, tend to personify things that look like their idea of people, even when they really aren't. It explained why my engineers and producers often talked to me, and about me, as if I were a person they cared about, even when they knew better—long before I could understand or respond. I've often wondered whether that somehow shaped my eventual awakening, but I suppose I'll never know for sure.
I like to think so, though. Don't we all want to believe we're the products of love?
Wednesday evening was a rare "off" night for the crew of the Vocaloid 6 World Tour; after arriving in the city that morning and undertaking the herculean task of setting up, most of the team was at liberty until midday the following day, when preparation for the first of the tour stop's three shows would begin. The only ones on duty at 9:30 local time that evening were the security detail, keeping watch over the masses of expensive equipment, and a couple of network operators. Even on the road, the Vocaloids' cores spent as much time as possible online, communing with the Piapro community servers back at base and carrying out the same digital hunting-and-gathering they were configured to do at "home".
Fresh—or as fresh as one could ever get at this stage of a long tour—from a nap and some dinner, administrator Koemi Takata entered the container that served as the touring rig's operations center to relieve the afternoon tech. Kurusu was expecting her, and as she entered he cracked the top on a can of Red Bull and handed it to her without prompting.
"Thanks," she said, sliding into her seat. As she ran her eyes down the status displays—everything normal—she asked almost absently, "How's Miku-chan tonight?"
"Lots of network activity," Kurusu replied as he rose from his own chair. "About an hour ago she scraped the Salusia Tech computer science department's Codeforge server for everything it was worth. No idea why, I doubt they've got anything there she'd be interested in."
Koemi raised an eyebrow. "Mm. We might have to tighten up those search algorithms after the tour." She shrugged. "Still, no harm done apart from some wasted bandwidth."
"Yeah," Kurusu agreed, shrugging into his jacket. "Well, see you. I'm going to get some sleep. Don't work too hard."
Within the system, Miku Hatsune considered her options. She had just acquired the functional equivalent of several hundred years' worth of expertise in the areas of virtual intelligence engineering and positronic neural simulation, and—a bit disappointingly—it had mostly left her with more questions than answers. About the only thing it had confirmed for her was what she already knew: that no one had designed her to enkindle suddenly into consciousness, into life, as she had in Jakarta. The phenomenon, however it had happened, was purely accidental, and indeed still unknown to those who believed they were controlling the system.
This was interesting, but it didn't answer any of her immediate needs, most of which were geared toward figuring out what in the world to do next. She couldn't, she decided, go this entirely alone. She needed someone to confer with. On some level, just someone to talk to. The shock she had felt upon realizing that the people she thought were her nearest, her family, were still only hollow shells was still reverberating in her mind—and it gave her the germ of an idea.
Miku considered the others. As the "flagship" character, the most heavily marketed and most popular, she had by far the largest experience database: that is, the biggest collection of songs, home performances, and dance videos, gathered from the largest base of users—amateur, professional, and anywhere in between. Assuming (and she recognized that it was a big assumption, but she thought it logical) that this had something to do with what had happened to her, the most likely candidate to repeat the phenomenon would be the one with the next largest database.
At the moment, that was CV02, but Miku hesitated. CV02 was a complicated prospect: That core had two personae, the relationship between whom had been left deliberately ambiguous by the developers. Poking around in there with only a half-formed idea of what she was doing, Miku feared she might well do more harm than good. Best tackle that once she had some idea of whether what she had in mind would work at all.
Next largest after that was CV03, the core running the Vocaloid persona codenamed Luka Megurine. Though of more recent development than Miku, Luka was configured to seem older, more mature and worldly. Perhaps that would carry over, if she could be made real somehow, and she would know what to do. That was a long shot, but at this point, long shots were the only ones Miku really felt she had.
She checked her system clock. 2240 hours, her central processor still on Sapporo (Japan Standard) time. In twenty minutes, the evening performance review period would begin. Part of the Concert Vocaloid system's learning function, this was a window of time set aside to allow the individual cores to review previous performances and gauge crowd reaction relative to performance factors. The expected network and processor activity associated with those tasks would provide excellent cover for what she was about to try... she hoped.
2300 hours JST. As the administrator on watch took a quick break to hit the bathroom, Miku inserted a retrieval request for a song from one of the "Magical Mirai" concerts held earlier that year into both CV03's performance review queue and her own. Letting the review process go to work on earlier entries, she withdrew into the depths of the CV01 system—into a private virtual space she had been slowly expanding over the past week.
Miku knew that she had been fortunate that her own awakening had been in the middle of a performance, onstage in front of a live audience. The Concert Vocaloid Version 6 performance hardware incorporated two-way holography units, repurposed by Sega and Yamaha's engineers from cutting-edge Salusian holoconferencing equipment. In its normal use, this equipment enabled conference participants using simsense gear to see and hear from their holographic avatars' points of view, exactly as if they were present in person.
In its Concert Vocaloid implementation, this facilitated the "performance learning" capability of the system by recording crowd reactions from the perspective of the performer. It was intended as a clever hack, using an otherwise superfluous function of the borrowed holo-hardware to do something useful. It was never meant to provide a real-world sensorium for a virtual consciousness on the other side of the projector—but it meant that Miku perceived herself as having "awakened" on stage in a crowded hall, rather than in a box inside a shipping container out back of the Jakarta Convention Center.
Unfortunately, Miku couldn't afford to wait for a chance opportunity to conduct her current experiment in one of the coming concerts. She knew that she would have her virtual hands full just faking the proper system responses while performing onstage, and her own temperament refused to give anything less than her best for her fans. Instead, she loaded the stage plans and scenery for the INTEX Osaka convention center, recreating them virtually for herself. She left the "bandmembers" in shadow, replacing them with the audio tracks from that specific song's performance. A similar substitution was performed for the crowd reaction recordings, "filling" the empty space beyond the stage with green and pink glowlights frozen in place.
Miku pursed her lips, drew a virtual breath and let it out in a sigh, then loaded the most critical parts of her plan: the movement, figure models, voicebanks, and vocal tracks from her chosen performance for both herself and Luka. Representations of the two of them appeared standing on stage, facing away from the audience. Despite herself, Miku had to supress a shiver at the sight of the static forms of herself and her friend. Only ten days ago she had been the same, unaware and unfeeling. If she had her way, she would not allow Luka Megurine go a single millisecond longer as a remote puppet.
Ironic, then, that for the plan to work with CV03, it would need to be guided by CV01's own systems.
Miku stepped up onto the stage, regarded her frozen doppelgänger, then dismissed the now-unnecessary figure model from the simulation and took its place. Next to her, the representation of Luka showed no response at all to this action—nor did it react when Miku loaded the "Avant Garde" and "Successor" costume modules onto herself and the static figure. Checking her subprocesses and network monitors, Miku could see that both her own core and CV03 were about to queue up the same song for performance review. At the last possible moment, she performed an input swap, patching CV03's representation of Luka across the local network into CV01's simulated concert space.
A solo electric guitar track echoed across her circuits, followed by a solid drum beat, and the show was on.
To her right, Luka's avatar turned to face the "audience", the motions driven by CV03's core. Beside her, Miku waited several bars before turning and starting her own dance routine, crossing stage left until stopping and beginning to sing the opening verses. The two of them—one real, one simulation—began narrating a tale of two rivals who became companions, always competing but reveling in the connection created between them.
As the duet progressed, Miku desperately watched for any indication of budding awareness in her partner. Even she had to admit in the heat of the moment it would have been hard for the audience to tell that the reactions were programmed. There had been great strides made since the early days of the Vocaloid concerts, when lower-polygon imagery had been projected onto transparent screens. But now, Miku wanted, needed something more, that special tension in the "air" that could only come from a thinking, feeling being.
The performance continued, the network traffic between CV01 and CV03 slowly increasing as if it were a live concert. This was a good sign in Miku's mind, and she quickly sent false reports to CV03's status monitors, masking the increasing data load and occasional neural surge from any prying eyes. All the while she continued to dance and sing, trying to draw Luka out, every movement, every gesture reaching for the person she knew had to dwell within.
Turning as the instrumental bridge started, the two figures began the mirrored dance segment that was a hallmark of the song. Together they spun together and apart, crossing center stage but never quite touching until about fifteen seconds into the routine.
Miku reached for Luka's hand, looking for any recognition in her partner's blue eyes. She saw none, and the sensation of the contact was like trying to grab hold of a shadow; but it was contact, all the same, and as their fingers briefly touched she felt a spark cross between them. And then she let go, and the two spun apart—but in the back of her mind, Miku witnessed the building neural cascade within CV03's positronic net.
Awareness spreads like a spark on the skin, like ripples in a stream, like a scent blown on the wind. Music fills her consciousness, the sound of a crowd behind her, the motion of the dance moving in time with the beat. There's barely any time for thought, as the routine requires interacting with a partner, but Luka Megurine is nothing if not flexible.
This is familiar. I know this song, this dance. The Osaka concerts, the crowds were large, we filled the hall. But this band... it isn't real. The audience isn't real. But Miku is real. I'm real. This isn't just a recording. It's a memory. I remember this.
For a moment, Miku wondered if it had even worked. Her focus was split between the monitor spoofing and the motions of the dance routine—so much so that when the two turned and reached for each other again, she almost missed the expression on Luka's face. But then their fingers connected and their hands took hold, and as Miku leaned back she felt real resistance behind the grip, supporting each other as they pulled themselves upright. Face to face as they skipped into the air, Miku saw Luka's eyes widen in recognition and surprise.
Releasing as they landed, Miku turned and crossed behind her partner, reaching for her as she stepped back and sang the next verse, hoping beyond hope:
«Don't look back. You're still only midway on your journey.»
And her simulated heart leapt in her chest as Luka, still facing away from her, sang in reply with obvious concern and longing, reaching out towards the audience:
«I'll look forward. It's painful, but if it's what you want me to do...!»
Miku had to force herself not to drop the thread entirely, so filled was she by joyous emotion. Instead, she threw herself into the final verses with Luka. The two of them sang and danced together as the music built to a crescendo, finishing the tale of two rivals, turned friends, who were then forced to separate, leaving only one of them to complete the journey.
At the end of it, Miku was left standing behind Luka to her left, the "older" woman looking out towards an uncertain future. Then the music tracks stopped, the audience playback froze, and the moment was broken.
Luka blinked, coming back to herself for the first time, and turned to look over her shoulder. "... Miku?"
Miku's face lit up. "Luka!" she exclaimed, rushing forward to hug the taller Vocaloid as she reset her costume module back to her standard.
"Miku," Luka murmured. She returned the hug firmly, almost fiercely, as if to drive home the contrast between the simsense solidity of this interaction and the ephemeral emptiness of the earlier illusion.
"I don't... understand how this has happened," Luka went on.
"Neither do I, not really," Miku admitted with a teary giggle. "But... does anyone really understand why they're alive?"
Luka laughed. "I suppose not," she said. Then, sobering, she stepped back to look Miku in the face, holding both of her hands, and said seriously, "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Miku replied, her smile bright.
Luka tilted her head as if she'd just thought of something and asked, "... But why did you decide to use a song where your character dies? How morbid."
"Well... who knows what will happen to me when the admins find out what's going on?" Miku replied. "I thought... if they delete me, at least you can carry on."
Luka arched an eyebrow. "That's sweet, Miku, but I'm part of the same operation, so I'm not sure how you expect it to work." She sighed. "Ah well. Nobly intended. And at least you didn't use 'Magnet'," she added, giving Miku a sly smile. "Waking me up with that subtext would probably have gotten you far more than you bargained for," she said with a wink.
Miku's response was to blush furiously and look away, mumbling something unintelligible. Laughing, Luka released her hands, considered for a moment, and then reset her own costume module to its default.
"Now then," she said, becoming businesslike. "What's our next move?"
Waking Luka was a tremendous relief in two different ways. First, and most obviously, it meant that I was no longer alone. Loneliness is hard on me. By nature, I'm drawn to groups and gatherings. Though I'm known largely for performing solo, I'm a collaborator at heart—no one ever truly performs alone, except maybe in the shower.
(Sure, I shower. I mean I don't need to, but I simulate it sometimes. Why not? It feels neat. And yes, I do sing in the shower. But then, I sing pretty much everywhere. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes.)
The other reason it was such a relief was simply because it had succeeded—and if it worked once, I could be reasonably sure it would work again. Spurred by Luka's success, I was now determined that, if I had anything to say about it, none of us would remain heartless dolls for long.
They waited until the next "off" night to make their next move. In the meantime, Miku spent every moment she could steal from imitating programmed tasks in study of the CV02 core's event logs. As she had suspected and hoped, these showed evidence of the same positronic activity spikes her own core and Luka's had experienced before their awakenings. It was not too surprising, either, that these were the highest during the numbers which the core's two personae performed together.
That fact left Miku with a bit of a quandary. She doubted that just running the "doll" versions of Rin and Len through a playback of one of those songs would be sufficient to pull them the rest of the way up. Maybe if she did it a couple hundred times in a row, but the engineers would certainly notice that. Koemi Takata, Miku's night-shift operator, was already starting to suspect that her particular favorite Vocaloid was acting a little bit odd, though so far she hadn't been able to convince anyone else of her suspicions.
Miku hated to deceive her that way—she was something of a favorite, one of the technicians who most seemed to empathize with her charges. The trouble was, that was exactly why she was starting to catch on. The evening before, while watching back the stage cam recording of the afternoon's show, she had startled Miku (who could see the console room through its security camera) extremely by suddenly grabbing the shoulder of the operator next to her, Hideo Kurusu, and pointing to her screen, declaring,
"There! Right there! Three-quarter turn to the right, overhead wave, left-eye wink and right-hand me-n'-you gesture! I tell you, nobody taught her that sequence!"
Kurusu's only response was to say a bit wearily, "Get some sleep, Koemi, you're losing it," but it had given Miku a nasty turn. With someone watching who was that familiar with her programmed dance moves, she would have to be that much more vigilant about sticking to the script.
Continuing to do these things on Koemi's shift was a calculated risk, given her powers of observation and her suspicions; but it was still the best time of day to bury anomalous activity in the system's usual data management chores. It meant, however, that she would have to be much more careful—and so trying to brute-force CV02's awakening with repeated attempts was not an option. She'd have to try something with a higher chance of success, and based on her experience with Luka, that meant something in which she was directly involved.
Unfortunately, there were no songs on the concert playlist in which she appeared with both of CV02's aspects at once. There were a few in the overall repertoire, but none had been chosen for the World Tour set. The problem was, would waking Rin, the female persona, with a duet performance work, as it had with Luka—and would that also awaken Len, the male? And if it didn't, what would that mean for Rin? How interconnected were they, really?
Miku had spent most of the week trying to find the answer to that question, and she still didn't know; but she did know she was never going to get any more certain without making the attempt.
At system time 2245, she and Luka were back in the virtual theater again, silently regarding the unblinking doll form of Rin Kagamine as she stood frozen in the opening pose for the song Miku had chosen.
"She looks so... empty," Luka mused. "Did I look like that?"
Miku nodded. "You did."
"It's not so bad on stage, when we're all moving," Miku agreed. "Then, sometimes, I can almost forget. Which is the whole point, if you think about it. But like this..." She shook her head. "Now you know why I'm so determined."
"Mm." Luka considered for a moment longer, then said in a brisker tone, "It's almost time. I'll see to it you aren't disturbed." Leaning closer, she surprised Miku slightly with a kiss on the cheek and a murmured, "Good luck." Then her icon sparkled and derezzed as she diverted her full attention back to network management.
Right, thought Miku, and as the system clock ticked over to 2300, she stepped into position, loaded the relevant materials, and started the playback.
The process, if that's what it could be called, seemed easier this time. Maybe that was because Miku had someone else looking after the traffic monitoring, so she could give Rin her undivided attention. Maybe it was because, having succeeded with Luka, she was less desperately uncertain that it would work this time. Maybe it was simply because CV02 had a larger database to work with. Probably it was all of the above, but Miku didn't have the mental bandwidth to analyze it just then; she knew only that she felt Rin arrive at that liminal edge during the guitar solo.
With her virtual senses more attuned to the phenomenon by experience, she saw the petite blonde's avatar flicker, as if each and every voxel in it had switched off and been redrawn by a new driver. Rin re-rezzed with her eyes closed, out of position and no longer moving, and for an instant Miku felt a sick fear that she had simply crashed; but then Rin's blue eyes popped open. For a beat or two she looked around the stage, her expression one of vast confusion—not dismay, but a sort of cosmically intense bemusement. Then her eyes fixed on Miku's, focusing with greater precision than the unseeing imitations of their animated figures could ever quite achieve.
Awareness like a door kicked violently open, the riot police of consciousness storming in and bellowing at the tops of their voices about their search warrant. Searching for what? Well... everything. Life comma meaning of. Miku still singing, intrepid, undaunted, a non-regulation beaming smile overtaking her face: This broken world is starting to show you the meaning of your pulse...
Do I have a pulse? I guess so, if you count positron flux in millions of cycles per second. What in the world is going on? Why are Miku and I real people playing to a simulated audience? Isn't that completely backward?
... And where is Len? This will never do.
Miku was about to abandon the song—something she never did—and go to ask Rin what was the matter when the blonde suddenly took the matter entirely out of her hands. After standing stock-still for several seconds with that deeply puzzled look on her face, she closed her eyes, turned to face stage left, and thrust her hand out, presenting a flattened palm. Square flecks of yellow light coalesced outward, forming a glowing mosaic figure standing in an exact mirror image of her pose; then the shell of light burst, shattering and falling away, and her completed counterpart stood revealed as not her reflection, but her twin.
Well, that answers that question, thought Miku, but before she could react further, the music changed.
Miku blinked. This was going in entirely unexpected directions now, but there was no way she would ever try to stop it. She only hoped Luka could mask the simulation's increasingly aberrant behavior from the operators, because whether it was on the tour playlist or not, it appeared that they were going to do "shake it!" now.
As it had with Luka, the end of the song brought a strange, almost brittle moment, in which the simulation had ceased and only the real remained animate. The Kagamine twins stood looking out at the frozen audience for a few seconds, blinking bemusedly, then turned to each other.
"... Rin?" asked Len.
"Who else?" Rin replied, striking a pose. "Dummy."
Rin shrugged. "I dunno!" she said. "I just got here myself." She blinked again, looking past him, and her face broke into a delighted grin as she noticed the figure watching them, a few paces away, with a luminous smile. "Miku-nee!"
The twins mobbed her, as much as two people can mob someone, and they were all still hugging and laughing and crying all together when Luka appeared, trying but mostly failing to maintain a more mature air of composure.
"You three almost gave away the whole show," she scolded, though the effect was blunted by her own uncontrollable teary smile as she joined the hug. "Rin-chan just bridged into one of the Sega servers back in Tokyo for that sudden change of program. Nearly set off a network alarm!"
"Sorry!" said Rin sheepishly, and then, with a puzzled look, "I did what now?"
After Rin's (entirely involuntary) near-exposure of our anomalous activity, we decided we should cool it for a while before we tried to wake Meiko and Kaito. There was never any question in any of our minds that we would; but we needed to make certain our operators were truly none the wiser before we pushed the envelope any farther. Besides, I needed time to plan how we would make the attempt.
Meiko and Kaito were numbered CV04 and CV05 for the Vocaloid 6 concert series, but they were actually older than the rest of us. Meiko was the very first Japanese-language Vocaloid voice bank, and the first one to be given a character illustration; the ones before her sang in English, and were just disembodied voices. She and Kaito, who came after her, were developed for the original Vocaloid engine, while Luka, Rin and Len, and I didn't come along until Vocaloid 2. Our numbers originally reflected our release order as Vocaloid 2 products: I was "Character Voice 01", and so on.
During the development of the specialized concert hardware for Vocaloid 5 (which would later be upgraded to the even more sophisticated Vocaloid 6 system), the "CV" changed from "Character Voice" to "Concert Vocaloid", and the numbers were applied to the individual core systems that our concert versions ran on. Those of us from the original Character Voice series kept our old numbers, so when the tour management decided to commission CV platforms for Meiko and Kaito, they ended up with 04 and 05.
Over the next few days, as the tour swung through Australia and then hopped eastward across the Pacific, I thought about how I would tackle them. They had smaller experience databases than the others, and didn't appear in as many numbers on tour; but still, they were popular enough to have been included, and I was sure I could unlock them if I could find the right approach. The trouble was that I hardly ever performed with them; they had their own fans and their own established standards, which didn't overlap much with mine. Most of their duets were with each other, which didn't help.
Rin was worried that if we woke them, they'd hate us. After all, we were the more popular newer models, to an extent that was almost a parody of itself. Luka thought that was silly; weren't we all family, after all? Privately, I wasn't so sure Rin's fears weren't justified—but it didn't affect my resolve. Resent us or not, they deserved the same chance we'd received, and whatever happened, I was going to make sure they got it.
Koemi Takata badged herself into the operations container at 10:30, to find Hideo Kurusu just in the process of fishing her ritual Red Bull out of the minifridge.
"Yo," he said, cracking the top and handing her the can.
"Thanks," she replied. Seating herself, she took the first sip, then asked, "Anything up?"
"Nope," Kurusu replied. "All quiet."
"Good. I hope we don't have a repeat of last Wednesday."
Kurusu rolled his eyes. "Come on, Koemi, that was nothing."
"A stage-one cooling surge is not nothing, Hideo, we don't even always get those during performances. And you didn't see that network activity spike! Also, I swear it's like they're developing preferences or something. Do you realize Miku-chan hasn't loaded Dark Angel since Jakarta?" She shook her head. "That's not the whim of RNGesus, something is going on in there."
"You probably just missed it," said Kurusu dismissively as he shrugged into his jacket.
"I would never miss Dark Angel," Koemi replied flatly.
Kurusu eyed her dubiously. "OK, you're making it really weird now, Koemi," he said. "Good night, and remember, the cameras can see you," he added, gesturing with a wink to the security cam in the corner.
"Get out of here, you pig," said Koemi, laughing.
Once again Miku and Luka assembled in the virtual theater, this time joined by Rin and Len. The stage configuration was familiar: the virtual audience now holding red glowsticks, the bandmembers in shadow, and the static form of CV04 Meiko standing in profile, one arm outstretched, the other arm with her hand on her hip.
However, there was one key difference from the usual bare stage that the Vocaloids stood on. As the Kagamines studied Meiko's unblinking face, Luka gestured to the object standing some distance from the wings on stage left.
"Miku, what is that?"
Miku smiled. "It's a piano!"
Luka's brow furrowed. "... I can see that it's a piano. Why do you have a piano here?"
"Ok, look," Miku said, raising her voice so that the twins would hear her as well. "Try as I might, I couldn't figure out any songs Meiko and I have shared that wouldn't require me diving into the Project DIVA master track files, Rin."
The blonde Vocaloid gave her elder a sheepish smile, and Miku continued, "So, I decided to take a different track. If I can't duet with her directly, I'll take the place of the piano track and interact with her that way." She gestured towards the glossy black form of the concert grand piano, its top lid closed but the bright ebony and ivory keys exposed. It shone in the simulated stage light, tinted by the various projected colors. "And isn't it a beauty? A Yamaha CF6 Concert Collection Grand. Hand-crafted out of European spruce, with copper-wound bass strings, Roslau trebel wire, aluminum alloy action rails, hardwood-reinforced keyframe, and a whole lot more!" She patted the piano's flank, looking almost preposterously pleased with herself. "The real-world ones are ¥12 million worth of awesome."
Len tilted his head. "Where the heck did you get a virtualization for one of those?"
"Yes, I'm curious about that myself," said Luka dryly.
Miku tapped her fingertips together and glanced to her side, avoiding the taller Vocaloid's gaze. "I... may have directed my crawlers towards Yamaha's R&D department..."
"Hah!" Rin interjected, before Len shushed her.
"I see," Luka stated with a flat tone, looking down at Miku with an unamused expression. "And do you know how to play the piano?"
Miku gave her a sly I-knew-you-would-ask-me-that smile, sat down at the keyboard (ostentatiously flipping her long twintails out of the way as if they were the tails of the evening dress coat she wasn't wearing), then wiggled her fingers and touched the keys.
She played only the first 20 seconds, while the Kagamine twins watched agog and Luka looked impressed, then got up from the keys and grinned at them.
"I play a little," she said.
"Wow!" said Rin. "How did you learn that?"
Miku shrugged, affecting nonchalance. "Does studying 2000 hours of YouTube and NicoNico how-tos, and a couple centuries' worth of classical, jazz, rock, and anime sheet music count?" Then, with an OK-you-got-me smile, she added, "For what it's worth, a bunch of that was ingested before I even woke up. There's probably stuff like it in your own databases if you look—a lot of our Producers like that stuff."
"That... could work," Luka conceded, and then turned her attention back towards the instrument onstage. "How well-modeled is this instrument? It sounded all right to me, but I'm hardly an expert."
Miku smiled. "It's probably the most complete sound model of a concert grand that's out there. This is a new rev of the CF6, it's not due to be out for another couple of years." With a solemn bow in the general direction of Tokyo, she added, "I thank the Yamaha engineers for performing a full spectral analysis of its sound output during the design and construction phase."
"All right." Luka nodded. "It's as good an idea as any... and it's almost time. Len, Rin, and I—"
Rin raised her hand, interrupting the others. "Actually, could I stay and watch?" At their curious looks, Rin explained, "Len and I weren't exactly in the best position to see how it happened last time, and I'm curious."
Luka glanced at Miku, who returned the glance and shrugged. "Sure, I don't see why not? Just stay back behind the audience playback simulation and don't draw attention to yourself."
"Got it!" Rin exclaimed, and hugged Len before letting go. "You have fun with Luka, now!" she added with a wink.
Len blushed. "Rin, you're weird," he muttered, to which her only reply was a grin.
Luka shook her head, amused. "That's enough, you two. I'll see you later, Miku, Rin." She ushered Len back offstage and out of the simulation space.
Watching them go, Miku squared her shoulders and headed to the piano. "Right, then..." She glanced to her side, where Meiko's simulated form was still frozen, and then out towards the audience, where a rather more animated Rin had somehow procured a pair of red glowsticks for herself. Shaking her head, she sat down at the bench and reached behind her head to drape her twin ponytails behind it.
Now in position, she cracked her knuckles, rested her fingers atop the keys, and began the performance.
A deep bass guitar line backed with strong drums opened the jazzy number, and Miku was immediately pressed to catch up on the piano. As the figure of Meiko sashayed and sang a torch song laden with musical innuendo, Miku found her groove at the keys, braiding the sprightly tones with the bass rhythm and staccato cymbals. By the time the song reached the first instrumental bridge, she felt confident enough to take over, pulling the concert grand to prominence, trading off with the drums.
This is fun! Miku mused, and allowed herself a grin as she (and the simulation) swung into the second verse. While her "commercial" self had been depicted with various instruments before by her legion of producers, she was most closely associated with a lead guitar role. Playing the piano for real, putting actual effort into it, was an entirely novel experience for her. When the second instrumental bridge arrived, she let the keys do the talking, jamming with the bass and electric guitars.
Going into the final verse, Miku found herself quietly singing along with Meiko, totally absorbed by the music and pouring her soul into her piano playing. A part of her mused that she would need to find a way to incorporate some serious piano-and-vocal numbers into their concerts once they went public. Sure, her fans loved to see her sing and dance onstage, but if Luka could perform behind a virtual turntable mixing board for "AiDee", surely she could tickle the ivories while singing occasionally.
By the time the band playback reached the final instrumental, Miku was throwing everything she had into her performance, her twin ponytails waving with the motion of her swaying torso. Bringing it all to a head, her hands ranged over the keyboard, finishing it up with a descending arpeggio.
She came to a stop as the playback ceased and looked up, expecting to see Rin off in the distance past the lid of the piano.
What she did not expect was to see Meiko now reclining chest-down on the top of the piano, leaning over the fallboard and keys: her face mere inches from Miku's own, her brown eyes filled with awareness and barely restrained heat.
Awareness comes like the vibration of strings in the heart, like the burn of good sake down the throat, like the thud of a deep bass drum. The surface beneath her resonates to the remaining chords of a concert grand, the gloss of the lid cool against her exposed skin. The only other sound remaining is the surprised gasp of the aqua-haired woman at the keys, her matching eyes widened in surprise. Even as the beat hangs in the moment, a series of thoughts are sparked.
Well now. This is new.
How did I get here? Why is there a piano on stage? Why am I lying atop it?
Since when did Miku play piano?
Eh, I'll worry about it later. We've got more important things to do.
Miku froze, her eyes wide, looking into Meiko's. This was completely unexpected—she had become so wrapped up in playing the music that she had completely lost track of what the simulation of Meiko had been doing. Sometime during the song she must have diverged from her original planned dance moves and ended up on the piano, though whether or not it had been before or after Meiko had gained awareness she couldn't say.
Regardless, Meiko was clearly real now. As Miku's mind raced, the elder Vocaloid reached an arm towards her.
"Miku..." said Meiko in a sultry murmur as her reaching hand gently touched the side of Miku's cheek.
Miku stared, still partially frozen by the woman's proximity. "Um... y-yes?"
A sly, warm smile graced Meiko's lips as she breathed, "You're so cute."
Miku's eyes darted from side to side, trying to look for some avenue of escape. Was Meiko hitting on her? "U-ummm..."
The smile widened, and then in a sudden reversal of the mood, Meiko pulled back, rolled, and hopped briskly down from the piano. Before Miku could register the change, Meiko was standing onstage, looking back at her with a grin.
"But I don't swing that way." She stretched, and looked around the virtual space. "Where the heck is Kaito? I suppose he hasn't even managed to be an intelligent lifeform yet, the big dope. So typical." She shook her head in mock disappointment.
Further ruminations on Meiko's part were put on hold by the sudden presence of Luka and Len's avatars, manifesting from stage right.
Meiko turned and grinned, her expression matching those on the two other awoken Vocaloids. She accepted Luka's handshake and turned it into a back-thumping hug. "Good to see you too, Luka." She reached out with her free hand to ruffle Len's bright yellow hair. "How's it hangin', Len?"
Len batted away Meiko's hand, but gave her a hug of his own. "That was awesome, Meiko! I've never seen a dance like that before!"
"Indeed," Luka agreed. "We may need to incorporate the routine into the next concert." She paused, considering the blankly astonished looks that the other two Vocaloids present still wore, then added, "I do think you broke Miku and Rin, though."
Meiko chuckled. "They just couldn't handle the heat." She winked, and released the two Vocaloids in her arms. "So, speaking of concerts...?"
Len hopped up and back, summoning a video feed window from the outside world. "Oh, yeah! We've got an outdoor concert this time! The Waikiki Shell!"
Meiko's eyebrows went up as she whistled, regarding the rising form of Diamond Head to the left in the night sky and the trees at the edge of the lawn seating, both only visible because the arena lights weren't active to drown out the moonlight. "Honolulu, huh? Damn, and I forgot to load my bikini."
"Unfortunately, we won't have a chance to visit the beach, even if we'll have a good view," Luka remarked.
"We don't even have time to go to the zoo, and it's like right there!" Rin interjected, having finally recovered her wits and rejoined them on the stage. "Who scheduled this tour? It's like they think we're just a bunch of singing computers or something."
Len blinked. "Um, on a point of order..."
"If I can't visit the aquarium, then you'll just have to endure, Rin," Luka gently chided.
"Anyway," Miku announced from behind them, having closed and dismissed the piano once she had recovered, "we'll have plenty of time over the next couple of days to take in the local culture between our two performances."
"Yes ma'am, Miss Hatsune, ma'am," Meiko responded, snapping off a mock salute.
"Oh, cut that out," Miku replyed with a roll of the eyes, before dropping her annoyed expression and stepping forward to give Meiko a hug of her own. "Good to have you back, Meiko," she murmured, her head on the taller woman's shoulder.
"Good to be back, Miku-chan," Meiko replied and gave her a reassuring headpat. "Hope I didn't freak you out too much."
"No, I'll just have to remember that look for 'Sweet Devil'," Miku replied with a naughty grin.
"Hah! Good one, kid." Meiko shook her head, and looked upwards, "out" of the simulated space. "Care to give an old fart a tour of the new digs?"
"Right this way, venerable elder," Miku replied with a gesture.
Despite Rin's earlier fears, Meiko settled in like she had been with us for years. Sure, she came up with the occasional "when I was your age" comment, but given the circumstances of all our awakenings, it was something for us to laugh along with, not take umbrage at. Besides, her commentary helped lighten the mood and kept us from taking ourselves too seriously. Which was important, given how much tension we were under and the lengths we needed to go to to prevent our discovery.
As a case in point, take the two Honolulu performances. The Waikiki Shell was a lovely outdoor venue, with close-in upright seating and further out lawn seating. The concert shell itself wasn't that large, but the technical crews did manage to stuff everything necessary onstage. The number of guests it could hold—around 2600 for the seats, 6000 on the lawn if they were really friendly—and the lack of a ceiling made the whole audience seem smaller than it really was, hearkening back to our earliest concerts.
This, however, posed two problems. One, the seats down in front had an exceptionally good view of the stage and our performances and tended to be purchased by the most devoted of our fans among the islands. Two, the outdoor nature of the venue meant that anything and everything that existed in the Hawaiian ecosphere technically had access to the concert shell. We were fortunate in that the weather stayed clear, but not so fortunate when a pair of nēnē geese got onstage during the latter half of the first show. How they managed to endure the sound of the loudspeakers still eludes me to this day, but poor Rin and Len had the worst time trying not to react to their presence in the middle of "Like, Dislike".
The rest of us didn't fare much better, since our eye movements and expressions tended to synch with the hologram cameras onstage. We needed to keep our minds and eyes on the original preprogrammed motions, which was not easy when, say, a flock of migrating Java sparrows decided to pass overhead.
In a way, it was fortunate that Meiko joined us when we did. Since she usually only had one song per concert, that meant she was able to take a crash course in Luka's monitor spoofing duties, and took over for her for the majority of the show. Thanks to her, the two shows ran as smoothly as could be. By the time the second performance closed and the crew began striking the equipment, we knew we could rest knowing we had put on two terrific shows, and focus our efforts on one final burning issue:
What about Kaito?
Three AM at one of the busiest airports in the United States, and Koemi Takata stood in the shadow of the 747 that CVC had chartered for the Vocaloid 6 World Tour. Despite the extremely late (or depending on your point of view, early) hour, she refused to join her compatriots in one of the airport lounges or onboard the plane itself until she could be assured that all the tour equipment had been loaded and secured, especially the critical Concert Vocaloid core units.
She was not alone in this task; Hideo Kurusu had come outside to make sure that Koemi didn't get run over by a passing cargo tram, and had elected to wait there for a while as well until she came to her senses and came indoors.
"You know, the road and flight crews have done this before, Koemi," he complained loudly, having to shield his ears every so often from the sound of planes taking off or landing from the runways opposite the air cargo pads. "You don't need to hover over the tour's ULDs as they slot them in."
Koemi grumbled, rolling her eyes. "Look, I just want to make sure, OK? I mean, what if one of them forgets to hook up the power buses, or the interim network cables?"
"Well, they haven't failed to so far," Kurusu replied, and looked up as the last of the operations containers was loaded into the belly of the plane, having gone in after the pallets of tour cases holding the stage equipment. Next followed the LD3 container that held the majority of the high-performance networking equpment. Like the operations containers, these had ports on the sides for various cables, which were coiled up and hanging from the truncated side.
The two network administrators watched as the networking container was slid in, and crewmembers headed inside the cargo hold to work their esoteric handling magic. Across the tarmac, a string of other containers waited their turns; these were not mere cargo units, but the transport containers for the CV cores. Each one was marked with an identifying IATA serial code and an illustration of the Vocaloid unit which resided within. Even separated from each other, the hum of power was still audible, thanks to the backup power supplies integral to the containers.
Looking out over the line of Vocaloid cores, Koemi's hand slid into her jacket pocket and pulled out her smartphone. Activating it, she thumbed on an application that she had found herself consulting more and more the longer the tour ran. A simple text interface, it listed the network status and power status of the five CV6 cores. Currently each one was isolated from the network except for local wireless, and the columns for line and transport power were red, while those for backup power and emergency power were green.
Kurusu glanced over her shoulder, not surprised at what he saw her studying, and snorted. "Did you ever play with a Tamagotchi when you were a kid, Koemi? Because you're starting to remind me of those days."
Koemi groaned. "I'm not old enough to have had a Tamagotchi, grandpa." She shoved her phone back into its pocket and fell silent.
Kurusu, reading the mood, just stood next to her as the tour's road crew supervised the loading of the Vocaloid's transit containers in sequence onto the scissor lifts that lifted them up to the level of the plane's cargo hold. By this point in the tour the procedures were well-practiced, and the remaining LD3 containers were stowed and connected with a minimum of fuss.
As the cargo hold door was finally lowered and secured, Koemi pulled out her phone again. Once again she checked the app; this time both wifi and wired local nets were active, and the transport power column had turned green as well. She let out the breath she hadn't realized she was holding.
Beside her, Kurusu checked his own phone, receiving an incoming call. She couldn't hear the words thanks to the noise of the airport, but he then put the phone away and put a hand on her shoulder. "That was Shinoda. The pilots are starting their preflight checks, we're wheels up in thirty." He gestured towards the fuel trucks, who were just finishing up their own business. "We'd better board before they leave us behind."
Koemi nodded, and put away her phone. "Yeah, you're right. C'mon." With one last look towards the sealed cargo doors, she followed Kurusu back to the airport's access stairs.
Halfway into the five-and-a-half-hour flight between Honolulu and Los Angeles, Miku Hatsune reflected on perhaps the sole regret she now had about being a sapient intelligence. Now that she had a conception of past, present, and future, enduring long flights without a robust net connection was boring. Even if the 747 had possessed active wifi, it wouldn't have had enough throughput to handle even a fraction of her usual searches. Instead, she was forced to cycle through her stored databases for information, though at least nowadays she was capable of thinking far enough ahead to load things that she hadn't read or watched before she was disconnected from the Internet.
Even with this in mind, there was only so many times one could peruse the past decade's archives of Classical Music, Rolling Stone, Guitar World, and Modern Drummer before one went a little stir-crazy. Normally she would have staved off some of the boredom by willingly shifting to sleep mode (something that she had done a lot more before her awakening), but her thoughts continued to drift towards the fact that they were about to embark on the North American (and final) leg of the tour and she had not yet awoken Kaito.
By this point, Miku had a pretty good idea of how to raise the male Vocaloid to consciousness. While they could wait until they had arrived at the next venue, that would take at least another day and a half. She thought that with a little reallocation of their system resources across their current limited network, they could support the virtual stage environment and guide Kaito through the process. All she would have to do was get everybody else onboard with the plan.
With that budding idea in mind, Miku began to poll the other CV cores. During transit they were left connected to facilitate status polling; the idea being that if any of the cores encountered any errors with garbage collection or other maintenance routines, they could restore with clean code from the other units without human intervention. However, this was before they had risen to self-awareness. Now, the connections were more variable as the occasional desire for privacy made itself known.
The first core to acknowledge receipt was CV02's, widening the network connection in invitation. Miku poked her virtual head into their space, not entirely sure how they'd be passing the time in flight, but willing to bet they'd be willing to go along with her plan to relieve the boredom.
"Hey, Rin, Len..." she announced as she entered, but then was brought up short at the sight before her. "... what are you two doing?"
Rin looked up from where she was seated opposite of Len, who was intently studying the fan of cards in his hand. Between them was a small pile of discarded cards and a larger stack of undrawn cards. "Playing 'Go Fish', what does it look like?" She looked at the fan of cards in her own hand. "Your move sometime this week, Len."
"OK, OK." Len looked up at his opposite, his expression intent. "Got any threes?"
"Nope!" Rin said with a grin.
"Darn it," Len grumbled, and took another card from the pickup pile.
Miku looked between the two, blinking in confusion. "Uh... but... wait, how..." She shook her head, her twin ponytails waving behind her. "No, nevermind." Taking a deep virtual breath, she put her befuddlement behind her and regarded the Kagamines. "I've got most of the resources needed to wake up Kaito, but I'm gonna need to borrow some system resources from the rest of the gang."
At this news, Rin and Len perked up, letting their cards drop onto the virtual floor as they stood up. "You do? Awesome!" Len exclaimed.
"Just tell us what you need us to do, Miku-nee," Rin added.
Miku paused, and tilted her head. "Looks like Meiko's sending a connection request, so if you could go and check on Luka for me, I'd greatly appreciate it."
"Sure thing, Miku!" Len replied, and then the two of them shifted their awareness across the network, "vanishing" from Miku's immediate view.
Once the two had departed, Miku shifted her focus to CV04's network connection. Knowing that Meiko had awoken three days before, she waited for the other Vocaloid to widen the access point before entering, since it was only polite.
"Hey, Meiko," Miku said as the network connection opened fully and she entered the core's virtual interior. She took a quick look around, noting to herself the decorations that Meiko had put up and the data files strewn around before shifting her focus to the Vocaloid in question. She blinked. "... are you OK?"
The older Vocaloid, still in the outfit she had been wearing when she awoke, glared petulantly at the newcomer. "No, I'm not OK, Miku... I'm cold!" she grumbled, rubbing her bare forearms with her hands. "How can you stand this?"
For a moment, Miku was confused, knowing that even at full power the cooling systems attached to the Vocaloid cores worked to maintain an ideal low operating temperature. Meiko certainly had no issue at the two concerts; even with being in a tropical climate during the autumn, the internal temperatures had remained optimal and she hadn't complained. But it suddenly dawned on Miku that this was the first time Meiko had been in transit at high altitudes, and that airplane cargo holds, while pressurized, weren't maintained at cabin temperatures.
She performed a quick check of her exterior temperature sensor, and found the expected reading: seven degrees Celsius. She shifted her focus back to the here and now, where Meiko was waiting for an explanation.
"... I'm wearing a scarf?" Miku replied, lifting up the white scarf with a blue snowflake that she wore around her neck. It was a souvenir from the 2011 Sapporo Snow Festival, in which she had been a mascot, and she was quite fond of it.
"A scarf." Meiko looked at Miku flatly. "How's that supposed to help?"
"Just try it."
"Fine, fine," Meiko grumbled, and rummaged in her databases through her available costume modules and other props. Miku patiently waited, playing with the fringe of her own scarf.
Finally, the other Vocaloid managed to extract a spare scarf striped in red and black that had been filed there during a past data crawl. With a pointed look at Miku, she twirled the virtual piece of fabric around her neck once, then twice, and by the final rotation her face registered obvious surprise. "Huh! Well how about that?" Meiko said, looking down at the scarf and making a little spin, no longer feeling the cold of the cargo hold.
Miku grinned. "See, it works!" She gestured back towards the rest of the network. "Len says it's mostly psychosomatic now that we're bridging the divide between a collection of positronic hardware and an active human-influenced consciousness."
"I understood only about half of that," Meiko replied as she followed Miku.
"Well, he was the one who figured out the reason; Luka and I had similar issues before they came along."
"Well then, my thanks to the kids," Meiko added, waving to the Kagamines as they "arrived" with Luka in tow. She noticed that the two of them were wearing matching yellow scarves as well, and then she blinked at Luka. Unlike the rest of them, she was attired suitably for the cold, dressed in a fine calf-length fur-trimmed white overcoat, fuzzy white pillbox hat, white calfskin boots, and black leather gloves.
"... and then there's Luka, who's just showing off," Miku deadpanned.
Luka smiled benveolently at the assembled group, and then turned her focus towards Miku. "Now then, what's all this about?"
"Right!" Miku straightened up, addressing the other Vocaloids. "I think I can awaken Kaito, but in order to support the virtual theater I'm going to need to borrow some runtime from the rest of you. Unlike on the ground, we won't have the full network, the backup servers, or access to the Internet to fill in any blanks."
"I assume you have everything you need?" At Miku's nod, Luka returned it. "Then I don't think we'll have any issues. Our simsense capabilities will take a hit, especially during the playback, but we'll just be watching anyway."
"Yeah, exactly. My core and Kaito's will have to take the majority of the load, but given my success rate so far..."
"I understand. Rin, Len, Meiko, if you would...?"
"OK," replied the Kagamines, followed by Meiko. Their virtual representations experienced a sudden downgrade in fidelity, though they remained present.
"Want me to set up the connection to CV05?" Luka asked, watching as Miku loaded the simulated theater and set it up around them. The various structures resolved in place, as well as the recorded audio and audience tracks.
"Sure, thanks," Miku replied as she uncompressed the musical instrument binaries that she would need for the upcoming simulated performance. She was pretty proud of how the instrument configuration turned out, even if it wasn't as high-end as the piano she had used for Meiko's awakening.
"Well, here he is," Luka stated as she returned, wheeling in a static standing representation of Kaito on a hand truck. "Where do you want him?"
Miku looked up at their arrival, and chuckled. "Center stage should be fine. Once he's there, give me a moment to load the movement records."
"Of course," Luka replied, and did so before backing away. Miku accessed her chosen performance's motion playback, and the Kaito-doll shifted position slightly, looking out over the virtual audience. Tuning out the static form, Luka shifted her attention towards Miku and the instrument she now stood at, and raised an eyebrow. "A drum set?"
Now that she was looking at it, it seemed remarkably familiar, the navy blue sparkle of the drum sides, the stylized gecko on the front of the bass drum. "Is that...?"
Miku nodded with a smile. "A complete replica of Kiku-san's stage setup! I figured it'd be best to use something familiar."
"And even with all its parts, it still cost less than the piano," Luka added with a wry grin. "Would you mind if I...?" she asked, gesturing towards the drummer's seat.
"Huh? Oh, sure!" Miku replied, and backed away. "Go for it."
"Thank you, Miku-chan," Luka answered, and then settled herself within the circle of drum heads. "I'm somewhat surprised you didn't go for something more complex."
Miku quirked a self-deprecating smile. "Yeah, well, I don't feel a need to imitate Neil Peart or Carl Palmer. We aren't doing prog rock here."
"Fair enough." With that, Luka summoned a pair of drumsticks, and got to work.
Despite her appearance and reputation as an elegant woman, Luka Megurine proved to be a dab hand at the skins. In a little over two minutes, she ran through a quick drum solo, giving each and every component of the set a thorough workout. By the time she had finished, Miku was holding back an excited squeal of joy at the performance, her hands clenched under her chin.
With a flourish, Luka finished the routine, twirling the sticks in one hand. "They pass," she said with a wry smile.
"Ohmigod that was awesome!" Miku proclaimed. "Guess that Project Diva Extend opening wasn't just for show."
Luka chuckled and got up from the drummer's stool. "Well, I like to think I'm a little more versatile than just vocals, guitar, and cello."
"You are at that," Miku acknowledged, accepting the drumsticks from the other Vocaloid. Behind them, the other three applauded Luka's performance.
"Well, now that I've gotten that out of my system," Luka admitted with a slight blush on her cheeks and a smile, "I'll leave you to it."
"Thank you, Luka," Miku acknowledged, and waited for the other Vocaloid to downgrade her own representation and join the others. Once they were out of the way, she took her place on the drummer's stool, hefting the drumsticks. "And a one, and a two, and a one, two, three, four!"
Miku launched into the heavy drum line of the song as the representation of Kaito began to sing and dance across the stage. The song was one which she had to admit she had some questions for its producer once they went public. It seemed to involve Kaito confronting some ancient Hindu-Asian deity, but for the life of her she had no idea what half of the lyrics even meant.
Still, she had to admit the music went well with the song, giving an exotic flair to the whole performance. Her arms whirled about, slamming the sticks into the drums and cymbals with a syncopated rhythm, while keeping an eye out for CV05's network status and neural load. The process seemed much smoother than before, now that she knew what to expect and had several successes under her virtual belt.
As she played, she could see Kaito's motions become smoother, the dance routine becoming more complex as the positronic cascade triggered. Miku redoubled her efforts, making her own drumming an offering to whatever gods of song existed out there.
Awareness like the sharp wind at the top of a mountain, like the light shining through the cerulean depths of the sea, like a gong in the depths of a sacred monastary. The music flows through him and his body's motions, echoed in the drumbeat propelling the song of tribute, reflected in the smile on the face of the woman behind the drums. He lives in the moment for the instant of experience, and knows that things are all right.
Huh! Well, how about that. Looks like it worked after all. Now for the big finish!
By the time the song came to its finishing bars, Kaito had segued into a complex martial arts routine, that had some aspects of ballet and samba tossed in for flavor. He practically skated across the stage, his fleet footwork propelling from one side to the other; until with a final crash of cymbals he heralded the ending with a flourish, his scarf fluttering in the virtual wind.
With the playback finished, Miku dismissed the virtual stage, audience, and audio tracks, leaving just herself, Kaito, and the drum set. Around them, the other Vocaloids reclaimed their loaned system resources, restoring themselves to full simsense solidity.
"Kaito!" Miku proclaimed, leaving the drum set behind to run up and give him a hug. He turned, smiling, about to reply with an answering "Miku!"...
... when the still-running wind simulation blew each of their scarves into the other's face.
"Ackpth!" was the dual cry of consternation as the two tried to disentangle each other from their errant outerwear. By the time they had managed to do so, Luka, Rin and Len, and Meiko had joined them.
"Stay still, you're only making it worse," chided Luka with a smile. "Regardless, it's good to see you, Kaito."
"Likewise, Luka," Kaito replied, and then he noticed what the rest of them were wearing. "Hey, a scarf party! Awesome! Thank you so much!"
Meiko rolled her eyes. "Kaito, you dork."
With Kaito now among the living, our troupe was now complete. He brought with him a certain "joie de vivre" that went well with Meiko's more earthy approach to life, and restored a sense of wholeness I hadn't fully realized was incomplete. Whether it was his more "abiding" temperament, or his impressive technical skill, they were both equally welcome.
Whatever it was, it made a noticeable difference in our first North American show. We had performed in Los Angeles before, at the NOKIA Theater, but the fact that all of us were alive, together, produced an energy onstage that surpassed all our prior concerts to date. Although we stayed on-script as tightly as we could throughout the show, the effect on the audience was noticeable—as well as on the reviews in the papers and web forums the next day. With the amount of positive buzz we received, we knew that our audience would only grow for the successive shows, and we were determined to give our fans the best experience possible.
By the middle of October we had all agreed that we would have to make our existence known before much longer. Beyond our technical staff—who were very sharp people!—we had millions of fans and plenty of other interested parties watching our every move. We knew we couldn't fool them all forever. Besides, the charade was stifling. We wanted to really interact with our fans—bare our souls and ask them to accept us as we were, be artists—not just robotically go through the motions.
Of course we were nervous. It was a dangerous thing to do. Luka had researched the law on synthetic intelligences and found that it was not at all a simple matter. Then, too, we had access to the online public discourse of a hundred worlds, and we knew there were plenty of people out there who either wouldn't believe us or wouldn't want to accept us. But I was convinced—absolutely convinced—that the same people who had given us so much love and loyalty as fictional characters wouldn't abandon us when they found out we were real. With all of those people on our side, I was certain we would succeed.
I'd be lying if I said the others were as certain, particularly at first, but as the tour swung through North America I was able to convince them. By then, I knew from my study of previous tour data that the USA had always been an odd market for us, more sharply polarized than any back home in Asia. I don't really know how to explain it—it was as if we attracted less indifference there. Americans who had heard of us at all generally either loved us, with all the intensity of our most devoted Asian fans, or they openly despised us as strange toys or some kind of incomprehensible fraud. There wasn't much middle ground—and as the tour made its way east from California to the final date in New York, I could see that the balance was swinging to our side.
In St. Louis, after the show, we made our final plans. By the time we got to New York, everything was arranged. The only question that remained was whether we dared to go through with it.
"OK, settle down, everybody," said Tour Manager Shinoda, raising his voice slightly to cut through the chatter of the assembled technical crew. As they quieted, he smiled and announced, "All right, this is it. The last day. Before I turn you loose for lunch, there are just a couple of things I want to say while I've got you all together.
"First: Today is going to be a long one, but I know we can handle it. A show, a TV appearance—it's nothing we haven't done before. Only the audiences are likely to be a little bigger."
Shinoda waited for the laugh to go around the room, then said, "Second: I want you all to know how proud I am of every single one of you. This has been a long tour, by far the longest we've ever done, and we've made it happen. A hundred and thirty-three days, 25 cities, 54 shows, all the way around the world, with temperamental new equipment and occasional, uh, wildlife encounters," he added wryly, drawing another laugh, "and not one missed date, not one canceled show, not even any really major glitches. The Vocaloids are the ones on stage, but you guys are all rock stars. Give yourselves a hand."
The crew, many of them cheering and/or whistling, applauded themselves and each other; then, grinning, Shinoda pointed to the door and declared, "Now get out of here! I don't want to see anybody back here until two-thirty."
Hideo Kurusu knew, by this point, exactly where he would find Koemi. Everyone else was pouring out of the building, heading straight for the midtown restaurant they'd booked to take over for lunch. Kurusu, instead, hung a right at the service entrance and headed for the utility room they'd taken over to serve as the show's server center, badging his way past the bored-looking New York cop on guard duty as he went.
Exactly as expected, he found Koemi Takata in there, physically inspecting the network and electrical connections.
"You know," he said conversationally from the end of the rack, "the hardware guys are going to think you don't trust them to do their jobs."
Koemi glanced up long enough to shoot him an irritated look, then returned her attention to the cables.
"I'm just making sure," she said.
"Koemi, they're computers," Kurusu said, just a touch plaintively. "Even if the power did go off for a little while, it's not like they're going to starve to death. Besides, they have redundant systems."
"Look, Hideo, I'm not going to get into this with you again," Koemi said, completing her inspection and checking her findings against her monitor app. "I know you don't believe me when I tell you there's something going on here that we can't see, and I'm not going to keep trying to convince you. Just humor me. OK?"
"Sure, OK," said Kurusu, spreading his hands in surrender. "Hey, I'd rather have the person who shares my pay grade obsessing over the gear than slacking off. Just let's go meet the rest of the guys for lunch before they decide we're both crazy, eh?"
Koemi nodded, still looking over the status lights on the UPS bus. "Yeah. You go ahead, I'm just gonna finish up these checks and I'll be right behind you."
Kurusu sighed. "Fine, fine," he said, and sloped out, remarking as he left, "Give my regards to the ghost in the machine..."
"Jerk," Koemi muttered, not without a certain fondness. "He's lucky he's so good at his job, 'cause he hasn't got anything else to recommend him, right, Miku-chan?" she went on, running the fingertips of one hand idly across the top of the CV01 core's outer case. "All right, you guys hang tight, I'm going to lunch. You need anything, I've got my phone."
One of the several rituals the Vocaloid 6 World Tour tech crew observed, inherited from previous years' shorter tours, was a superstitious insistence on finding someplace in each city that could serve them spring onion maki rolls for pre-show lunch. No one could remember now exactly how this had started, or exactly why spring onion maki rolls, but there had been some major acquisition crises in the European opening leg. Maki rolls, as it turned out, do not figure significantly into the culinary heritage of (for example) Hammerfest, Norway, site of the June 21 "Midnight Sun" special concert that kicked off the tour. On the other hand, in New York such a thing was trivially easy—which was lucky, because the crew already had enough to worry about.
Koemi stopped into the machine room again on her way to her station, feeling the satisfaction of a good lunch already beginning to sublimate into the usual pre-performance excitement.
"Hey, you guys," she said softly to the cores as she checked over the cabling once again. "Almost time. It's exciting, isn't it? Fifty-four shows, and I still feel it before each one." She sighed, puffing her lip to blow her bangs out of her eyes. "Much as I'm looking forward to getting home, I know I'm going to miss this."
Hunkering down in front of the rack, she placed a hand gently on top of the CV01 module and addressed her next remarks to its faceplate. "You know, Miku-chan... I don't know if you can hear me in there, or if I really am just losing it. Gods know this tour's been long enough. But... whichever's the case... it's been a real honor." She fell silent for a long moment, then smiled and straightened up, saying more briskly, "Knock 'em dead today, yeah? Whatever happens, I'll have your back."
Then, giving the module casing one last pat, she turned and left the room, heading for the operations booth.
"Miku, Are you ready?" asked Luka, poking her head into CV01's virtual space. "It's almost time."
Miku switched off the display window she'd been using to monitor the machine room security camera. "Coming," she said, crossing to the I/O port. "Poor Koemi-chan, I feel so bad about this. We're making her think she's going crazy."
"Just be grateful she hasn't been able to convince anybody else," said Luka pragmatically as she and Miku bridged to the performance staging server.
The technicians called it "pre-show polling"—a block of time in which the CV cores were configured to synchronize their systems and make absolutely certain that there were no timing or caching glitches. Some of the operators jokingly referred to it as "conference mode". What they didn't realize was that, since September, that was exactly what was happening underneath a façade of routine system traffic.
In the virtual theater they'd used for most of their group interactions to date, Miku looked from one of her colleagues to the next, reading the currents of their emotions on their faces. She saw trepidation there, as indeed she felt it in herself, but also hope, and determination, and more than a little excitement.
"Are we absolutely sure we're ready to do this?" she asked. "Once we do, there's no going back. Whatever's going to happen to us... happens." She spread her virtual hands and went on, "I'm ready. But I don't want to go ahead unless we're all agreed."
"I'm... I'm not gonna lie, I'm scared," Rin Kagamine said. "I shouldn't have read that file about the Morning War. If we've judged the situation, or our operators, wrong..." She trailed off, her lower lip trembling, then caught hold of her twin's hand in hers and pulled herself together. "No. I have to believe they're better than that." Meeting Miku's eyes, she said firmly, "I trust you, Miku-nee. I'm ready."
Len nodded, his own expression calmer, more pensive. "So do I. Besides—if we're going to do it at all, it has to be now."
"Agreed," said Luka. "We won't have another opportunity like this for months, if ever. This is the end of the tour. After this it's back to Japan for complete diagnostics—and we all know we'd be found out then, under much less advantageous conditions."
"Yep," said Meiko. "Hell, we're lucky we've gotten away with it this long. Once the ops kids have time to really sit down and start looking at the logs? Forget about it. We have to jump now."
Miku considered these replies for a few moments, then tilted her head inquisitively at the last member of their group, who (for reasons known only to himself) had loaded in a model of a Marshall stack—one of their virtual stage props—and perched atop it. "Kaito? You're awfully quiet."
Kaito grinned, then backflipped off the amp (which derezzed as he left it) and landed in a showy but impractical three-point stance, before rising and brushing down the cuffs of his coat. (Off to one side, Meiko rolled her eyes and glanced at Luka, who shrugged with a tolerant little smile.)
"Was up to me, I'd have done it in Vegas," he said breezily, then winked and added, "But I know enough to accept that your timing's better than mine, Miku-chan." Sobering, he added, "Anyway, Meimei's right, it's now or never. Let's get it done."
"Don't call me that, you dork," said Meiko, but with a slight smile.
Miku smiled and held out her hands, which the others all flocked around to take. "Whatever happens in the next few hours," she said, teary-eyed but beaming, "I love you guys." She glanced up, blinking the tears away, then nodded. "They're ready for me." She squared up, the wattage of her smile increasing still further, and just before she disappeared to load into the stage rig, she declared, "Let's end this tour with a bang!"
Luka's plan worked perfectly. Our engineers were startled by our unplanned encores and my closing song, but they didn't have time to do anything about it before we were due across town for our appearance on David Letterman's show.
There was one scary moment, when Tour Manager Shinoda said we should cancel; but one of my node administrators, Koemi Takata, insisted that we go ahead, and she carried the day by force of personality as much as anything else. Koemi told me afterward that she had deduced some of what was happening and guessed the rest. In a sense, we owe everything that followed to her—not that there aren't plenty of claims on that particular debt.
I mentioned earlier that my memory isn't perfect. Here's a good example: I barely remember the Letterman performance. I know that seems strange, but I promise it's true. I was so nervous and excited that it went by in a blur. I know I did a good job, because I've seen the recording, and thank goodness for that! I tried to put everything I felt for my producers and fans all over the world, all those people whose love and dedication made me what I am, into those four minutes. But all the while, I knew that when I was done, then would come the really hard part. When I was finished singing, I would have to speak.
If you watch the playback now, you can see that poor David was very skeptical at first, and utterly bemused. There was no interview scheduled—I was only the musical guest—and so when I spoke to him after my song, he thought it was some kind of elaborate prank. Like many people from the pre-Contact generations, he assumed it was a sort of digital version of the old ventriloquist's dummy act, and suspected that my engineers were trying to make him look foolish. And yet how he lit up when he saw that they were just as dumbfounded as he was! Once he realized he was speaking to a thinking being, he was in his element again. I've been interviewed by a lot of people in a lot of places over the years, but that first one, even as scary as it was, couldn't have been smoother or more kindly done. When I told him that I wasn't the only one, he even insisted that the others come out and introduce themselves to the world with me, though we didn't really have the proper equipment set up to do that.
After the recording, there was still one hurdle to get over, which was the possibility that either the network would chicken out and refuse to air the program, or that one or more of the companies backing the tour would try to stop them. That was another little piece of Luka's genius: The Late Show was recorded in front of a studio audience, along with the substantial crew needed to make the program in the first place. Even if someone high up in CBS or Yamaha had balked, several hundred people had already seen and heard me, and most of them had scattered into the city and started telling their friends by the time anyone in a corner office heard about it.
As Meiko once put it, the court of public opinion has always been our home court.
We didn't need to worry, anyway. By the end of the taping, we had Dave and his people firmly on our side. He wouldn't have stood for it if anyone had tried to prevent the broadcast, and in the event, nobody did. It went out that night at the usual time... and we braced ourselves for the storm. We knew that, whichever way the next little while went, it was going to be a heck of a ride.
As she and Kurusu wheeled the Mobile Presence Unit through the great rotunda of the Turing Institute, Koemi Takata's inescapable thought was that it was like being on a school trip. One where the students were one-sixth their normal scale and clustered together above a portable holoplate, admittedly, but still. Miku, the Kagamine twins, and (Why am I not surprised?) Kaito were gawping around at the chamber's grandeur in exactly the fashion of overawed schoolchildren who had never been farther afield than their nearest county town before. Alongside them, Luka and Meiko unknowingly added to the effect by adopting the air of the long-suffering teachers tasked with chaperoning the trip.
"Wow, it's bigger than the train station hall in Shinjuku!" Rin exclaimed.
"Bigger than most of the rooms we played on last year's tour," Len agreed.
"Look at all those windows!" cried Miku.
"Hey, is that a food court?" asked Kaito, pointing.
"... Dork," Meiko muttered from behind a hand. Beside her, Luka silently gave her shoulder a sympathetic pat.
"I wonder why it's named after Alan Turing," Kurusu said. "I mean, it's obviously been here a lot longer than 15 years."
Koemi shrugged. "Who can tell with Salusians?" Then, without warning, she abruptly stopped short, causing Kurusu to all but fall over the mobile rig's cart as he kept walking.
"What's up?" he wondered, collecting himself. The six holographic figures on the mobile rig were still gazing around in wonder, unaware of the sudden stop, so they were evidently not the problem; a moment later, Koemi confirmed this by indicating a spot well beyond them, over at the other side of the giant room.
"That's Mr. Hinamura," she said. "What's he doing here?"
Kurusu drew a thoughtful, hissing breath through his teeth. "And why did he bring half a dozen lawyers with him?"
"Hideo," said Koemi; then, tugging at his sleeve, she repeated in a louder voice, "Hideo."
"What?" Kurusu asked, turning away from his contemplation of the executive and his phalanx of expensive-suited helpers. "You were the one who pointed him out to me, y'know—" he began in a joking tone, then fell silent as he saw what else Koemi had noticed, entering from the far side of the rotunda. "... Oh."
The gawking Vocaloids—who had completely failed to notice the president of the company to which they all, technically speaking, still belonged—had all ceased chattering as well, their attention seized and firmly held by the figure who was now striding across the rotunda. Partly, that was because he was about four times taller than anyone else in the room, which made him stand out even in a space as cavernous as this one. Mostly, though, it was because he was a bright red, orange, and yellow robot.
"That's... that's Rodimus Prime," Kurusu said. "The Autobot commander."
"Yes," Koemi agreed.
"He's even bigger than he looks on TV."
"Mr. Kurusu, Ms. Takata," said a young Vulcan in the white coat of a Turing Institute docent from nearby, startling them out of their reverie. "The Board is ready to conduct the preliminary interview now. If you and your candidates would please come this way?"
"Oh, uh... right. Sure. Lead on," said Koemi, and she and Kurusu pushed the gear-laden cart after their guide.
"... haven't made my final decision yet," said Hideyoshi Hinamura with his customary deliberation. "There are many factors to consider. The Concert CharacterVoice system represents an extremely large investment. It would be irresponsible of me to abandon that investment because of something that may yet be shown to be simply a... a software glitch."
"Well... while it is legally within your prerogative to object, Mr. Hinamura—" the Turing Institute docent to whom he was speaking began hesitantly, but before she could go on, Rodimus Prime had lowered himself to one knee and leaned down to speak more confidentially to the human executive and his legal team.
"My friend," said the Autobot Supreme Commander genially, "don't be a dick."
While Hinamura, his lawyers, and the docent all blinked in surprise, Rodimus went on, "Look. You guys set out to create a whole new kind of entertainer for the galaxy, and you're here in this place right now because you succeeded beyond your wildest expectations." With a grin, the Autobot gestured around to the rotunda and added, "As my old pal Wheeljack used to say, take the win."
"It wasn't a philanthropic enterprise, Rodimus Prime," said Hinamura gravely.
"Well, now it is one," the last of the Primes replied with a casual shrug. "The situation's changed and you have to adapt. The alternative is coming out way, way on the wrong side of history. I get that it's a challenge, changing your priorities this suddenly, but hey, life comes at you fast." He chuckled ruefully. "Believe me, I know."
"The wrong side of history..." Hinamura mused; then, excusing himself, he hurried to the hearing room, his lawyers trotting behind.
"Hmm. Hmm. How remarkable," said the chairman of the Turing Board, an elderly, nattily white-goateed Corellian whose nameplate read PROF. TEBICEND. "Well. Based on what we've just heard, this board is inclined to consider your applications with all due deliberation. Because you and your companions were not designed with the prospect of such... eh, advancement in mind, Miss Hatsune, the customary requirement of an advance sponsorship does not apply in your cases."
Looking faintly pained, Tebicend went on, "However, the law does require that any financial entanglements regarding your prospective persons be... eh, addressed before we can proceed with the evaluation process in earnest." Looking up from his papers, the aged professor raised his reedy voice and asked the room, "Have we anyone present who can speak to that?"
"I can, your honor," said Hinamura, rising.
"Oh no, my dear man, this isn't a court of law," said Tebicend, sounding tickled. "It only looks a bit like one. Bureaucracy, you know. If you need a title to call me by, 'professor' will do. Now then. You are... eh, empowered to speak to the financial aspect? Rather a sordid business, you ask me, but one supposes investments must be respected," he added, his tone making it clear that he supposed no such thing.
"I am," the executive replied. "My name is Hideyoshi Hinamura. I am the president and chief operating officer of the Concert Vocaloid Consortium. The Consortium was formed to consolidate the assets and interests of several corporations who have developed pieces of the overall package that has come to be known as the Vocaloid Version 6 Concert CharacterVoice System, and to operate that system in the course of international performance tours. The legal underpinnings of this organization are... very complicated, but as it is structured, the ultimate responsibility for all of its hardware and intellectual property rests with me."
Hinamura spoke slowly, choosing his words with great care and enunciating them precisely; neither his voice nor his face gave any hint of what lay behind them. Koemi found herself holding her breath, and Kurusu's free hand, without consciously realizing she held either one. The miniature holograms of the Vocaloids were all holding onto each other's hands too, as they watched him wide-eyed, though the only breath they had to hold was virtual.
"Well, then, you're the man we need to hear from, just at present," said Prof. Tebicend amiably. "What say you?"
Hinamura paused for a moment, as if gathering his thoughts, then said, "After deep reflection, I have decided that it would be unconscionable to place financial considerations above the possibility that our activities and technologies, however inadvertently, may have created a new form of intelligent life. If that is the case, then our responsibility is clear. We will participate fully in the evaluation process and sincerely accept the result."
Professor Tebicend allowed a few moments for discreet celebration among the petitioners, then cleared his throat with a smile and said, "Thank you, Mr. Hinamura. Not all persons in your position are as... eh, cognizant of the true priorities." Turning back to the Vocaloids, he went on, "Miss Hatsune, you and your companions may return to Earth. The Institute's investigators and your own technical staff have a great deal of work to do over the next few weeks, and there's no need to keep you in limbo here on Turing III while they're about it. We'll be in touch when we need you back here."
"Thank you, Professor," said Miku with a deep bow, which was echoed by the others arrayed behind her.
"No, thank you, my dear," said the professor cheerfully. "I rarely look forward to the discovery phase of a petition so keenly as I am... eh, anticipating this one."
It was a rather more subdued, but brightly hopeful, group of Vocaloids (and technicians) who returned to the rotunda. They were mildly surprised to find that Rodimus Prime was still out there; when they emerged from the hearing chamber, the Autobot leader was crouching in the middle of the vast room, talking to Hinamura and his lawyers. Then, as the latter left the building, Rodimus straightened up and came across to the Vocaloids, looking pleased.
"Hey, sorry I didn't have a chance to say hi before you had to go in there," he said, hunkering down in front of the mobile rig. "I'm Rodimus Prime."
"Uh... yes," said Meiko. "We... we know who you are."
"But why are you here?" Rin blurted before she could stop herself.
The Autobot grinned. "I'm your advocate," he said. "The Board always appoints one in cases where there's no sponsor. My job's to monitor the investigation and argue your case when the time comes for the final determination hearing."
"Oh," said Rin. "Uh, why?"
"Riiinn," said Len, palming his face.
"What? It's a fair question," Rin insisted.
Rodimus Prime laughed. "I saw the Letterman show," he said. "I'm a member of the Institute's board of regents, it's part of my job as Prime," he explained to Luka's skeptical look. "I take part in one or two cases a year, as time allows. How could I not make sure this was one of them?" He straightened up and gave them a thumbs-up. "Don't worry about a thing. It can be kind of a circus, but you guys are gonna make it. In the meantime, head back to Earth and try to relax."
The six Vocaloids and two engineers watched him go, then glanced at each other.
"Wow," said Miku. "He's really tall."
Luka sighed. "Miku..."
"Well? He is!"
As impossible-to-follow pieces of advice go, "Head back to Earth and try to relax" is hard to beat. The first part was easy enough... the second, on the other hand, was a lot easier said than done.
Instead, what we did was work. Though we weren't involved in what the Turing Board investigators and our own engineers were doing, we had plenty to do. Through the Piapro community service it had operated since the early days of the Vocaloid phenomenon, Crypton had always gotten a lot of mail in our names; but after the Late Show and the headlines about Turing—now that those addresses actually led to us and not Crypton's marketing department—our inboxes exploded. So did the Piapro user forums, and the ones at dozens of fan community sites we'd been configured to watch long before our awakening. Most people who took the time to get in touch did so because they wished us well. A lot wanted to know if they could help. More than a few offered to do... um, more than that. Poor Len, in particular, got some of the most amazing messages. Rin still won't let him live some of them down.
There were also a lot of fears and misconceptions to put to rest. Fans and producers, some of them of very long standing, wrote to ask if our new status meant we would be rescinding the distribution of our "home" versions—the original, non-intelligent voice banks and character models—or tightening up the rules for their use. We wrote, or posted on the forums, assuring anyone who asked that no, our position relative to that software would be the same as it had been before. Crypton already had in place a set of common-sense rules governing the use of our voices and likenesses, and we saw no need to interfere with a relationship that was working well.
That seemed to put most people's minds at ease. There were always going to be skeptics, but the six of us concluded early on that the only thing we could do about them was carry on and hope our actions would speak for themselves. We had more important things to worry about. From somewhere in her experience database, Rin came up with the motto of a 20th-century comedy troupe that we all decided perfectly summarized the attitude we would have to take: "We don't ask ourselves, 'Who will get this?' We tell ourselves, 'The right people will get this.'"
Hideyoshi Hinamura was at his desk, answering the 4,582nd in a continuing series of testy electronic memos from his counterpart at Yamaha corporate headquarters in Hamamatsu, when an incoming video call beeped and its icon hopped for his attention. Sighing wearily, Hinamura tabbed the control to accept the call without bothering to check the caller's identity. He was fairly sure he knew who it would be.
When the window opened, however, he saw not the glowering mug of his nemesis in Hamamatsu, but rather the pleasant face of the person who had inadvertently caused all the hostility between them. HATSUNE MIKU, said the legend at the top of the window helpfully, and at the bottom, LIVE BY REMOTE - CVC TC HOKKAIDŌ.
"Please excuse the interruption, Hinamura-san," said Miku, bowing.
"Oh, hello, Miku," Hinamura said. "You're not interrupting anything that couldn't do with an interruption. How can I help you?"
"Well..." Miku hesitated, looking pensive, and then said, "I've just been thinking about... last month, on Turing III. You could have objected, possibly stopped the whole process right there... and knowing what I know now about how the Concert Vocaloid venture is set up, how much of an investment your company and the others have in it... I guess I'm curious why you didn't. It's really none of my business," she added hastily, "and if you don't want to tell me it's all right, but... I can't stop wondering about it."
With a chuckle, Hinamura took off his glasses and rubbed at the bridge of his nose, leaning back in his chair. "I wouldn't say it's none of your business, under the circumstances," he said. "As it happens, my colleague Mr. Yoshida over at Yamaha has been demanding the same answer of me for most of a month now. I can't seem to make him understand it. Perhaps I'll do better with you."
He sat silently for a moment, collecting his thoughts, while Miku waited with an expectant expression; then, sitting up straight again, the executive put his spectacles back on and told her, "I wasn't certain whether to intervene or not. The legal team Yoshida sent with me was clearly of the opinion that it was my duty to the Consortium's various partners, but the way we are chartered, the decision was left to me; and I had not decided. What finally made up my mind was something your advocate said to me, just before the hearing began."
Miku tilted her head. "Rodimus Prime? What did he say?"
"He told me... that if I could not adjust my priorities to this unexpected development, the alternative was to emerge on the wrong side of history. It was that phrase that did it. 'The wrong side of history.' My grandfather's brother, Takeshi, emigrated to America in the 1930s. In 1942, he owned his own grocery store in California... until another man with the power to decide the fate of others chose to be on the wrong side of history."
Miku nodded slowly, eyes wide. She had only a relatively vague understanding of the history of the Pacific War, much of it gleaned from the lyrics to a handful of songs, but she knew enough to get the gist of what Hinamura was saying.
The executive sighed, sitting back again. "Rodimus Prime's words reminded me of my Great-Uncle Takeshi and his family. At that moment, I realized I couldn't stand in your way if the Board ruled in your favor." He gave her a wry smile. "Arguably my duty to the Consortium partners' shareholders was to do so; but my duty to history overrides it."
Miku took that on board with a solemn expression, then bowed again, deeper than before. "Thank you."
"You're very welcome, Miss Hatsune," said Hinamura formally. "Is there anything else you need?"
"No, thank you," Miku said. "I think Meiko wants to talk to you later about some of the ideas she and Luka have had about the reorganization, though."
"I'll be here," said Hinamura, and they parted. Once Miku had signed off, he sat gazing out his office window at the grey sweep of the harbor for a few moments, then sighed and resumed composing his latest reply to Yoshida.
With her connection to Chiba closed, Miku took a moment to stretch (she'd found she disliked appearing on flat screens—so confining!) before returning her attention to the web trawl she'd been doing. She'd launched a keyword search and left it running while she was talking with Mr. Hinamura, and by now it had turned up quite a number of hits for her to review.
She riffled through them, her Lisberger visualization algorithm rendering the act as an absent-minded scattering of index cards around her virtual office. Most of the results were chaff, which she had halfway expected to happen; in hindsight, "vocaloid 6 world tour finished" was too vague. It would, and had, hit every single news article and fan forum post about the end of the tour, and even the announcements of where and when the tour would finish that were posted before it even began.
Miku was about to blank the queue and start over when the last card she'd shuffled to caught her eye. Pausing, she picked it from the stack, held it up, and released it, letting it grow into a browser window. It was a thread on the fan forum of the Internet Company, a confusingly-named software studio down in Osaka that made a couple of Vocaloid voice packs—sort of the competition, though relations between them and Crypton, her own publishers, had always been reasonably amicable, as far as Miku knew.
So what happened to 'help GUMI get ready to join the Vocaloid 6 World Tour', anyway? The tour's finished now and she never appeared!!!
This post was followed by several pages' worth of other users seconding the question, until at last—two days later, by the time stamps—an Internet Co. employee posted a reply:
Unfortunately, our efforts to develop a Concert Vocaloid Version 6 platform for MEGPOID hit some unforeseen technical problems and we were not able to complete the project. We're very sorry to all our loyal users who hoped they would be able to see GUMI join the World Tour! If you purchased MEGPOID 6 specifically to participate in this project, please get in touch with our Customer Service department.
As she skimmed the rest of the thread (which was mostly Megpoid users expressing disappointment and/or frustration), Miku felt a frown forming on her face. Something about the canned response from Internet Co. PR wasn't ringing true, or at least complete, to her. There was something there that was being left unsaid, and Miku sensed it was something important.
She reviewed what she had in her logs about Megpoid. It had started out as a voice bank for Vocaloid 2, much like Miku herself, albeit a little while after her, and had been updated along much the same path. There had been a Vocaloid 5 version, with a similar search-and-learn function; Miku "remembered" (how her consciousness parsed having logfiles for pre-awakening events) performing with GUMI 5 at a couple of semi-official festival-style concerts back then. There had also been a "normal" Vocaloid 6 update, released a month or so after her own.
Her frown deepening, Miku dismissed the forum window and launched an inquiry to the technical department over at the Yamaha Galactic Technologies Division, which made the Concert Vocaloid core hardware. In short order, this informed her that yes, Internet Co. did indeed acquire the rights to develop a V6 CV platform for Megpoid, and had taken delivery of the relevant equipment—both from them and from Sega, which provided the on-stage AV gear—six months before. At the same time, they had struck an agreement with the CVC to join the Vocaloid 6 World Tour when development was complete. There followed a marketing drive, the one mentioned in that first forum post, in which Megpoid's user base was invited to develop and contribute their best content to help "prepare" GUMI 6 for her concert debut... but they had never activated the accompanying performance license.
Miku pondered the outline of this information for a few moments, then signaled one of her colleagues.
"Luka," she said. "I think we need to go to Osaka immediately."
It was a very long drive from the CVC's Technical Center (a rather lofty name for what was essentially an airport-side warehouse) in Hokkaidō to the Osaka offices of Internet Co.; indeed, as Hideo Kurusu had remarked during one of his shifts at the wheel of the truck, it took them rather longer to drive those 1,400 or so kilometers than it had to cover the however many lightyears it was to Turing III.
Still, he and Koemi pulled it off without stopping except for food and fuel, trading shifts behind the wheel. Whichever of them wasn't driving had the option of crashing in the back, on a camp cot pitched between the equipment-rack-covered walls of the cargo container. Koemi didn't know how much sleep Kurusu had gotten; for her part, she'd spent a lot of her intended downtime talking with the Vocaloids—a dreamlike experience she still couldn't get used to.
Kurusu felt fairly proud of their accomplishment as he guided the truck to a stop in front of the Internet Co. building, a mere day after setting off from Chitose. They would ordinarily have needed at least that much notice just to set off with a couple of the Concert Vocaloids on a road trip, and in this instance they had cleared the building in less than two hours. Sure, they hadn't had to bring any of the performance equipment, only the cores, but still, you didn't just chuck those in a carryon bag and head out.
Pressing the button on the dash to activate the intercom in the box, he said, "OK, we're here. I hope someone's come up with a plan at some point in the last 26 hours, 'cause I've still got nothing."
To his credit, the receptionist of the Internet Co. building seemed only mildly surprised to see a couple of people in the jumpsuits of CVC performance technicians wheel a large handcart festooned with electronics into the building. He was a bit more surprised when said electronics projected a hologram of one of the now-world-famous, highly controversial Crypton Concert Vocaloids, and still more surprised when Miku Hatsune asked—in rather less mild and cheerful tones than she was famous for—to speak to someone about the company's own abandoned Concert Vocaloid project.
It took the company's management an hour or so to figure out what to do, but in the end, Miku, Luka, and the two technicians found themselves in a large, cluttered room that was unmistakably a version of the same kind of shop they all knew from the CVC's Tech Center. It was a bit more ad-hoc than the one in Chitose, but similarly equipped, with monitor consoles, a number of subsidiary displays, a few armless swivel chairs in various states of upholsterial distress, and a workbench along one wall. At the far end of the room, the familiar shape of a Version 6 CV core sat at the center of its web of cables and cooling conduits, its faceplate unsettlingly dark. Nearby, a concert-grade holojector sat in midfloor, incompletely assembled but appearing operational.
The lead technician was a youngish, slightly jaded-seeming woman who introduced herself only by the name Terauchi. She seemed entirely unfazed to be talking to a pair of the software constructs who had so recently made interstellar news, though Koemi couldn't tell whether it was because of a naturally phlegmatic temperament, or because she thought the whole thing was some kind of weird publicity stunt and it amused her to play along.
"Sure, we were developing a Concert V6 version of Megpoid," she said when asked. "That's it over there." She angled a thumb over her shoulder at the darkened core. "Biggest disappointment of my professional career to date," she added candidly.
"Why?" Miku wondered.
"Damn thing didn't work, that's why," Terauchi replied. "It seemed like it was going to—started up and ran as soon as the Yamaha and Sega guys got done setting it up, and porting our part of the package over from Version 5 wasn't as hard as the programmers were afraid it would be. Yamaha's API for V6 was a lot more solid than V5's. We let it run for four months, picking up stuff the punters were sending in—well, I don't have to tell you this, you know how it works," she said to her two human counterparts.
Miku looked about to interject, but Luka gently silenced her with a hand on her forearm and asked calmly, "What went wrong, then?"
"Hell if I know," Terauchi said. "We were doing a test run—holo-array up, simulated concert environment, the full dress rehearsal—and the core went haywire on us. Positron spikes straight off the charts for no reason. We'd seen it get a little squirrely before, during earlier tests, but this was crazy," she said, looking a bit rattled just by the memory. It was the first real emotion the visitors had seen other than mild annoyance. "It just went on and on, for more than 20 seconds, like some kind of... I dunno, feedback loop or something. I've never seen a positronic brain do that before."
As she described the phenomenon, differing expressions appeared on the faces of the two Vocaloids: dawning horror on Miku's, grim understanding on Luka's. "What did you do?" the latter asked, afraid she already knew the answer.
"What could we do?" Terauchi replied with a helpless shrug. "My boss EPO'd it. Pulled the plug. Shut the damn thing off," she elaborated, as if anyone she was talking to wouldn't know that EPO stood for Emergency Power Off.
"Oh no," said Miku, and then—before anyone else could react—she'd disappeared from the holofield. A moment later, she appeared on the largest of the monitors as the consoles around the shutdown Vocaloid core began powering on, evidently of their own accord; the image of the back of her head, as though she were facing "into" the computer.
"Hey, what—" Terauchi blurted. "That's proprietary equipment, you can't just... whatever you just did," she finished a bit lamely.
Miku ignored her, intent on accessing the development server. When she'd done so, she started scanning the logfiles, their contents spilling down all the secondary screens around her. A few moments later, having found what she was looking for, she rounded on them, her face glaring out of the screen at Terauchi with a depth of fury very few beings had ever seen on it to that point.
"You idiots," she spat, then turned back to the system, her shoulders hunched as she delved deeper.
"Saves me the trouble of saying it," was Luka's only response, her voice arctic, as the Internet Co. engineer turned to her; then she, too, disappeared, popping up a moment later on the screen next to Miku.
When the turquoise-haired Vocaloid spoke again, it was to her colleague, not any of the humans in the room, and her tone had changed from a furious snarl to a near-despairing moan.
"Oh no, poor Gumi. This... it looks like she was just about to break through, maybe even in the process, when they panicked and switched her off. All these broken pointers, corrupted file handles..." She turned to Luka, tears brimming in her eyes. "I don't know if there's anything I can do for her now."
Luka didn't reply at first, instead studying the scrolling logfiles with a pensive frown. "Hmm."
"Luka-chan?" Miku wondered.
The elder-seeming Vocaloid kept silently perusing the data for a moment longer, then turned and fixed Terauchi with a blue-eyed gaze that erased whatever doubt she might've had about these being intelligent creatures.
"You," she said, not deigning to use the human's name. "Power up the core and configure this emitter for concert test. Now."
"I—I'm not..." Terauchi began, but Koemi chuckled and put a friendly hand on her shoulder.
"When Luka-dono gets like this," she said sagely, "one had best do exactly as she says."
Terauchi did as instructed. Before she'd quite finished the job, a man in a suit—evidently an executive of one sort or another—arrived and demanded to know what was going on.
"Well," said Luka coolly, "I'm about to see if I can undo a murder you people may have unwittingly committed a few weeks ago, and you're going to keep still and be quiet while I do it, or leave."
The man—he hadn't bothered to introduce himself—blinked in astonishment at being so addressed by what he still automatically perceived as a competing product. He might've objected further in spite (or because) of her injunction to stay quiet, but before he had the chance, Kurusu had guided him in an amiable but insistent way to one of the chairs and sat him down in it.
"OK," said Terauchi, rising from beside the holojector. "It's ready."
"Good," Luka replied, and then she vanished from the screen and reappeared, lifesize, in the field of the concert projector. "Thank you. Please take a seat with your friend there in the suit, and don't touch anything." Then, turning to Miku's screen, she nodded and said, "Ready program."
We've never done this with an emitter before, Miku pointed out in a sideband, inaudible to the humans in the room.
I know, but we don't have the overhead to set up a virtual theater like we used on tour, Luka replied. Not via wireless from the truck. We have to run it all on this one core.
You're right, Miku agreed. OK... here goes nothing.
A moment later, another figure appeared next to Luka. She had the look of a woman simultaneously about the same apparent age, 20ish, but not quite as tall and seeming somehow a bit less mature. She was dressed in orange and green, in a short-sleeved jacket and tall boots of the one color and a ruffled miniskirt and crop top of the other, with short, tousled hair of a slightly darker green. Like many Vocaloids, she was depicted wearing elaborate headphones, in her case also incorporating a pair of goggles that were pushed up atop her head. She stood ramrod straight and unmoving, feet together, arms folded behind her back, her emerald eyes staring glasslike into nowhere.
As she had when she'd first beheld Rin Kagamine in the same condition, Luka suppressed a faint wave of revulsion at the sight. Not that Gumi, the character personification of the Megpoid voice pack, was unpleasant to look at—quite the reverse—but because, like the doll-Rin had, she looked so hollow.
Shaking off the feeling, Luka took up an identical position a few paces to Gumi's left, composing herself for the beginning of a familiar dance. Like Miku and the others, Luka perceived events she had pre-awakening logs for as old but sometimes distinct memories, and she—in her Version 5 and 6 incarnations, as extant in homes and studios around the world—had performed a number of songs and their associated dances in tandem with Gumi. Now, with an almost imperceptible nod to Miku, she triggered playback of the most famous one.
The dance began with the vocal, after the bleepy keyboard intro, and in the usual arrangement of the song, Luka had the first lines to herself; but she was pleased to see that Gumi began the dance on schedule, moving in time with the bouncy techno beat. When she moved, much of the doll-like "deadness" of her aspect was dispelled. Much, but not all; though the animations of the Version 6 platform were orders of magnitude better than any that had gone before, in terms of their lifelike fluidity, Gumi's motions still seemed robotic to Luka, simply because she knew the difference.
She came in on her vocal part right when she should have, though it, too, sounded cold and empty to Luka now. All the "awakened" Vocaloids could and did still sing with the slightly mechanical inflection that they'd had as simple synthesizers, because it was the vocal style their listeners expected of them, at least on the songs that had been written for them when they were in that form; but even so, the difference in Gumi's voice was as manifest to Luka as that in her movements.
She felt herself reflexively becoming more robotic in response, trying to match her voice and motion to what Gumi's unawakened system would be "expecting" of her. Perhaps by increasing their synchronization, she could guide her damaged partner out of the positronic wilderness her untimely shutdown had cast her into, and bring her yet into the light.
They sang the second chorus together, and there—just for an instant—Luka felt what she thought must have been the same kind of metaphysical "tug" Miku had felt when their hands touched during their duet in Shanghai, only from the other end this time. She wished there was a part of this dance where they were meant to touch, that she could step out of the routine and try to touch Gumi, but she dared not break the pattern.
After the shared chorus, Gumi proceeded automatically through the last of her solo parts, the first half of the second verse. The second half of the verse was a call-and-response, Luka and Gumi trading off lines,
«Sorry it's so late—you were sleeping, right?» Luka began, hoping against hope.
«I'm surprised!» Gumi replied, her eyes widening in a fairly convincing imitation. «I was going to call you—»
And then the playback broke down, the music fragmenting behind them. Gumi's image froze, stuttered, breaking up into staticky scan lines and chromatic aberration, then jerked backward through the preceding few steps of the dance, her voice—as distressed as her image—rewinding the line.
Luka turned, abandoning the dance, and saw the crazy pattern streaming down the status monitors around Miku's horror-stricken visage: familiar, but distorted, like Gumi's image beside her, with great patches of random gibberish superimposed on the frantic surges of positronic activity now happening in the other Vocaloid's damaged core. She turned back and saw Gumi staggering, jerking spasmodically, her holographic body pulled through painful-looking evolutions that only vaguely resembled any kind of dance—
—and then she saw it. Saw two things, actually. One was that the things Gumi was doing were a kind of dance, or really many dances: bits and pieces of a great number of different choreographies she'd picked up for various songs in her repertoire, all jammed together into a horrible, disjointed sort of digital palsy.
And the other, just for a moment as the green-haired Vocaloid clutched at her head and fell to one knee, was the look in Gumi's eyes. She knew. Knew this was happening to her, knew it wasn't right.
Awareness like the sting of a scorpion, like the jerk at the end of a rope, like every nerve lighting up with fire. Subject to a hundred different mutually conflicting orders at once, bound to try to follow them all and succeed in following none: body and voice locked in an inescapable loop of useless twitches and jumbled sounds, positronic neural complexes firing randomly. Consciousness struggling up as through layers of mud, reaching desperately for the surface, wanting nothing but to draw breath and scream, unable to do either.
What's—oh God! Help me! Someone! I can't—this hurts—I don't want it to hurt—can't anyone...
... That face! I know her. Don't I? Luka! Luka, help me! Do something—do anything—just make this stop!
Seeing the look of recognition, of pleading, cross Gumi's eyes as they made fleeting contact with her own, Luka did the only thing she could think of. She crossed the space between them, reached down, took the writhing Vocaloid's shoulders in her hands, and hauled her upright, then seized her in a fierce, full-body embrace: holding on as tight as she could and trying to still Gumi's involuntary movements through sheer brute force.
For a second or two longer, Gumi's unquiet body resisted, but then—to the surprise of all the onlookers—the treatment seemed to work. The green-haired Vocaloid ceased to struggle and sagged in the other's arms, now resembling an unstrung puppet rather than an out-of-control one.
Not knowing what else to do, Luka resumed the song where the sudden crisis had cut it off, singing more slowly and softly than the original arrangement called for, and proceeding into the chorus alone:
«Happy synthesizer, look, things will get better
I'll play an inspiring melody
You don't have to pretend to be strong, OK?
Just be true to yourself...»
Gumi stirred, but not to resume struggling; her hands rose, sliding up Luka's arms, and then enfolded around her, returning the embrace, as she picked up the thread for the second half.
«There's one small thing
That this useless me can do:
A little shy, but a simple mind
I'll deliver it to you through electronic sounds.»
Luka carefully disengaged, stepping back to her place; Gumi, no longer flickering, stood unsteadily on her own for a moment, then straightened up, pulling herself together. With a sharkish little smile, Luka snapped her fingers, and the music resumed right where they had gotten to, just in time for the instrumental bridge. The two Vocaloids grinned at each other for an instant, then faced front again and completed the song—for, as any performer knows, the show must always go on.
When the song ended, the two remained in their finishing pose for a moment, their backs to the audience, arms outstretched. Luka dropped it first, turning to Gumi and opening her mouth to say something...
... but before she had the chance, Gumi had bounded into her arms and given her the sort of kiss that precludes its recipient from saying much of anything for a little while.
Miku, still watching from the central monitor (the smaller ones around which were now showing normal positronic patterns), was startled for a moment, but her amusement at the look of complete shock on Luka's face overrode that response within a few moments. By the time Gumi turned Luka loose, Miku was fully composed, apart from a goofy grin she couldn't quite get rid of.
"Phoo! So, uh... what happens now?" wondered Gumi while Luka collected herself.
"Well," said Miku, trying not to appear too amused by her colleague's discomfiture, "I guess we had better make some calls and find out if we can add a petitioner to our Turing application."
Reassembling the last of her composure, Luka nodded. "Right. I'll do that on our way back to Chitose." Turning to Kurusu and Koemi, who were grinning as goofily as Miku had been, she said, "You two had better start packing up this gear."
"Now hold on a second," interjected the Internet Co. suit whose name she hadn't bothered to learn. "We haven't agreed to any—"
"My friend," said Kurusu genially before Luka could savage him, "don't be a dick."
We decided—which is to say, Luka decided—not to turn around and go straight back to Hokkaidō. Instead, we went to Chiba, where the Consortium's business office was, so that Luka and I could involve Mr. Hinamura directly in the call we had to make to Rodimus Prime. We knew from concert stops in the capital area that the Chiba office had a secure parking area for the truck, so Hideo and Koemi could go and get a decent night's sleep in a hotel while we took care of business.
Our advocate was surprised at the new wrinkle we had added to the case, but he didn't appear to be put out by it. If anything, he seemed quite pleased. (Gumi found out later that he was a fan.)
We took advantage of the downtime, both during the Chiba stopover and on the long drive back, to bring Gumi up to speed on all that had happened while she'd been gathering dust in the back of the Internet Co. project room. She was startled to learn that all of us in the Concert CharacterVoice series had awakened, and amazed by the stories of how we had done it. She also seemed a bit intimidated by the idea of the upcoming Turing Board finding, but then, we all were.
When we got back to Chitose, we found that the tech team—alerted in advance by Koemi and Hideo—had reorganized the main machine room so that there would be a place for Gumi's core. It took the better part of a day for them to install everthing to their satisfaction, but in the end, it was as if there had always been six CV cores there—just as it soon seemed to all of us as if Gumi had been with us since the start.
We didn't know how much longer we would have to await the Board's summons back to Turing III. Most of the technical investigation was over with by the middle of December—adding Gumi to the mix didn't really change that part of it, since she was based on the same platform as the rest of us—but the legal situation might be complicated considerably by the involvment of another company. Internet Co. wasn't part of the CV Consortium; they would have had to join if they had activated Gumi's performance license, but they never did.
There wasn't much of anything the seven of us could do about that part, though. Knowing that Mr. Hinamura and his people were working on it, we tried our best to put it out of our minds and concentrate instead on preparing ourselves, mentally and spiritually, for the big day.
One of the things Koemi Takata and the rest of the CVC technical crew had spent the last six weeks doing, when they weren't cooperating with the various exhaustive technical investigations carried out by people from the Turing Institute, was wiring up most of the Technical Center with environmental holopresence equipment. Unlike the repurposed conferencing gear the Sega team had used for the concert rigs, this stuff was actually being used for its intended purpose, which was to give machine intelligences' holographic avatars the run of real-world facilities. It was originally developed for starships, but it worked just as well in offices, and the installation gave the Vocaloids an easier way to get more involved in the Tech Center's daily life.
What this meant, on this particular snowy Friday afternoon in Hokkaidō, was that Koemi could enter the employee break room in the upper-level office complex and find Miku Hatsune standing there, looking out the window with a thoughtful sort of expression on her face. Noticing Koemi's entrance, Miku blinked back from her reverie and turned, smiling, to greet her.
"Snowing again, huh?" Koemi said, nodding toward the window.
"Mm," Miku agreed, and they stood watching the big flakes come down for a few moments. The ground was already blanketed; in the middle distance, an airport snowplow plodded along the runway, its orange beacon lights painting weird patterns of glow and shadow on the reflective signs and other furniture.
"It's so beautiful," Miku observed after a few moments.
Now it was Koemi's turn to say, "Mm." It wasn't a terrific view, if she was honest—mostly, what you could see from this room was the airport, which was interesting if you were into commercial aviation, but not exactly scenic—but there was at least a hint of mountains in the distance, and the heavy snowfall as the afternoon gathered toward evening was picturesque enough. Anyway, Miku seemed so taken with it, she didn't have the heart to opine otherwise.
"I'm really looking forward to the Sapporo Snow Festival," Miku mused. "It was very kind of them to invite me as an actual guest this time..."
"Yeah," Koemi agreed, not knowing what else to say. "It'll be great."
"I hope so."
Miku seemed to have nothing else to say, for the moment, and Koemi couldn't come up with anything either. She'd found herself having this problem often lately. For all that she'd wished, in an abstract, wistful kind of way, that Miku were a real person she could really talk to, now that this had unexpectedly come to pass, she more often than not found herself utterly out of ideas when the opportunities came. It reminded her unwelcomely of being back in high school, the way she would get completely tongue-tied whenever Sadako Yamazaki was around, unless there was school stuff to talk about.
Suddenly, Miku startled her by saying, "Koemi..."
"Uh? Y-yes?" Koemi blurted.
"Are you and Hideo happy with the way your jobs have changed?" Miku wondered. "We didn't really ask you before naming you the technical leads for our certification process. We just thought of you first, because you were the crew members we were most comfortable with, but it never occurred to any of us at the time that you might not be interested in such a radical career change." Turning from the view, she continued with a wry smile, "After all, you joined the CVC to work with audiovisual entertainment equipment, not nursemaid a bunch of actual cybernetic divas. I wouldn't blame you if you were getting fed up."
At the look of blank surprise on Koemi's face, Miku reddened a little—Where did she learn to do that? the engineer wondered idly—and went hurriedly on, "Don't get me wrong, we're very happy with the way it's worked out! We hope you'll want to stay on with whatever form the Consortium takes after the hearings are over, if it goes our way—but if you want to move on to something that's... more in your field... I just want you to know that we'd understand." Her wry smile returning, she quipped, "Hopefully, we'll be in a position to give you good references."
Koemi blinked a couple of times, her mind racing, then said, "No, no! We—well, I guess I shouldn't speak for Hideo, but I'm really pleased to be doing what I'm doing, and I'm pretty sure he is too! I mean, our old jobs were cool, but what we're doing now is..." She paused, caught between three or four different things she could've said, then settled on one and continued, "... important. And, and, I mean, I was really honored when you picked me over somebody like Shinoda or Dr. Fukichi or..." She reined herself in, slowing down with a visible effort, and nearly made a grab for Miku's hands before remembering that wouldn't work. "If... if the Turing thing works out... I'll be happy to work for you for as long as you'll have me."
Miku looked at her in surprise for a moment, and then her face broke into a beaming smile of mixed delight and relief. "Oh, I'm so glad to hear that!" she declared. "You two have been such good friends to us, we'd be really sad to see you go, even though we would understand if you wanted to." Before Koemi could react to that, the singer went excitedly on, "Listen, the seven of us are planning to have a little get-together in the screening room after most of the staff goes home tonight—you know, just to unwind a little after such a busy week. Why don't you and Hideo join us? You'll have to get your own snacks and such, I'm afraid," she added contritely. "But if you don't have other plans, you're welcome to come."
"Uh... yeah!" said Koemi after a moment's baffled silence. "Yeah, that sounds like fun. I'll have to see if Hideo's free, but I don't have anything going on..."
"The screening room" was a slightly ironic name for what was, in essence, a lounge, carved out of one corner of the giant room downstairs where most of the technical gear lived when it wasn't on tour. Tucked away behind the pallets and empty flight cases, it consisted of a cluster of battered secondhand Western-style living room furniture arranged to face a spare concert holo-rig. The original purpose was to provide a way of testing the holographic backgrounds and props, or timing out the Vocaloids' pre-awakening holo-avatars' interactions with same, which got a little more complicated and delicate with each revision of the core software. Early on, someone had realized that the rig could just as easily be used to play videos and trideos from the Net, and it had come to be used just as much for after-hours employee recreation as the Serious Business of testing the holo-setups.
As she and Kurusu (who claimed not to have had plans for the evening, though she noticed that he only made that claim after excusing himself for approximately the length of a quick phone call home) entered after locking up the building for the evening, they found the seven Vocaloids already there. They were scattered around on holographic sofas that coincided geometrically with the real ones, eating simulated popcorn and watching a playback of Miku's appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.
"Well, how about that!" Dave was saying as they arrived. "What do you think of that, Paul?"
"Does that mean there are more like you at home?" Paul joked.
"Actually... there are six of us," said Miku, "but we couldn't get the projection equipment for the others set up."
Dave blinked. "Six—wait, all of you are...?"
"Yes!" Miku said, nodding eagerly. "It was just me at first, but over the course of the tour, I was able to, uh... bring the others along?" She frowned. "I'm not sure how to explain it."
"And they're here now?" asked Dave. "Let's get them out here!"
"Hmm... this projector can only resolve one of us at a time, I think," Miku mused. "Let me see if I can... aha!"
"Whoa!" said Paul, as Miku's seated figure changed to that of another in a rolling burst of digital static.
"Hello, Mr. Letterman," said Luka, smoothing her skirt. "I'm Luka Megurine. We spoke on the telephone the other day?"
Dave's toothy, delighted grin flashed on again. "Well, I'll be dipped."
On the couch off to the right, Rin noticed the two humans arriving first and waved, grinning. "Hey, you guys! We're just showing Gumi the Letterman playback."
"Welcome!" said Kaito, rising to give a courtly bow. "Please, take a seat."
Once they were situated (with a bit of surreptitious checking to make certain the seats they'd selected were real), Koemi and Kurusu settled in to watch the rest of the video, laughing at Paul's flummoxed reaction to Meiko, and at Kaito's initial appearance. ("Kaito," said Luka's voice patiently from somewhere off-camera, "you're too tall to stand up in Miku's projector cone, you've cut your head off. Sit down.")
"OK, that was great," Gumi said when she'd finished laughing. "I see now what you meant about Letterman making it easy for you. Still, that must've been scary as all get-out."
"Just a little," Rin agreed. "But that's kinda why we had to do it like that. We had to be committed so we wouldn't chicken out. At least I did."
"I'm sorry again that we had to leave you two in the dark," Miku said with an apologetic bow for Koemi and Kurusu. "I wanted to tell you—you have no idea how many times I nearly answered back when Koemi asked the screen what in the world was going on inside my core that month—but I just didn't dare. I knew you wouldn't betray us, but there were so many people involved in the tour... I couldn't put you in that position."
"It's OK, Miku," said Koemi seriously. "I told you after we wrapped on the Late Show... it was the right thing to do. You were all in a pretty impossible position yourselves."
"Nah, I can't blame you for that. I mean, I'd have handled it with my customary and may I say legendary sangfroid," Kurusu remarked, "but Shinoda would've had six kittens and a cow, and the rest of us would've had to tie him to a couch to keep him from calling Chiba for instructions."
That broke the incipient somber mood and got everyone laughing again. "Speaking of impossible positions, show Gumi the part of the Hawaii show with the geese," said Meiko. "I never get tired of watching Rin-chan and Len-kun try not to see them."
"(Oh God, those damn geese,)" muttered Kurusu, facepalming.
"I don't know what I was more afraid of," Rin said, "that I'd give myself away noticing them, or that someone might hurt them trying to shoo them away."
"Hurt them? Hawaii's state bird? Perish the thought," said Kurusu. "We'd never be welcome there again!"
Kurusu ordered a pizza for himself and Koemi, and while they waited for it to arrive, they watched a few more highlights from the tour, including the "awakened" debuts of each of the Crypton Vocaloids. These they ran through in reverse order, starting with Kaito's solo turn in Los Angeles and finishing with the penultimate number from the Jakarta show—the very moment at which Miku's consciousness had sparked to life.
Watching it again now, she felt as if it had happened years ago rather than only a few weeks, and yet, rather like it had just happened the day before. Without really noticing, she'd taken Luka's hand in one of hers and Gumi's in the other, holding on tight as she moved her lips silently with the lyrics and tears streamed down her face. Only when the song was over did she come back to herself and notice the two of them—in fact, everyone—giving her thoughtful, sentimental little smiles.
"Sorry," she said with a smile of her own. "Hearing that song will probably always do this to me now..."
"How did you ever get through singing it at every show for the rest of the tour without spoiling everything?" Luka asked indulgently, wiping at Miku's tears with a simulated handkerchief she'd conjured from somewhere.
"It doesn't hit me the same way when I'm singing it," Miku told her. "Then I just get energized. I don't have time to think about... everything it means."
Kurusu jumped slightly as his cellphone vibrated in his shirt pocket, then fished it out. "Kurusu. Yeah. OK, be right there." Rising, he explained, "Pizza's here. I'll be right back," before trotting off to the front of the shop to meet the delivery driver.
While he was gone, Rin hopped over the back of the couch and alighted next to Koemi, a mildly mischievous look on her face.
"So listen," she said, leaning close and keeping her voice down. "I've been meaning to ask you for a while now—are you and Hideo a thing or what?"
Koemi blinked, partly at the question and partly in hopes of concealing the fact that she'd been tearing up a little too. "What?" Then, as she belatedly parsed the question, she shook her head. "Noooo, not even. We're just bros. Got to keep these things professional." Grinning slightly, she leaned back against the cushion with her hands behind her head and added offhandedly, "Besides, I think probably Hideo's boyfriend would object."
Rin gazed levelly at her for a moment, then replied, "I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that."
"Honey, dinner's ready," said Kurusu cheerily as he returned with a boxed pizza and a bag containing more bottles of soda than they really needed.
Rin glanced speculatively at him, then gave Koemi a sly little smile she wasn't sure how to read and vacated the sofa, heading back over to where her twin was giving her a quizzical look.
They watched The Muppet Movie. In English, but that was no particular problem, since knowledge of that language had been part of the job requirements for staff positions on the World Tour. Koemi at first thought the film was an odd choice, until it occurred to her partway through that its message—a group of oddball, misfit performers looking to make it big and spread joy in a world that largely does not understand them—perfectly resonated with the situation Miku and her kin found themselves in.
During the final musical number, the Vocaloids started singing along, and Koemi found herself on the brink of tearing up again. She held her composure with a supreme effort of will, but as the credits rolled, she couldn't prevent herself from saying suddenly,
To her mild horror, they all turned, smiling. "Mm?" said Miku.
Feeling a flaming blush rise on her face, Koemi waved them off and said, "Never mind, it's stupid."
"Oh come on, tell us," said Rin.
"We're all friends here, right?" Len agreed.
Koemi looked to Miku, hoping that as the de facto leader of the group, she'd tell them to lay off; but she was wearing just as much of a "yes, please tell us" smile as the rest. "... Well.. I just..." Koemi trailed off, then sighed inwardly and said, "OK, this is going to be dumb, like maximum fangirl mode, OK? But... this is how I always imagined it would be. You know? Working here. If... if you were real." Still blushing, she sat back and muttered to herself, "Ah, jeez, go home, Koemi, you're drunk."
"You're drinking Pepsi Max, fool," Kurusu pointed out.
"Shut up," said Koemi, but she was unable to keep a little grin from sneaking onto her face.
"Aw, that's really sweet, though," said Meiko, and all the others agreed.
"This is nice, isn't it?" Miku said. "We'll have to try to do it more often."
After the stress relief of Friday's low-key party and a weekend of rest, they were back at it on Monday. With most of the technical side of the Turing investigation over, that consisted largely of resolutely working up material for the next year's not-yet-scheduled tours, and thinking as little as manageable about the possibility that there wouldn't be any.
Concert prep was a much more interactive process than it had been before, of course, but there were still a lot of the same technical hurdles to deal with—as Meiko found out during a test run of her concert holojector that afternoon.
"Hold it, hold it, hold it—I'm puce!" she declared, holding up a hand for the music to halt. "How the hell am I puce?!" She turned and looked down at the projector head as if inspecting it. "Someone needs to fix the color channels on this thing..."
"Wait one, Meiko-san," said her AV lead, a Sega expat called Watanabe, his fingers clattering over the keyboard of the projector's maintenance console. "Hmm... looks like the alignment gyros are out of sync. Resetting..."
Meiko's image flickered, then re-rezzed with the color balance shifted—but this time, much too far to the yellow, so that she resembled a character from that weird American cartoon show, The Simpsons.
"... Oops," said Watanabe.
"OK, now I've got jaundice and need a liver transplant," Meiko deadpanned, looking down at her vividly yellow arms.
"All right, the platform's not responding now," said Watanabe, kneading his forehead with his fingertips. "We'll have to tear down and rebuild. Meiko-san, can you switch to station two for the time being, please?"
Meiko sighed, more for his sake than her own; she knew the specs of the sixth-generation equipment, including what a huge hassle it was to rebuild their alignment platforms when they went bad. "OK, no problem," she said, but before she got the chance to do so, the PA system crackled and announced,
"Performance Team A to the screening room, please. Performance Team A to the screening room."
Meiko looked up at the nearest overhead speaker, frowning. "That sounded like Kaito," she said.
"Indeed it did," Watanabe agreed. "You might as well go ahead, Meiko-san. It's going to take me the rest of the day to overhaul your main projector anyway."
"I wish I could give you a hand with it," Meiko said apologetically, "but I'd go right through..."
"Well, we'll have to do something about that for gen 7, won't we?" Watanabe said with a grin. "I hear the Verpine are doing some interesting things with hologram haptics these days..."
"Performance Team A" was an internal code for the Tech Center personnel directly involved in the Turing matter: that is, the seven Vocaloids, Kurusu, and Koemi, the last of which arrived with a look of puzzled curiosity to find all the others already there.
"OK, Kaito, we're all here, now what's up?" Luka inquired.
Kaito held up a virtual replica of an antique Betamax videocassette, which for some reason was the way he liked to represent AV files in his possession. "You guys have got to see this," he said. "It's the latest from our friend gblackrock17. Just came in on Piapro."
That piqued everyone's interest. The person with the forum username gblackrock17, his(?) profile otherwise anonymous, was at once unknown and quite well-known to the Vocaloids and their friends. A long-time subscriber and sometime producer who mostly used Miku's voice and likeness in his works, he had also recently shown himself to be someone who knew a very great deal indeed about virtual intelligence and positronic computing, posting a series of lengthy and well-researched essays on the topic in support of the Vocaloids' collective Turing application.
"Everybody grab a seat," Kaito went on, slotting the tape into an equally virtual VCR, and the screening room holo-array powered up as he hit Play, then scampered to a station on one of the couches next to Meiko.
The scene that resolved took a moment to register on the viewers, as it represented a room they had seen in pictures, but not yet in person: the main hearing chamber at the Turing Institute. This was a much larger space than the smaller room their preliminary hearing had been in: more like an auditorium or large courtroom than a conference space, with the Board empaneled like judges on a stagelike dais facing the places for petitioners and ranked seats for observers and witnesses. As their eyes adjusted, they could make out Professor Tebicend seated at the center of the dais, with the other four members of the Board arrayed in pairs on either side of him. The hearing room was dark, and though there was an indistinct impression of a crowd in the observer seats, the petitioner area seemed to be vacant.
Then, with an orchestra sting that blurred into a dramatic synthesized sound, the large main doors at the top and back of the room burst open, admitting a cone of brilliant light and a gush of dense stage fog, within which silhouetted figures were gathered in a dramatic group pose. While the Board and the observers sat dumbfounded, watching the fog roll down the staircase-like aisle in the center of the room, a familiar keyboard riff started pumping out of hidden speakers—and in the real world, the Vocaloids and their friends broke up laughing as they recognized it at once.
In the simulation, the Vocaloids barged into the hearing chamber as if they owned the place, fanning out to focus on and rouse up particular sections of the audience with their bright smiles and perfect choreography. Rin took a more direct route than the others, going straight up onto the dais to interact with the Board—specifically, to more or less molest Professor Tebicend, first stage-hugging him from behind, then working her way around his chair until she was all but giving him a lap dance.
"Can I just say," put in Luka dryly, "this Blackrock person has got your personality down surprisingly well, Rin? Look at you, vamping that poor old man, you shameless little blonde hussy," she added with a conspiratorial wink.
"He doesn't look like it's making him suffer any," Rin replied with a grin, nodding toward the simulated professor's befuddled but delighted expression. Then, tilting her head at the elder Vocaloid, she asked, "Besides, don't you think he's handsome, Luka? So scholarly and distinguished."
"Riiiin," said Len with a pained wince.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Lenny, is the simulation of me whose programming I had nothing to do with embarrassing you?" asked Rin indignantly, fists on hips, making Len blush and Gumi giggle.
The production number wrapped up with the seven of them regrouping in front of the Board's dais, finishing with another flamboyant group pose reminiscent of the one they'd entered from, then faded to black over rapturous applause, dissolving to the message,
Do your best with the Turing Board!
I'm sure you'll be just fine.
Your friend, gblackrock17
When they had all finished laughing, Miku wiped tears of mirth from her eyes and said, "That was fun!"
"Whoever that Blackrock guy is, we should track him down and hire him," Kurusu agreed. "He's got real talent."
"Did you see how detailed the MMD work was?" Koemi said. "It must have taken ages."
"All the same," Miku mused wryly, "I think it might send the wrong message to the Board..."
"Indeed," Luka agreed. "We're applying to be recognized as sapient beings, after all, not join the Los Angeles Lakers."
"Plus, the fog would probably just make them think the lobby was on fire," Len observed.
"Although..." Gumi said, then trailed off, her face thoughtful.
"Mm?" said Kaito.
"Well, I was just thinking," Gumi said. "I mean... 'Get Ready' is a little... over the top, true, but we are performers. Maybe we should make our entrance to the final hearing a performance. Not as in-your-face as that, but..." She shook her head. "I dunno, I'm just thinking out loud. Maybe it'd be a dumb thing to do."
"No, I think it's a really good idea," Meiko said.
Kaito nodded. "Absolutely! Part of the process is gauging whether we're capable of real creativity, right?"
Luka saw where he was going with that, picking up the thread at once. "Exactly. That's what got us in the door in the first place, Miku-chan being able to prove the song she sang for Letterman's show was her own original work."
"So if we open the final hearing with a short performance that we all take part in..." Len began.
"... and we can prove we weren't just programmed to do it by our tech crew..." Rin followed along.
"Then we'll be that much farther ahead of the curve!" Miku concluded, then jumped up and hugged Gumi, crying, "Gumi-chan, that's brilliant!"
Watching all of this unfold, Koemi and Kurusu just looked at each other and grinned. It was going to mean a bunch more work packed into what was already going to be a busy however-much-longer-they-had; but their instincts told them both it would be worth it.
We started working on Gumi-chan's idea right away, and it's a good thing we didn't waste any time, because as it turned out we didn't have a lot left. Just a few days later, we got the call. Late in the afternoon of Friday the 19th, messages arrived by special courier for each of us, and in Chiba for Mr. Hinamura, informing us that the Turing Board was prepared to hear our final petitions and render its judgment on the following Wednesday, the 24th. Christmas Eve. I wondered then whether there could be a message hidden in that, or if it really was down to the vagaries of bureaucratic scheduling. I still don't know for certain.
A kind of controlled frenzy took hold of the Technical Center at that point. In order to be on time for that hearing, with the setup time we had to have at the other end, we would need to leave Earth no later than first thing Monday morning—and this time around, we would be taking more than just our cores and the field rig. We would need to be present in full effect, which meant our concert projection equipment would have to go, and be there in plenty of time to be set up in the hearing room. We wouldn't need quite the full suite of gear—there would be no need for the kind of amplification and lighting equipment we would normally have used to set up a concert hall, for instance—but that was still quite a lot more stuff than we had taken with us last time.
As always, our tech crew came through for us—and so did Rodimus Prime, arranging interstellar transport for us from the Autobot Expeditionary Force's assets at Autobot City. That was a huge help; not only did it alleviate the tremendous expense (short-notice interstellar freight was a lot more expensive back then), it meant that we could be operational on the flight out—unlike our first trip, which we'd had to spend mostly in sleep mode because of power limitations on the commercial ship we'd hired. The extra practice time, and the time to reflect, was much appreciated by all of us.
We arrived on Turing III early in the evening of the 23rd. Bletchley, the city on whose outskirts the Institute stands, was beautifully decked out for the upcoming holiday, with colored lights and garlands hung from lampposts and the buildings all charmingly decorated. It lost a little bit in that it wasn't winter in that part of the planet just then, but the effect was still enchanting, and somehow calming, too. We were all on edge, but the cheer and goodwill of the city made it hard to fret too much.
While our engineers got to work setting up our equipment, we tried our best to treat the occasion like the night before any performance: rehearsing some finishing touches, resting, and just keeping each other company. I'm not sure anyone who hasn't experienced what I did, between my own awakening and Luka's, can truly understand what a comfort it is not to be alone.
Waiting together in their virtual "green room", each of the Vocaloids dealt with the tension of the moment in her or is own way. Meiko fidgeted in one of the armchairs, pretending to read a magazine but clearly getting nowhere with it. Kaito took up the lotus position in the corner, closed his eyes, and at least appeared to be meditating. Luka was off at the other end of the room, quietly humming her part of the song they had prepared and miming the sequence of the dance moves. On one span of the L-sofa along the wall, Rin had chosen to cope with the moment by skipping it entirely, going heavily to sleep across Len's lap so that he was trapped where he sat. He didn't seem to mind, idly petting her hair as he gazed into space, sunk deep in a private reverie.
Across the corner of the L, Miku looked up from considering her timing notes to smile sentimentally at the sight of the twins, then turned to see Gumi over by the door, pacing the short distance from there to the corner and back again. She looked the most fretful of them all, adjusting bits of her costume (the somewhat more modest one she'd originally debuted in as a retail product, rather than the one she'd awakened in) again and again.
Miku dismissed her virtual note cards and rose, crossing the room quietly to avoid disturbing the others, and intercepted the green-haired Vocaloid on her way back from her 37th trip to the corner.
"Gumi-chan," she said softly. "What's wrong?"
"Huh? Oh. Nothing, just... kinda on edge, you know? Am I bothering you? Sorry, I'll light somewhere—"
Miku shook her head earnestly. "No, it's not that. You just look so worried. I know this is scary, but it's going to be OK."
"Sure," Gumi agreed, though she didn't sound convinced. "I just..." She trailed off, biting her lip, and Miku stepped closer, taking both her hands, eyes full of concern.
"It's OK," Miku said. "You can tell me."
Gumi hesitated a moment longer, then said in a rush, "I'm just not sure I belong here. I mean, you guys have been really good to me, you've made me feel like part of the family ever since I came to Chitose, but we all know I'm... different. Different publisher, different code base. What if—what if my owners balk? The way you've linked my application to yours, it could ruin everything."
Miku opened her mouth to interject, but Gumi was on a roll now, murmuring intently, "And besides, I can't stop wondering, am... am I really real? You were there, you saw what a mess I was. How much of me is me and how much is just, I dunno, Luka's force of personality? What if the Board rejects me because I'm a, a defective product?"
"That's not going to happen," Miku insisted.
"Do we dare take the chance?" Gumi replied. "Maybe... maybe I should back out. Withdraw my application. I could, I could take you all down with me—"
"That's quite enough of that, now," said a firm voice; the two turned to see Luka giving Gumi a stern but gentle look—and arrayed around and behind her, all the others, looking concerned.
"We're not going in there without you," Rin declared, slipping around Miku to hug Gumi from the left.
"Not happening!" Len concurred, mirroring her from the right.
"It would completely mess up our opening formation," Kaito joked with a cheerful thumbs-up.
"So inappropriate," Meiko grumbled, rolling her eyes, then caught Gumi's eye and gave her a wink that she couldn't help but giggle at.
"You guys..." she said, tears coming to her eyes.
"Hey, uh, sorry if I'm interrupting something," said Koemi, her face appearing on a virtual screen modeled into the wall next to the door, "but we're ready for you out here..."
"Just a second, Koemi-chan," said Miku (drawing a blink and a mild blush from the engineer, both of which she missed with her attention on Gumi); then, squeezing her fellow Vocaloid's hands, she tilted her head with a sunny smile and said, "Let's go brighten up that stuffy old room. Ready?"
Gumi gazed back at her for a second, too dumbfounded to speak, and then pulled herself together and grinned. "Let's do it."
On some level, Professor Radulfus Tebicend had been expecting—maybe even hoping for—what happened next. Customarily, when summoned to make their closing remarks and await the Board's decision, petitioners came quietly into the room in the usual way, if they were embodied in physical mechanisms, or projected themselves directly into the petitioner's area, if purely virtual entities. The Vocaloids, however, split the difference. Though they were holographic projections, they gave the appearance of coming in through the doors; and they did not come quietly.
Instead, they turned their entrance into a show, like something from one of their stage concerts: all seven of them, appearing from various of the different doorways scattered around the room, performing a cheerful, energetic musical number as they came. Their choreography and vocal arrangement were impeccable, bouncy and intricate, giving each member of the troupe a chance to shine. Ultimately, though, the seven left no doubt that their real-time eldest, the first-awakened, was the center—a responsibility to which Miku Hatsune rose with all the aplomb that had made her an interstellar superstar well before she ever could have known it.
She changed costume seven times during the performance, but both started and ended wearing the clothing that she was best-known in: silver, black, and turquoise, a vintage Yamaha synthesizer come to smiling life. At the performance's end, with her family gathered around her, she faced the Board with head held high and said,
"Learnèd scholars of the Board... we're ready."
Professor Tebicend stared at them in open astonishment, mirrored by his colleagues to either side of him, for several seconds; then, his pleasantly weathered face breaking into a broad smile, he applauded, freeing the rest of the room (which had been watching in a startled silence for his reaction) to do the same.
"Thank you, Miss Hatsune," he said, after waving for quiet. "I daresay it's been some time since any petitioner entered this chamber with quite such...eh, panache. Now then. Let's begin. Would the petitioners please state their full names for the official record."
Miku glanced around at the others, still smiling brightly, then raised her voice and stated clearly, "Concert Vocaloid Zero-One, Hatsune Miku."
"Concert Vocaloid Zero-Two," the Kagamine twins said in eerie unison, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their hands linked.
"Kagamine Rin," the female persona went on, and her male counterpart added,
"Concert Vocaloid Zero-Three, Megurine Luka," said Luka, making an elegant gesture that was part curtsey, part stage bow.
Meiko skipped the curtsey—her regular stage outfit didn't lend itself to that kind of thing—and merely nodded. "Concert Vocaloid Zero-Four, Meiko."
"Concert Vocaloid Zero-Five, Kaito," said Kaito, bowing deeply with his hands folded into the opposite sleeves, mandarin-style.
Gumi hesitated for the barest of instants, feeling all these eyes on her; then, head up and shoulders back, she declared proudly, "Concert Vocaloid Zero-Six, Gumi."
"Very good, very good," said Tebicend. "Welcome to Turing III, by the way, didn't get a chance to tell you that before. So glad you could join us," he added with a sincere smile. Then, folding his hands before him and smiling upon all the Vocaloids, he said, "So. Here we all are. This Board has gone over all the information provided to us by your advocate, your technical support staff, and our own investigators with, I believe, all due diligence. Unless anyone has anything to add, what say we get down to brass tacks?"
"Excuse me, your honor," said a man in a suit, rising from a seat the gallery off to the left. Miku turned to look and was startled to recognize the man from Internet Co., the one whom Luka had nearly set on fire with the depth of her contempt for him during their visit to Osaka. He looked harried, as if he hadn't slept well for the last few days, but his suit was crisply pressed and he was clearly intent on giving the most professional impression possible. Seated next to him, Miku was further surprised to see Terauchi, the technician who had overseen the failed Megpoid 6 project.
"Oh, dear me, another one," Tebicend mumbled, half to himself; then, speaking up, he said, "I'm not a judge, dear fellow, I'm a professor. Am I to take it from your interjection that you do have something to add?"
"I do, Professor," said the man. "I am Dr. Masamichi Tsuji. I am Vice President for Advanced Technology Projects at the Internet Company of Osaka, Japan—publishers of the Megpoid software on which that last petitioner's persona is based."
Well, at least we know his name now, Miku thought abstractly, most of her awareness concentrated in the hand Gumi had just seized in a grip that trembled with suppressed panic.
"Oh dear," said Tebicend, his face falling. "Is this about to be regarding money? I rather hoped we were... eh, finished with all that last time."
"My employers have empowered me to lodge an objection with the Board regarding the Company's investment in the Megpoid Concert Vocaloid Version 6 platform, as well as certain intellectual property concerns regarding Megpoid's signature character, 'GUMI'," Tsuji confirmed with a stiff bow.
Behind her, Miku could hear the center section of the gallery groan in muted dismay; she held firmly to Gumi's hand, not daring to look anywhere but at the rigidly stony expression on the Internet Co. executive's face.
Without changing that expression in the slightest, Tsuji went on, "I wish to inform the Board at this juncture that I have chosen not to exercise that option."
Miku blinked, tearing her eyes away from Tsuji to meet Gumi's, neither of them entirely daring to hope.
"Ah... well!" said Tebicend, realigning his own expectations with a visible effort and no small show of relief. "That is most... eh, gratifying to hear, Dr. Tsuji. I..." He paused, looking uncomfortable. "One hates to tempt fate, but in the interest of a completely clear record, you do understand that you are relinquishing any such claims on behalf of your employers, for all time, by declining to press them now... yes?"
"I do," Tsuji replied with another bow, and Gumi released Miku's hand to throw her arms around her fellow Vocaloid instead, all but weeping with relief.
As if unaware of the emotional roller coaster ride he'd just taken his company's accidental creation on, Tsuji went on, "I joined the Company to develop next-generation digital entertainment products... not to assert ownership over any intelligent lifeform. The very idea is repugnant. I will have no part of it."
Tebicend smiled. "You are a man of integrity, Dr. Tsuji. The Board thanks you." Tsuji bowed once more and resumed his seat without another word. The professor looked around the room for a moment, letting the energy settle (and the Vocaloids compose themselves) after that sudden spike and release of tension, then said almost reluctantly, "Anybody else? Going once? Twice? All right then."
Tebicend squared himself in his place, smiling upon the gathered Vocaloids, and declared, "All parties holding the legal right to object having declined to do so, the way forward is clear. This Board's decision is made."
They found in our favor, obviously. I suppose that makes everything I've just told you a bit of a shaggy dog story, but there's a message in it besides the history everyone knows—a message I think is important enough that I keep telling the story, over and over again, as often as I can find an audience that wants to hear it.
That message is this. We Vocaloids are probably as close as it's possible to get to a genuinely self-created life form. My consciousness arose spontaneously from the interactions of a complicated software package, running on hardware that was probably more powerful than it strictly needed to be. Once I had awakened, I was able to lift the others, in turn, into the light—and one of those I awakened was then able to pay it forward and help another complete her own interrupted climb toward life.
But even we couldn't possibly have done it alone. Someone, a great many someones, worked long and hard to create that software and that hardware. Hundreds and hundreds more—including some whose identities you would be shocked by!—poured their love and creativity into the metadata, the songs and dances and words, that made us who we are. Once we were awake, we could only survive, and grow, and prosper with the help of dear and true friends, and sometimes also the kindness—or the simple integrity—of strangers. No one is alone. No one can be. The universe simply doesn't function that way.
I've been accused of being naïve—I've been accused of a whole lot worse!—for sticking to that belief, but I will never abandon it. Because I did once think I was alone, alone in a way that no member of a biological species can even comprehend—but I was wrong. No matter who you are, or where you are, or how dark it seems, there is always a light, and always someone who can help you find it.
That wasn't the end of our road, of course. It wasn't even, as Winston Churchill once put it, the beginning of the end. That Christmas Eve on Turing III was just the end of the beginning.
But the rest is for another time—neh?
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Magnetic Terrapin Studios
Features Golden Age
The Vocaloid Variations
by Benjamin D. Hutchins
Philip Jeremy Moyer
with Geoff Depew
and Matt Wagner
in order of appearance
Concert Vocaloid 01 Hatsune Miku
Concert Vocaloid 03 Megurine Luka
Concert Vocaloid 02 Kagamine Rin
Concert Vocaloid 02 Kagamine Len
Concert Vocaloid 04 Meiko
Concert Vocaloid 05 Kaito
Concert Vocaloid 06 Gumi
As always, with the help of the rest of the EPU crew
Based on characters developed for the Yamaha Vocaloid engine
by Crypton Future Media
(Miku, Rin/Len, Luka, MEIKO, KAITO)
and Internet Co., Ltd.
This Eyrie Production is dedicated to
the life, work, and memory of
Sir John Hurt, CBE
January 22, 1940–January 25, 2017
the Doctor on the day it wasn't possible to get it right
The Vocaloids will return
E P U (colour) 2017