Step Out Into the World
The Hamada household was quiet. It was nighttime, so it shouldn't be such a surprise it was. But there was something in the air that felt stifling.
Hiro Hamada hadn't expected to have woken up so suddenly, and to this stifling quiet.
As her 13 year old self walked down the stairs and found herself where the living room and kitchen squished together, she found her aunt crying at the table. Having been raised by Aunt Cassandra since the age of 3, when her parents had died, Hiro had always been uncomfortable and upset whenever she saw her Aunt Cass crying or distressed in any way.
For a minute, Hiro sat on the stairs and watched her, slightly hidden and using the darkness to not be seen. When Aunt Cass finally wiped her eyes and headed to the door on that floor that led to her bedroom, Hiro waited for a few moments before she snuck further into the room and looked at what her aunt had been crying over.
As she quickly skimmed over the letter, she realized that they were having financial problems. That they were having very serious financial problems. For a moment, she thought about her acceptance letter to San Fransokyo Institute of Technology.
She hadn't initially wanted to go. Hiro remembered all too well the bullying and how hard it was for her to connect with the others her age, all through every school year. But her brother, Tamadashi, had convinced her it would be different at SFIT. That it wouldn't be the same as all the years she attended school before.
So Hiro had secretly applied to the university and had gotten in.
Aunt Cass and Tamadashi had both been so very proud of her for graduating high school early, so she thought she could make them happy by attending Tamadashi's "nerd school." But even with a grant, both she and Tamadashi lived there and the café was run only by Aunt Cass. While money for school might not be a problem, both her and her brother's time would be too occupied with school to help Aunt Cass deal with the money problems or go around finding a way to pay off the debts and loans, while also still living there and sucking up expenses themselves.
Something had to be done.
That's why, in the morning after Tamadashi had gone to school, she faced Aunt Cass.
"Aunt Cass, I want to work here," she said stubbornly. "I don't want to be paid. I just want to help around for a while." A while meaning however long it took for Aunt Cass to gather enough money to get them out of money trouble.
Aunt Cass blinked and stared at her confusion. "I would rather you go to college, sweetie."
Hiro frowned. "I can't…We can't afford that right now."
Aunt Cass caught on and sighed, giving her a small smile. "You know then? Sweetie, you really are too smart for your own good."
But Hiro stayed firm, and so her aunt reluctantly had her helping around.
Besides helping around the café, Hiro knew she had to do something else. There had to be something she could do to help get things paid…
Her eyes alighted on the various gadgets around her computer desk, things she'd made over the years. The tech magazine was next for her to see, complete with Alistair Krei on the cover and talk of Krei Tech Industries headlines on it.
If she could get an in at Krei Tech, somehow get hired, money would be no problem. Only, she now had the problem of somehow getting hired, when she was just not only fresh from high school, but just 13 years of age.
Her eyes darted around her desk, eying each of the inventions lying around. Finding her best one, she grabbed it and darted out of the attic bedroom she shared with her brother, jumping down the stairs and rushing through the café (Hiro had unfortunately been forced to work only a little, and had been shooed away from the café practically as soon as she started helping out).
"Bye, Aunt Cass!" she said quickly, already almost out the door.
She didn't hear her aunt's reply, and had traveled to outside, where she had to find a way to Krei Tech Industries' building. On the way there, she nervously rehearsed her speech. She hated speeches and talking in front of crowds or important people for something incredibly significant. But the practice did serve to take her mind off of the impending meeting.
In her distraction, she made it to Krei Tech in no time. Nervously entering through the front doors, she went to the receptionist desk, where a woman sitting there watched her closely as Hiro walked closer.
"May I help you?" she asked professionally, and Hiro took a deep breath.
"I'd like to speak to someone in, uh," Hiro peered at the sign nearby, "Research and Development. I have a, um, invention I'd like to pitch."
She frowned. "Do you have an appointment?"
Hiro winced. "No, I don't," she muttered. "Can I make one here?"
The receptionist turned to her computer. "The Director of R&D personally oversees all the pitches, and he's a busy man. If you want to see him, you're lucky. There's an opening at the end of this week at 4 pm."
"I'll take it," Hiro said hurriedly.
So Hiro was able to set up her appointment, and now thankfully had time to prepare herself more adequately for the meeting. But she still returned to the Lucky Cat Café with a dejected air, wishing she had gotten something productive done.
"Why the down face?" her aunt asked as Hiro walked into the café, smiling gently at her.
Looking around, Hiro plopped down at an empty booth and her aunt joined her. Recounting her latest task, Aunt Cass gave her a reassuring pat on the hand.
"You've got an appointment, so that's got to mean something. Just get yourself prepared and you'll be fine. I just wonder if this Krei Tech pitch you want to do has anything to do with the money problems I have to deal with," she gave Hiro a knowing look.
Hiro couldn't help looking guilty, so her Aunt Cass sighed.
"Hiro, I just want you to go to college, alright? I can take care of things," Aunt Cass said firmly.
"I already applied and got accepted to Tadashi-nii's school," Hiro revealed, causing Aunt Cass to be surprised. "Just let me help, especially around the café. I'll work something out with the school –focus on gen ed for now and get those done online, or something."
Though Aunt Cass still looked reluctant, this time she agreed to let Hiro actually help out for real.
"Just as long as you make sure to keep up with your university work," Aunt Cass warned her. "And…don't tell Tadashi, okay? He doesn't need to know and trouble himself with this."
Hiro definitely agreed with that. Her brother should just focus on his own studies, and not have to find out and worry about all this as well.
She could tackle this problem herself.
It wasn't long until it was time for her appointment and while Hiro was still nervous, she wasn't as panicked as she had been before. She'd had time to practice and rehearse, and even tweak her invention a bit. Heck, she'd even clued Tadashi into what she was planning, though she hadn't told him anything about the money problems their family was having. He didn't have to worry about that.
"You'll do fine," Tadashi said in amusement, trying to reassure her.
"Tadashi," she glared at him, before just pouting.
He walked over to her and sat down on her bed next to her, ruffling her hair. "I'm still not sure why you're so adamant on doing this, but I know they'd be crazy not to want your invention or hire you. My little imouto is probably the smartest person in the world after all."
Grinning up at her older brother, she launched herself at him and hugged him tightly. "Thanks, Tadashi."
His support had always meant everything to her, and if he thought she could do this, then she could.
"Come on, I'll give you a ride and wait it out for you in the lobby, while you do your thing," Tadashi lifted her up and playfully carried her down to the café, where after waving bye to their aunt, they headed to Tadashi's moped.
After they got on and he started it, Hiro hung on tight to her brother as he started speeding through the streets and to their destination. Only, once they were finally there, Hiro didn't want to let go of Tadashi and could only stare at the building.
"Silly imouto," Tadashi rolled his eyes, and got off the moped, bringing her with him. "If you make me drag you there, then you can bet I will."
She did finally get off him, but she looked up at him with insecure eyes and one of those "sad puppy" looks, and Tadashi practically melted.
"But Tadashi-nii," she murmured, and he knew she was really worried. She only ever used that attachment when she was really worried or upset, or with Aunt Cass.
His face softened and he pulled her into a tight hug, kissing the top of her head.
"Hiro-chan," he reciprocated her affectionate name-calling. "You will be fine. I know you will. If you don't believe in yourself, believe in me. I believe in you."
Hiro gave him a small smile and nodded, and then they were walking into the building together. After watching her brother find a seat, she walked to the receptionist again.
"I have an appointment at 4 with the R&D Director," Hiro quickly said and the receptionist glanced at her, recognizing her from the other day.
"I'll page his office to let them know you're here. Go to Floor 23, the double doors at the end of the hallway. His secretary will let you in."
Why did the walk there (or even just to the elevator) seem like she was walking to her execution?
She glanced over to her brother who gave her a thumbs up and a grin, making her relax a bit. She finally reached one of the elevators and stepped in, pressing the number 23. While she waited on the elevator, she kept remembering her brother's loving support, and slowly built up her confidence.
She could do this.
At least, that's what she told herself as she stepped out of the elevator and walked down the hallway. At the end of it, the hallway opened up to bigger space, where the secretary had her desk to the side and was working.
"Hiro Hamada?" the secretary asked, without even looking at her.
Hiro swallowed nervously. "Yes, that's me."
"Go right in. Mr. Alexander is waiting for you."
So, the moment of truth. Hiro took a deep breath, before she opened the doors and slipped inside, quickly closing the doors behind her.
"I'm sorry, young lady, are you lost? I have a 4 o'clock appointment coming in, so my secretary can help you out," a no-nonsense kind of voice said, and she turned to see a middle-aged man sitting behind a huge desk, his salt and pepper hair neatly combed back.
"Um, I am your 4 o'clock," Hiro said, trying not to let her nervousness show.
The R&D Director furrowed his eyebrows. "Are you Hiro Hamada?"
At Hiro's nod, Mr. Alexander frowned. "Young lady, I don't appreciate my time being wasted. I have more important things to do than to listen to kids."
Hiro nearly shrunk back, but then her brother's words flashed through her head.
"I believe in you."
"Please, Alexander-san," she stood up straight, using the honorific respectfully like her brother taught her to. "Humor me. I swear I'm not trying to waste your time and I won't. I really did come here to pitch an invention and I know it's going to be one you'll be interested in."
"Well, at least you're not here to play games and honestly have an invention to pitch," his frown lightened. "But I hope it will be some sort of amazing invention, or else my time will have still been wasted. Go on, I'll humor you for a bit."
Hiro, remembering her brother and his words again, calmed herself and held up a wrist, showing off the band around it and which held some kind of mechanical attachment.
"This is what I call a mini player," at his uninterested look, she hurried up and pressed a button, conjuring up a greenish, transparent 3D projection of a piano. It garnered more interest from him by the look on his face, which gave her more confidence. "Through it, several instruments are programmed and the user can play an instrument without having to actually carry the actual one around."
To demonstrate, she "pressed" a few keys on the holographic piano, which played the notes. She pressed another button on the mini player's surface plate, making the holopiano disappear. Instead, a guitar flickered into being, and anchored its proximity to her through the mini player around her wrist. She strummed a few chords, with the holographic guitar already pre-tuned.
"Of course," she continued. "It'll probably never sound as good as the real thing, but a musician can appreciate it as something easy to carry around and be able to play their preferred instrument whenever, wherever. That's not also including the composers, who could write up a song and actually have a way of hearing how it sounds, when they don't have any available instruments or equipment or paper to jot down the musical notes. There's a playback available too, so they can play a few notes already and have them played back to see the result."
She demonstrated that with the guitar, before switching back to the piano and pulling up a holographic screen above it, to show that she could also have the exact musical notes displayed at the same time as she played, showing which notes she was using.
When she was done, she stopped and looked at him, waiting for his response.
"That's…" she refrained from biting her lip, anxious to hear what he had to say. "Really brilliant. The music industry would be eager to get this spread around," he stood up and walked towards her, eyeing the holograms.
He reached out and touched the holopiano, and the key's note he touched sounded loudly. "What price were you thinking of selling this for?"
"Actually, I was hoping it would be enough to get me hired here," she said hesitantly.
He looked at her in surprise. "How old are you?"
"I'm 13," she answered, hoping that wouldn't be something that would mess up her chances.
"Instead of working, you should focus on school, Miss Hamada," he frowned, though it was mostly thoughtful this time.
"I know, I know," she couldn't help sounding exasperated. "I'll do school too. I already talked to SFIT, and they'll work with me on this."
"SFIT? You're a university student?" he was surprised again, and she realized that he probably thought she was either a junior high or high school student. Her seifuku school uniform she was wearing probably didn't help, but it was the only thing she owned that looked professional or wasn't casual.
She blushed slightly. "I graduated high school a few months ago, and got accepted to SFIT."
"That's impressive," he murmured. "Truthfully, your age wouldn't really be an issue. We'd hire you here in a second, for an invention like this, and especially –like I'm guessing –when you have probably even more inventions at your disposal, and you're more than capable of making more impressive things."
At her embarrassed nod, he went on to say, "It's your experience. It would be more welcome for you to have gained more experience out in the world, especially work-wise, but also in the more than likely event that you'd be in charge of a group, of whom will probably have due issue with your age and won't be as welcoming or willing to work under a young lady such as yourself. Even if we were to hire you anyway and force the group under your command to listen, resentment will build up and who knows what treatment you'll be faced with still."
At her downcast look, Mr. Alexander still had something else to add. "But perhaps if you were to work with them distantly…perhaps through emails and the like…You could build up a rapport, earn their respect…Maybe in three years' time, while working in this way and gaining experience on your own through other means, you could be officially introduced and inducted into the company."
Hiro was more than fine with that and told him so. He then went back to her invention.
"We can officially work out the deal with your guardian, but I'd like to propose a 10% royalty, in which it could expire in also three years' time, and we can renegotiate the terms of the patent license alongside your employment then."
"I'm okay with that. You can talk to my aunt at the Lucky Cat Café," Hiro said.
"Why don't you write down the address here, as well as your contact information?" he suggested, handing her a piece of paper. She was surprised that he was personally taking down her information, instead of having her give it to his secretary, which further made her feel that he was definitely taking her seriously. "We'll talk details at your café, with your guardian present."
It was with a feeling of success and accomplishment that she left Mr. Alexander's office then, happily rushing to meet her brother, who knew by her excited face and happy countenance that she'd done it.
Two weeks later and Hiro had already started her semi-employment as a 'consultant' in the Research and Development division as a whole, patented and licensed out her mini player (rename pending), and was setting up her classes at SFIT for online courses. But something was still bothering her…
"Come now, Hiro, you have that 'Something is nagging me' look on your face. Tell me," Aunt Cass huffed.
Hiro looked at her sheepishly, taking out the castella she'd been working on. Her work in the café had been relegated to baking and cooking, since she could only spend so much time out there with customers, before she began feeling uncomfortable. Lucky for Aunt Cass though, Hiro's involvement spiced things up at the café, since the young girl was additionally cooking traditional Japanese desserts to add to the menu.
"I was thinking about something Alexander-san said," Hiro admitted. "He said it would be best if I gained some experience."
"Right, I remember you telling me about that, when you told me all about the meeting," Aunt Cass remembered. "Well, you're starting now, aren't you? Working around the café?"
Hiro was quiet for a moment, startling and worrying Aunt Cass.
"I don't think that's enough."
Aunt Cass turned from the croissants she was buttering up, to look at her niece in surprise.
Hiro rubbed the back of her neck. "I think I'd like to really explore myself and the world. I think…I think I want to travel. Travel everywhere, that is."
That made Aunt Cass have to put down everything she was holding and sit down. She looked at Hiro faintly.
"This is a big decision, Hiro. Are you sure this is something you really want to do?"
Hiro nodded adamantly. "It is. And I asked Alexander-san about it, hypothetically of course, and he said that while some airlines would allow me to travel around, there would be some restrictions and I'd need to have an adult pick me up at the airports –but he said if I was serious, he could arrange that part and pay for the airline tickets. You would just have to fill out a form with my information."
Aunt Cass stared at her for a moment, before shaking her head. "You've always been headstrong and independent for your age. You're only 13…and yet you sound so much older," she said sadly.
Hiro just smiled sadly back.
Aunt Cass sighed. "Well, call up Mr. Alexander and make that 'hypothetical' inquiry reality, I suppose."
Now all Hiro had to do was inform her older brother.
"It's no surprise you really like working with the Robotics Division the most," Tadashi remarked as he looked over the work Hiro was eagerly pouring over. "Now that you've been dabbling in bot-fighting so much."
Hiro pouted at him. It wasn't her fault that, since a little before graduating high school, she'd really gotten into and become taken with bot-fighting. She was even starting to bet as well, though she'd rather not tell Tadashi about that.
But bot-fighting was so much fun.
Catching sight of her passport on her desk, she discreetly moved it out of view. She was reminded of the news she had been stalling on telling Tadashi, who would protest severely and be his usual overprotective self.
"Tadashi-nii," she said quietly, which caught his attention, especially since she'd used an affectionate attachment.
"Yes, Hiro?" he asked, a sinking feeling entering his gut.
"I need to tell you something," she said nervously. And then she just basically blurted out what she was going to do, and that she was leaving next week. All the while, his face grew more stony the more she talked.
When she finished, he crossed his arms. "Absolutely not," he said firmly. "You're too young to go off by your own."
She'd expected this alright. Tadashi was going to be her biggest obstacle, and she wasn't sure if she could pull off convincing him.
"Tadashi-nii, I'm going with or without your approval," she put her foot down, frowning at him.
"And I'm telling you no!" Tadashi glared. "Even if you won't go to school or you're doing bot-fighting all the time, I'd rather that than for you to go traipsing off to who knows where, where I can't be there for you!"
Hiro felt herself reluctantly crumble for her brother. He was always so sweet and protective over her.
"Tadashi-nii, I love you. But I'm doing this," she determinedly held on to her conviction.
This time, Tadashi was the one who crumbled and looked at her like he felt lost. He pulled her into a hug.
"I love you too, Hiro-chan," he murmured. "I just want to keep you safe."
"I know, Nii-san, I know."
The two of them had always had trouble parting from each other.