Finding One's Purpose Part 1: More Questions than Answers
Tuesday, August 31st
The day that changed everything began the same as any other. The sun rose, people woke up and went to work, complaining about traffic and deadlines. But it was also undeniably different. There was a feeling of unease that permeated everything. Everyone knew what was going to happen, but no one really wanted to focus on it. It’s like having a friend who just broke up with someone and that’s all they want to talk about. You know that it’s important to them, but at the same time you wish they’d talk about something else.
The consensus of the general public seemed to be to ignore it and pretend like they didn’t see what was happening right in front of them. But people tend to do that when they’re forced to be around something unpleasant. They thought to themselves: It doesn’t concern me. If I just look the other way it’ll all go away soon enough.
But it couldn’t, no… wouldn’t be ignored. The day had dawned in peace, but now, as night fell, it was ending in chaos. Fires burned, people screamed, gunshots resounded in the streets, and through it all Miku Hatsune was focused on just one thing.
As Luka watched from the doorway, Miku clutched the makeshift phone to her chest. Her hair hid her eyes behind a curtain of blue, but it couldn’t hide the tears of rage and despair that flowed freely down her cheeks and left little spots on her shirt.
One Week Earlier, Tuesday, Aug. 24th
Could it have been a more perfect day? Miku didn’t think so. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and all was right with the world. She was living her dream! She was training with the legendary assassin! What could be better than that? The answer, at least for her, was “not a whole lot.”
Yes it was perfect. Well, apart from the fact that Luka was pummeling her unmercifully.
“Come on! You’re going to have to have better energy manipulation than this!” Luka yelled as she sunk her fist yet again into Miku’s abdomen. “I could have killed you a hundred times by now!”
Miku’s eyes clenched shut as she felt the wind leave her lungs. But having gotten so used to the feeling by this point, she was on her feet again in seconds, her breath regained.
She was currently being taught how to properly take a hit. For a Vocaloid, this meant using their energy to lessen the impact of blows and dissipate force. Luka had demonstrated this by asking Miku to hit her in the stomach with a sledgehammer. Miku had been eager to deal some punishment back to her source of infinite discomfort but was quite disappointed when Luka’s belly became as hard as a rock.
She was quickly learning that even though Luka made it look easy, it was anything but. The required sound patterns were ridiculously complicated and in order to reach maximum effectiveness, a Vocaloid had to use slight variations depending on what part of the body was receiving damage. Luka assured her that once mastered, one could use all of them simultaneously and not even need to think about it.
For the time being, however, Miku was having the crap beat out of her and Luka was enjoying every minute of it. She briefly wondered if what she was doing could be considered child abuse but quickly put it out of her mind and threw another punch.
Miku’s ability to manipulate energy had grown by leaps and bounds in recent weeks. Ever since she had developed the “Atomic Firefly” two and half months before the entire process had become a lot easier for her. She was moving on to slightly more advanced methods of energy control in addition to her usual lessons in physical combat and now Luka was showing her how to merge the two.
But it was theory as well as practice. Luka had asked her if there was any type of weapon she wanted to learn how to use. It wasn’t unheard of. There were plenty of Vocaloids throughout history who had used many different weapons to augment their fighting ability. It was less common in modern times due to the increasing effectiveness of firearms, but it was still a viable option. Luka even told her that her master had used a sword.
As far as weapons went, though, Miku turned her down. For her, half the fun of fighting was the fact that she was using her own body to do it. Using a weapon only cheapened the experience. If she was going to beat someone up, then it was going to be with her bare hands.
And her bare hands were getting better every day. Luka actually paid attention when they fought now, as opposed to checking her watch (Luka doesn’t wear a watch, so it was more of her just looking at her wrist a lot to annoy Miku) and looking bored. Miku had mastered the basics of hand to hand combat at an astonishing rate. Luka was amazed at her level of natural talent. The amount of material that she had absorbed was something that could normally take up to two years, but Miku had managed it in just under five months.
It was now late August and the summer was slowly beginning to fade into autumn. The days still carried the oppressive summertime heat but the nights brought a pleasant cool. Not that the temperature mattered much. Luka had Miku training at all hours of the day and night. Their schedule was constantly changing and Miku had lost any semblance of a normal sleep cycle. Luka said it was important to “experience a variety of situations” whatever that meant.
Training at night certainly had its differences. There was the fact that it was dark, for one. Oh yeah, that was much different. Miku had thought that following Luka’s movements was hard enough in the daytime, but when she could barely see it became another matter entirely.
But Luka had no trouble doling out her usual punishment, daylight or no. With her strict regimen of physical endurance training and energy manipulation exercises, she was running Miku ragged and it was starting to show.
She could see the dark circles under her eyes, the way she gingerly got out of bed each morning, her muscles tender and sore, and the way she was talking less. Luka had to admit, she was ok with that last one.
One thing that had not changed, however, was her determination. Despite the drastically increasing difficultly of her training, Miku was as dedicated as ever. Indeed, Luka thought she could even sense a kind of excitement in her these days. It was as if even though she was tired, sore, and mentally exhausted, she couldn’t be happier.
She was right.
Miku had never felt more alive than she had during the last two and a half months. It was like there was some invisible force inside of her pushing her to run faster, jump higher, and surpass her own limits. She didn’t really know why, but she felt like she needed to be… better. Well, that wasn’t right. She always felt like she wanted to be better, but this was different.
There had been a sort of… feeling she’d had for the past while. A sense of dread. A premonition that something terrible was about to happen. As she felt this she also knew that in order to meet the challenges that it presented, she had to be more than she was currently. Something about the present state of affairs of the government put her on edge.
Her dreams had been odd lately as well. There was one that kept recurring night after night. She would be standing on the edge of a very tall cliff. The bottom was shrouded in mist, but she was sure that whatever was down there was not something nice.
She backed away from the edge. Better safe than sorry, right? But then she heard a voice behind her. It sounded familiar but she couldn’t put her finger on where she’d heard it before.
“You’ve got to be stronger or the fall will kill you, you know” said the familiar voice.
Then she felt a shove from behind and she would be forced off the edge of the cliff and fall towards the swirling mist. Just before she reached it, she would wake up in a cold sweat, breathing hard and not knowing why she kept having this strange vision.
But whatever was going on inside her head didn’t bother her too much. She had to be stronger? She’d get right on it. If there was one thing that Miku had plenty of, it was strength, but a little more was always welcome.
And so she poured herself into her training like never before. She actually started to listen to what Luka said past the basic explanations. It actually helped! Who would have thought? Maybe that crazy lady knew what she was talking about after all.
It sure was exhausting, though. She didn’t think she’d ever been more rundown than she was now. Her joints ached like she was an old woman and until she did her stretches before training it hurt to move at all.
There was also a definite lack of energy that she had begun to notice. It was becoming harder and harder to muster the effort necessary to throw herself at her training like she was. Fortunately, (and much to Luka’s dismay) she had found a way to counteract this particular side effect: food.
If Luka thought Miku ate a lot before, then she was sadly, tragically, woefully mistaken. No, Miku had not yet begun to eat. The sheer volume of food she consumed was the stuff of legends. The saying “Eaten out of house and home” was dangerously close to becoming a reality.
But aside from all of the negative side effects she was experiencing, there were also plenty of positive rewards that were beginning to become apparent. One does not simply train for hours on end every day and fail to see improvement.
Besides her ability to manipulate energy, her physical prowess had improved as well. She could run faster. She could jump higher. And she was surpassing her own limits on a daily basis. Luka was now hard-pressed to dodge Miku’s attacks as easily as she had during her initial testing. It was becoming more of a battle between equals than one between a novice and a vastly superior opponent.
Of course, Luka was still on an entirely different level than her. While she couldn’t feasibly dodge all of Miku’s attacks in hand to hand fighting, she was still faster than Miku thought possible. Her movements blurred and her punches seemingly came out of thin air. Her strength was something of positively herculean proportions. Miku was strong, yes, but comparing her to Luka was like comparing a housecat to a tiger. If life was a video game, Luka had the cheat codes.
And yet Miku could tell that somehow, unbelievably, Luka was still pulling her punches. Despite all of her teacher’s already ridiculous abilities, she was holding back. The concept unnerved her on some level, but only made her that much more determined to succeed.
It was prowess bordering on unfair, and the challenge to one day show her up was a prospect that had Miku positively giddy.
She translated this desire to match her teacher into an even higher drive for training. She strove harder than ever and was constantly reaping the benefits. However, there was still one thing that eluded her. None of her intense training had provided her with an answer to the question that had been on her mind since Luka had asked it of her.
Miku still didn’t know her purpose. She could rip trees up by their roots, reduce boulders to gravel with her bare hands, and giant stone wheels? Pfft. Giant stone wheels ain’t got nothin’ on her. But none of these things could give her a solution to the one thing that she wanted to figure out the most.
It bothered her. She was not well-acquainted with inability. Miku operated on a pretty cut-and-dry system. If there was something she wanted to do but couldn’t, she would train until she could. Simple as that. Giving up was not in her nature. But this was a unique challenge. She couldn’t just get better at finding her purpose. It wasn’t something one could train for. Luka told her not to worry about it and that her purpose would present itself in time. Miku wanted to know it now.
The waiting was torture. She felt like she should be more proactive about it but there was really nothing she could do to speed up the process. She would simply have to wait until the problem solved itself.
At least she had plenty of other things to concentrate on. Like that fist rapidly approaching her face. Oh yeah… should probably do something about that.
She quickly tried to remember the solid, forceful sets of eighth notes that comprised the impact dissipation technique but only got about halfway through before Luka’s attack connected and sent her sprawling.
She recovered quickly, however and rolled out of the way as Luka pounced like a tiger, her fist slamming the ground where Miku’s head had been. She threw a few pulses of energy as she sprang back to her feet. Luka deflected all of them with ease and once again pressed her assault.
The blows rained down fast, hard, and relentlessly. Luka didn’t let up for an instant and it was all Miku could do to avoid being pulverized. She didn’t see how anyone could manage to keep enough concentration to fight and maintain the necessary control over their vocal energy at the same time. It was taking all she had just to be able to track Luka’s punches and kicks.
She tried desperately to piece the notes together but the most she could manage in her current situation was a chorus of various disjointed sounds. The technique began to form and then proceeded to fall apart completely. Miku took the full power of each blow and she went down fast.
Boy was that going to leave a bruise. Sore was quickly becoming her normal state of being. From her position on the ground (which, she noted, had a very inconveniently placed rock that was digging into her back), she heard a sigh from above her. She opened her eyes to see a very disappointed-looking Luka looming over her with her arms crossed.
“Well? What do you call that sorry display?” she inquired as Miku propped herself up on one arm and rubbed her aching head with the other.
“I call it me screwing up yet again…” Miku replied, casting her eyes downward. Yeah, inability was definitely not something she was used to.
“Damn straight!” said Luka forcefully, “Is screwing up all you know how to do?”
“Hey, it wasn’t that bad. I just messed up is all.” Said Miku defensively, “Let’s just try it again, ok?”
“Try it again?” Luka said with disdain, “What’s the use of trying again when you aren’t trying in the first place? I’m beginning to question how badly you want this, honestly. It seems like you’re just putting in minimum effort lately.”
Luka put on a look of mock-realization.
Hey, I think I figured it out! It’s not that you can’t do it, it’s that you won’t!” Luka advanced on her, getting right into her face. “Forget trying again, what’s the point? We’re only in this situation because You. Aren’t. Willing. To. Try.” She punctuated each of her words with a poke to the chest.
Miku was taken aback. She was used to Luka being forceful but not mean. Her words were always encouraging even if they did come amidst a savage beating. Well whatever. Miku was no shrinking violet. If Luka was going to be a jerk about it then she’d send it right back at her.
“Not willing to try!?!?” she shot back, regaining her bearings, “Not willing to try!?!?!?! What the hell do you think I’ve been doing for the last two months!?!?”
“Oh, nothing much” Luka replied, “I just assumed you were being your usual lazy self!”
“Lazy?” Miku was indignant, “Who’s the one busting her ass out here in the heat while you sit on yours watching TV in your air-conditioned house?”
Luka scoffed at that. “Don’t make me laugh. If you were busting your ass like you say then you wouldn’t have a problem with such a simple technique!”
Simple? That was ridiculous and Miku knew it. If this was simple then she supposed nuclear physics and calculus were also simple. It was an advanced defensive technique and it was appropriately challenging to master. But there was no way she’d concede that to Luka.
“I’m not having trouble with it! You’re just badgering me so much that I can’t concentrate! This is as easy as it gets! I could do this technique in my sleep!” Miku’s cheeks flushed as the fire of her anger burned hotter.
“Oh yeah? Then prove it!” Without warning Luka threw another punch straight at Miku’s diaphragm.
No. Hell no. Forget this. Enough was enough and Miku had certainly had enough of this crap.
Right. Concentrate. Eighth notes. Three-fourths time. Steady tempo. Let the melody dictate your strength. The notes are solid and so are you.
All at once the correct sequence fell into place and Miku felt the energy rush to intercept Luka’s blow. The punch connected but this time it didn’t carry the same strength. All of the force was intercepted and cancelled out, leaving the initial blow feeling like no more than a light tap. Not wasting a second, Miku took the opportunity to retaliate with an attack of her own.
Swinging her right arm around she brought it up palm outwards and planted it firmly into Luka’s chest, sending out a blast of energy as it connected. The resulting force propelled Luka backwards and she stumbled a few feet before falling onto her back.
Wait a second, had she just…? No way. That wasn’t possible.
Miku stood there dumbfounded. It couldn’t be true. She had just gotten the better of Luka in a physical exchange. That didn’t happen! That couldn’t happen! And yet there she was on the ground in front of her; knocked over by her counterattack.
The moment was short-lived, however, as the sound of laughter cut through her thoughts.
“Yes! Yes! That’s it exactly! Hahaha!” said Luka, who was still laying on her back, “That’s what I was looking for!”
Suddenly Miku was being hugged. Wait, when did she have time to get up and move to her?
“I knew you had it in you!” said Luka as she squeezed.
Miku was again dumbfounded but now for an entirely different reason. Luka was supposed to be angry at her. She had said not twenty seconds ago how Miku was a lazy ass who didn’t care enough to put forth any effort. Now she was giving her a hug and saying congratulations? Something wasn’t adding up.
“Whoa! I… what?” she sputtered, not sure how to react. She pushed Luka away to arms length and noticed that she had a certain look in her eye. It was that look she got whenever she was messing with her. Miku had the sudden sensation that she had somehow been made the victim of yet another of Luka’s frivolous ploys. She let out an exasperated sigh.
“You were jerking me around, weren’t you?” she asked, already knowing the answer.
“You catch on quick” replied Luka with one of her signature smiles, “I figured hey, whatever works right? You seem to do better when you’re pissed off, anyways.”
Though she was slightly annoyed at the fact that she had been played, the feeling was far outweighed by the fact that she had successfully performed the impact dissipation technique and as an added bonus had actually gotten to see what it felt like to best Luka in a fight, even if she did let Miku hit her on purpose.
“I only get pissed off because you’re such an insufferable jerk” Miku said, but there was no animosity behind it. “I can’t believe you let your guard down enough for me to land a hit. What’s wrong? Getting feeble in your old age?” She said it with a mischievous smile, but the atmosphere suddenly changed.
There was a silence following Miku’s statement. She suddenly felt that she may have stepped over some sort of boundary. Luka’s face was dark and she just stood rooted to her spot, not moving a muscle.
Then she cracked her knuckles and her eyes gleamed in the sunlight. Miku had the strangest feeling that she needed to be somewhere else very quickly. She leapt to the side. Her prediction came true as the space she had just been occupying exploded violently. Ok, time to run now!
“WHO ARE YOU CALLING OLD!?!?!?” Luka bellowed as she charged after Miku, who was running for her life. “You had better hope you’ve mastered that technique! You’re going to need it when I get my hands on you!!!”
“Gah! Crazy old hag!” Miku yelled as she dodged explosions and energy blasts and… holy crap were those lasers!?!?!?
The sounds of violence filled the mid-afternoon air as Miku ran for her life and Luka called upon the wrath of various Gods and swore oaths of destruction. All was right with the world. Well, besides the high probability of a teenage girl being maimed horribly, but that wasn’t too serious. Threats of death aside, Miku was making great progress as she added yet another useful technique to her repertoire. But many miles away a certain green-haired genius girl faced a problem of another sort…
Gumi Megpoid was… well let’s just say she was in a rather “unique” position.
The good news was that she had finished the net launcher. It had taken nearly three months of continuous work, but after a fair amount of painstaking labor she had finally completed the infernal contraption. It was bolted to her wall in all of its glory, its barrel pointed directly at the door to her room so that it might take its target unawares.
And that’s where we come to the bad news. While her parents were out she decided to give the net launcher a few test runs. After several successful launches Gumi had confirmed that the mechanism did indeed perform its intended function. The only problem was that she had forgotten to turn off the remote motion detectors placed around her door. Upon leaving her room and returning she had accidentally tripped the sensors and found herself the rather unfortunate victim of her own device.
Getting hit with a net moving at very high speeds was not exactly a pleasant sensation, to say the least. If Gumi had to describe it, she would say that it was a bit like being hit by a flying chain link fence.
So now here she lay, unable to move, while she tried to figure out a way to escape her own trap. The weighted ends of the net weren’t hard to untangle but that was only if you weren’t currently trapped inside of it and had the use of your hands.
She had been stuck there for an hour now; all of her efforts to free herself had been in vain. It was horrendously uncomfortable down on the floor and she was beginning to fear that she wouldn’t be able to free herself. If that were the case she would have to wait for help and risk alerting her parents to her entire plan.
However… she was quickly running out of options. She couldn’t think of anything else to try… well actually, there was one thing. But she wasn’t going to be happy about the end result.
She let out a sigh, realizing that a little more work was a reasonable price to pay if it meant freeing herself from this thing. Concentrating, she activated her vocal powers and began slicing through the net.
Just like it had been before, the task was a slow one. Her meager energy was more suited to very small precision tasks; not slicing through a quarter inch of steel. The difficulty was compounded by the fact that she couldn’t see what she was doing. Her hands were pinned to her sides by the net and so she had a very limited range of motion with which to work. More than once she lost track of exactly where she was cutting.
She finally heard a section of chain snap. She could move her left arm a little bit now, but still not enough to reach outside the net and untie the tangled ends. She set to work on the next bit…
Two hours later she had one arm free up to the elbow and she could just barely reach a few of the ends holding the net closed.
The task proved to be almost as tedious as cutting through the chain had been. It was like trying to untie a knot in the dark using only one hand. She made a mental note to never EVER let herself be stupid enough to get caught in a net again. It was one of the least appealing things she could think of; on her list she placed it right above setting your hair on fire but just below having to break your own leg.
After a fair amount of fumbling around and getting the ends even more tangled up before finally undoing them, Gumi finally managed to free herself from the net. She was glad to be able to move again but she looked with sadness at the sliced-up net that had taken her so long to put together. She would have to solder the broken ends back together and that would take a fair amount of additional work.
Still, a bit more effort was preferable to being trapped in a net. She could only imagine what would have happened if she had been stuck there until her parents discovered her (now THAT would have been an awkward conversation!).
Almost as if on cue, she heard the faint jingle of a key in a lock and the front door opening. Her father’s greeting came from downstairs and she returned it, letting out a relieved sigh immediately afterwards. That’s a bullet dodged she thought …er, make that a net she amended.
All in all, however, something good had come from this in the end. At least she now knew that her invention worked! It was more than she could have ever hoped for, given the low degree of reference material and physical components she had had at the outset. She knew she was good but… Damn was she good! How many other sixteen-year-olds on earth had the mental faculty to assemble a fully functional net launcher from scratch using nothing but scrap parts that they had collected over the years? Gumi wasn’t sure of the exact number but she was pretty certain that it had to be somewhere between zero and none.
Yeah, she was pretty awesome. But she also recognized that there was such a thing as too much pride in one’s abilities. She didn’t want to wind up bragging about herself all the time like Miku after all…
No really, she didn’t.
Alright, maybe a little bragging was ok, but all things in moderation, right?
She took a moment to ponder the implications of what having finished her project actually meant. If she had the net launcher working and the magnetic locks were in place too then that meant that she was technically ready to put her plan of escape into action should the need arise.
However, it was beginning to get a little boring waiting for the government to announce the removal of Vocaloids. She was starting to suspect that her initial fears had been correct and she had been overthinking the whole thing from the beginning.
But… even now it still didn’t feel like the current situation was going away anytime soon. If nothing was really wrong and this was just a temporary scare, the quarantine should definitely have been lifted by now. Political parties and activist groups all over the country were beginning to protest the current state of things. Vocaloid pro-rights groups were arguing that the quarantines were beginning to border on inhumane while groups like the NAVT insisted that exactly the opposite was true.
The news had become nothing more than a showcase of all the protests, riots, and assorted incidents related to the ongoing Vocaloid crisis. If this was just going to go away it would have already done so. No, something was coming, Gumi could feel it. It was that constant feeling of unease that was always in her stomach, reminding her of the reason she had concocted this crazy scheme in the first place.
She was sure that Vocaloid exile was imminent. She just didn’t know exactly when. Something told her it was going to be soon though, very soon. The government had been suspiciously silent on any policy changes regarding Vocaloid civil rights which led Gumi to believe that they were trying to figure out how to best address the issue of telling the public. If the situation was unstable now, then it was a pretty safe bet to assume that such extreme action as the complete removal of Vocaloids was going to cause chaos on a national level.
And that was to say nothing of what it would do to international relations. The quarantines had the world turning a critical eye upon the government and their actions. Foreign Vocaloids had been barred from entry, obviously; and the entire immigration department was in complete disarray. There was no telling what change this next step would cause in terms of global status quo.
Ugh… this is why Gumi hated politics. It was so messy and unorganized, even though it pretended not to be. Chaos hiding behind the façade of reason and order. With electronics it was a lot simpler. You connect a wire here, tweak a circuit there, make sure you have the right components and if you put everything together right then the end result does what it’s supposed to. With politics you could do everything right all the way up to the end and everything could still go wrong despite that.
She knew that the whole situation made Miku furious. That wasn’t surprising. Miku was that kind of person. But her anger made her prone to bad judgment on occasion. Gumi, on the other hand, while undoubtedly angry at the government’s poor decisions was also not the type of person to let her anger get the better of her. She shared Luka’s sentiments on the matter. There was no way that this had just happened. There had to be some force at work behind the scenes, manipulating the entire thing.
But that sounded ridiculous. What Gumi was thinking about was political and social manipulation on an unprecedented scale. The idea that someone could have the means or the cunning to pull off something so ridiculously complicated was pretty far-fetched.
And that’s where it would have stopped with most people. They would think yeah, I’m probably just giving this too much thought. It can’t be as complicated as all that.
But Gumi is not most people. She is, as we all know, a smart cookie. So as ridiculous as it all sounded, she was still going to stick by what her intuition told her to be true.
She cast another glance at the net launcher.
After all, it wasn’t like she could back out now, right?
Thursday, Aug. 26th
A sad realization had occurred to Teto Kasane. She had undergone many hours of intense contemplation and had covered every possible scenario she could think of. Using incredibly advanced algorithms far beyond the comprehension of an average human, she had discovered an impending doom that no one was safe from. There would be no escape from the utter annihilation that was about to happen. Yes this was, in Teto’s educated opinion, business most serious.
This business happened to be the end of the summer and her advanced algorithms (consisting of looking at the calendar and whining) had told her that this was indeed an inescapable fate. How could the summer be almost over already? It had just started! It couldn’t have been more than what, two weeks? Three tops. Teto was sure of it.
And yet, unless someone was playing a particularly cruel joke, the calendar wasn’t lying. In less than a week both she and Uta would be thrust unmercifully back into the crushing embrace of the educational system, all vestiges of freedom lost amidst the electric buzz of the fluorescent ceiling lights and the constant drone of endless lectures.
Well, be that as it may, Teto wasn’t going down without a fight. School may think that it had her again this year, but it was wrong. Every year since kindergarten she had always had to face the inevitability of her return to standardized learning, but not this year. Oh no, this year would be different for you see, Teto had a plan.
Armed with nothing more than her imagination and what meager monetary funds she possessed she had come up with one surefire way to stave off the depression that would surely follow the beginning of the new school year.
The plan was simple. If she couldn’t have fun during the school year, she would simply have to pack so much fun into her remaining free time that it would last her all the way until next summer.
But how to go about it? Well, she admitted that this question had stumped her at first, but using her superior ingenuity and infallible intellect she had… complained to Uta until she came up with something for the two of them to do. Game. Set. Match. Teto. Take that, school!
For her part, Uta had humored Teto and gone along with the whole thing. Nowhere in town was safe from their merriment. Every game at the arcade, played. Every candy store, visited. Feature film at the movie theater? Done and done. The only place that they had decided not to return to was the swimming pool. After their last experience neither was particularly eager to go back.
At the end of it all they had pretty much covered everything they could think of. They had walked every street in town at least twice and they were certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had exhausted every means of fun available to them.
It was at this point that Teto came to another terrible realization: no matter how much fun she had, she was still going back to school. She’d thought that if she crammed as much enjoyment into her last week of vacation as possible, it would make up for the hours of boredom that were to come. Alas, fun is not cumulative, and monotony is always there just waiting for its chance to strike.
So now, four days before the start of the new term, the pair of friends had done everything they could think of doing and were left with the choice of either repeating the same activities or laying around trying in vain to think of something else. But we all know how Teto is with boredom. It tends to make her… we’ll say lethargic. Couple that with the intense heat wave that had been assaulting them for the past few days and it was enough to make Teto feel downright sedentary.
Uta, of course, was perfectly content with sitting inside and watching TV for a while. She had long ago come to terms with school and its evils and knew that it really wasn’t as bad as Teto made it out to be. Come to think of it, pretty much nothing was as bad as Teto made it out to be.
“Uta~!!!” Teto whined as she lay on one of the Utane’s couches, “We should go outside and do something!”
“Go ahead. I’m not stopping you” Uta replied, not taking her eyes from the screen.
“But I can’t go alone!” Teto continued, “It wouldn’t be any fun that way! And if you aren’t with me, who’s going to save me from rabid dogs and highwaymen and tidal waves?”
Uta just gave her a flat look. “I’m pretty sure that highwaymen haven’t existed for at least a hundred years (obviously Uta hadn’t walked through any forests lately). And what am I supposed to do against a tidal wave? I can’t argue a natural disaster into submission.”
Teto didn’t miss a beat. “You would use your superpowers to stop it. Just use your Sonic Boom technique.”
She brought her hands together in the air above her. “Boom.”
Uta just stared. “Boom?”
“Yep. Boom.” Said Teto.
The pair of friends sighed simultaneously. This conversation was going absolutely nowhere. All it was accomplishing was the perpetuation of Teto’s boredom.
Teto wriggled around on the couch a little. “Augh! This is so boring! We need to do something! I am a woman of action!” It would have sounded like she actually had some conviction if she hadn’t yawned halfway through.
Uta snorted with laughter. “Teto, we’ve been over this. ‘Action’ doesn’t mean the same thing as ‘lazy’.”
Teto shot her a dirty look. “I’m not lazy I’m just… inclined to engage in inactivity.” She smiled in spite of herself. “Ok, maybe I’m a bit lazy. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though. It could just be that I appreciate the virtues of a good nap.”
“More like the virtues of procrastinating on every important task ever which, by the way, aren’t really virtues at all” replied Uta.
“Hey, I can’t help it if homework is about as interesting as a bag of rocks” said Teto, “They’re basically the same thing.”
“What? How is a bag of rocks anything like homework?” asked Uta.
“They can both put you in a coma if applied with enough force.” Teto replied.
Uta just shook her head and smiled. They were the most unlikely pair of friends. She was focused and methodical while Teto was easily distracted and completely chaotic. She still remembered the day they met.
It wasn’t a particularly riveting tale, but Uta remembered it perfectly. On the first day of second grade, she had been standing around at recess, minding her own business as she always did, when a bright spot of red in the distance caught her eye. It was a small girl’s ridiculous hair drills. Her first thought regarding her was similar to that of most people: “what a ridiculous hairstyle.”
But the hairstyle itself wasn’t what caught her attention. No, it was the two other girls that were backing her up into a wall. They were a grade ahead as well as bigger than her and it was clear from the diminutive girl’s reaction that the comments they were making were none too friendly.
Uta debated with herself for only a moment. Should she go and help this girl? It really wasn’t any of her business, after all. Then she kicked herself for even considering that and marched straight over to give those two a piece of her mind.
That had been her first fight at school. As the four of them sat outside the principal’s office, she caught the redhead she had rescued looking at her. Giving the girl her most sincere smile she extended a hand and offered “Hi, my name’s Uta, what’s yours?”
The girl tentatively accepted the handshake and replied in a shaky voice: “Teto. Teto Kasane.”
They became fast friends after that and they had remained as such to this day. She smiled as she remembered their first meeting.
Suddenly, the phone rang.
“I’ll get it. Said Uta, standing up and stretching. As she walked into the other room, Teto continued to wallow in her own boredom.
Uta reappeared with the phone and held it out to Teto. “It’s your mom.” She went and reclaimed her seat.
“Hi mom, what’s up?” asked Teto, wondering if her mother actually needed something or if it was just another one of those “how are you doing, remember to do a, b, and c” calls that she got all the time.
Riko’s voice sounded mostly normal, but Teto thought that she could detect traces of something else as well. Was that… fear?
“Teto, sweetie… could you possibly come home tonight? I need to talk to you about something” said Riko in that strange tone.
“Uh… I guess so…” replied Teto, beginning to suspect that something was up, “Why? Is something the matter? You sound a little weird.”
“I’ll explain later. It’s not really the sort of conversation I’d like to have over the phone” came her mother’s somewhat shaky reply.
“It’s really that important?” Teto began, “Why can’t we just talk…”
“Oh my God! Teto look!” Uta suddenly shouted, pointing at the television screen.
She turned her gaze towards the TV and for the second time that summer was shocked by what she saw. The words “Breaking News, Vocaloid Crisis” were displayed in large letters. It cut to a mustachioed man in a nice suit. He looked to be in his fifties and one could tell by the expression on his face that he wasn’t particularly thrilled by the news that he was about to deliver.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we come to you now with a breaking news story regarding the ongoing Vocaloid crisis” the man said, wrinkling his brow as he watched the teleprompter that was undoubtedly just behind the camera filming him. “It has come to our attention that the situation, after careful investigation, is much more dire than was originally thought. The president made this statement just moments ago.”
The picture cut again, this time to a shot of the President himself standing behind a podium and looking quite grave. He began to speak.
“My fellow citizens, as you all know, the past several months have been a trying time in our history. Never before has our country been threatened by such a strange series of events. Some time ago it was discovered that the individuals known as Vocaloids, normal people like you or me, were the unwitting carriers of a dangerous disease.”
He took a deep breath and continued.
“At the time, not much was known about this disease, and we are still unsure of the extent to which this threat could advance. However, after further research on the subject it has been found that the situation is worse than anyone had previously guessed. Vocaloidism, previously thought to be a naturally occurring genetic condition, is, unfortunately, something much worse.”
The President faltered a moment, as if he could hardly believe what he was saying. “Here with me is Dr. Henry Shrike, the leading medical mind in the country and the man who initially discovered the condition. Dr. if you would…”
A shorter man, whose suit was a bit rumpled and creased, shook the president’s hand and stepped up to the podium. He spoke with a crisp, clear voice and the slightest hint of some foreign accent, occasionally lingering on his vowels.
“Good afternoon. While it is usually the responsibility of the medical community to protect the populace from harm by disease or injury, I regret to inform you that today, that mission goes unfulfilled. Our research has uncovered several shocking truths that are of utmost importance to the public. In our extensive studies, we have determined that Vocaloidism is a genetic mutation. This mutation causes progressive mental deterioration, and this deterioration eventually results in complete brain death in the patient. However, this process may take years to make its full cycle and the symptoms in the interim are where the real problem lies.”
He cleared his throat and spoke again.
“While the end result is the death of the patient, the patients themselves actually pose the most risk. You see, in the course of this deterioration, the patient steadily descends into an ever more violent and unpredictable state. It is akin to a dog afflicted with rabies. This would not be a problem if not for a Vocaloid’s extraordinary abilities. While the condition of Vocaloidism itself, as well as the abilities it grants, is a natural and well-documented condition, our studies have concluded that individuals who display this condition will eventually also develop the symptoms associated with the mental decay, namely the dangerous and vicious behavior.”
The doctor licked his lips, his mouth having gone dry. His voice faltered only slightly as he continued.
“This regrettable condition has been determined to occur in approximately 99% of all Vocaloids, posing a most severe threat. It is… it is recommended that immediate action be taken to contain this threat. If such a situation is allowed to persist unchecked… the consequences could be unfathomable. I… I… augh!”
The man’s face suddenly twitched spasmodically and he took a step back to steady himself, his face displaying a look of severe pain. Several attendants approached quickly. He shook his head as if to clear it and seemed to come back to his senses.
“I am sorry. I don’t know what came over me” he said, his voice sounding a bit strained.
The president quickly stepped back in.
“Thank you doctor” he said, motioning his aides to remove the man who still looked a bit ill. Once Dr. Shrike had been led off the stage, the president directed his voice to the cameras once again.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, what I am about to say may come as a shock and indeed, it is with the highest degree of regret that I say it. However, based on the information available, it has been determined to be a necessary measure.”
He stared straight ahead, his expression indecipherable.
“Starting on the 31st of August, five days from now, Vocaloids will be moved to more secure locations; Facilities where they may be monitored until such a time as a solution to this dilemma is found.”
Teto’s blood froze. Her heart stopped. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. This… this was impossible. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be happening. Vocaloids weren’t dangerous! They were people like everyone else! How could the government just…
And then it hit her. It really hit her. If her mother was a Vocaloid then that meant…
Teto was off the couch and out of the room before Uta could say a word. The front door burst open as if someone had kicked it as she exited the house. Coherent thought was beyond her as she ran down the street towards her home; there was just one purpose, one concept that dominated her mind. She had to get to her mother.
She made it there in record time. Her chest heaved with exertion, having gone at a full sprint the whole way, too worked up to slow down. Blowing past the quarantine signs posted in the yard and on the gate, she only stopped when she finally reached the front door. She flung it wide and entered. Instantly she was in her mother’s embrace and finally her emotions caught up with her. Then they were crying and hugging each other; incapable of speech as the full weight of the situation settled upon them.
Back at Uta’s house, the television had cut back to the news anchor in the studio. He was not making much of an effort to hide his obvious displeasure with the government’s new policy.
“And there you have it” he said, his face grim, “Dark days are upon us folks. But In such times as these we must remember that we are all equal. Certain individuals would have you believe otherwise but know that no one man or woman, Vocaloid or otherwise, is worth more or less than any other. Even though an agenda of discrimination may work its wiles we must come together as one. It is the responsibility of humankind to help humankind. Let no man shun his brother! We must fight for our… bzzztt”
The station cut abruptly to a message about technical difficulties. It wished the audience to recognize that the views expressed in its programming did not necessarily reflect the views of the channel or its affiliates.
Uta simply stared. Without a word she turned on her heel and marched to her room, slamming the door behind her. She didn’t emerge for the remainder of the day.
“Project DIVA has been approved, milady” said a voice from Haku Yowane’s headset. Of course, she had already known. She had known since the president made the announcement earlier. She smiled, relishing the feeling of her plans finally beginning to bear fruit. It had taken time, and there had been many setbacks, but at last she would taste success.
It had taken far too long to get to this point, however. The attack by the mysterious “Shooting Star” had destroyed some very valuable equipment and had put her plans on hold for nearly two months. Haku would not have believed Neru’s account of the incident, had the whole debacle not been caught on camera. However, although she was telling the truth, her inability to prevent the damage was inexcusable. Her punishment had been… severe.
Fortunately Haku was sure that there would not be any more such occurrences in the future. Neru’s loyalty was unquestionable, even if she had suffered a momentary lapse in efficiency.
Her other subordinates had picked up the slack very well. Ritsu amazed her sometimes. His abilities were truly a marvel. With that fool of a doctor working for them, the ability to falsify evidence and research had sped the process along nicely.
Her video monitor lit up, indicating an incoming transmission. Ah, so Kaito actually is capable of a timely report she thought to herself. She had expected him to forget yet again and end up having to contact him herself, as usual. Apparently miracles did happen. She pressed the button to accept the call.
Kaito’s handsome features appeared on the screen. “Ah, Haku, looking lovely as always” he began, flashing a dazzling smile, “And what a fitting appearance for such a momentous occasion.”
Normally Haku would have chastised him for using her name as well as for his usual theatrics, but the events of the day had her in particularly good spirits.
“Thank you Kaito, you’re not looking too bad yourself” she bantered, letting her formality slip a bit, “I trust that preparations are complete on your end?”
He beamed. “Of course, milady. With project DIVA approved the department of technology’s newest designs were quickly given the affirmative as well.”
Haku could not have been happier. “Excellent. I wish you to begin production and testing immediately. We should not dally simply because we are now afforded the luxury of time.”
“I could not agree more” Kaito replied, “We shall proceed at once. If there are no more matters to discuss.”
“Good. You may return to your station. I expect full reports in the next few days” she reached to end the transmission but hesitated for a moment, “Oh, and Kaito… When you next see Neru, do me a favor and embarrass her a little more than usual, would you?” she winked at him.
Kaito grinned devilishly. “It would be my pleasure, milady. Kaito over and out.”
The feed flickered out and the monitor returned to a display of various reports and data Haku had been perusing. She was a tad disappointed in herself for behaving so… childishly when dealing with matters of such importance, but put the thought quickly from her mind. She had to allow herself a few liberties now and again. Acting so formal all the time eventually began to grate on her nerves.
She sighed. Turning around she wondered what was keeping Ritsu. Shouldn’t it be about time for…
A loud hiss issued from the pod behind her. I suppose that answers that she thought. As the glass lifted from the front of the capsule, Ritsu stepped out, looking a little stiff, as usual. He yawned and stretched a bit, working out the kinks.
“Man, that pod is always so uncomfortable. Why didn’t we think to design it with cushions?” he cracked his neck and shoulders.
“AHEM!” said Haku, alerting Ritsu to her presence. He faltered only a moment before speaking.
“Oh, please excuse me, milady” he said, inclining his head slightly, “I didn’t know you were here.”
“Consider yourself excused” said Haku, “I must commend you for yet another convincing performance.”
“Thank you, milady. I do try.” He replied with a smile.
“However” Haku continued, taking a more serious tone, “I couldn’t help but notice a small… disturbance in your mission today.”
“I apologize, milady” he said with sincerity, “My abilities were hindered for a moment. I suspect that one of the beacons may have briefly malfunctioned. The good doctor was nearly cognizant enough to throw me off but thankfully my piece had already been said.”
“Yes, most fortunate” Haku replied, “On your recommendation I will have the beacons examined. We wouldn’t want such an incident to disrupt future plans.”
“I will have it done immediately” said Ritsu. “Now if you will excuse me, I have some ah… business to take care of. I was in that pod for quite a while, you know.”
“Ugh, must you bring up something so indecent? Begone with you” said Haku playfully. Ritsu bowed low and excused himself.
She watched him leave the room, walking a little faster than was necessary.
She turned back to her terminal and pressed a few buttons, bringing up another transmission window, this one outgoing. After several moments, the face of Akita Neru appeared on the screen.
“You called, milady?” she asked.
“Neru, I would like an update on the status of the Vocaloid detainment facilities” said Haku. She was still a tad displeased with Neru for her previous failure, and she kept her tone curt.
Neru’s expression was unreadable, as always. She replied immediately. “Of course. Current status reports indicate that the repurposing of the necessary structures has begun in full. Most of the facilities will not be fully functional for several days, seeing as the refitting has only been started today.” She glanced up to her right, presumably at a monitor positioned there. “As of now 1,250 facilities have been commissioned for use in Vocaloid management. There are currently approximately 1,200,000 Vocaloids registered as citizens, meaning each facility will contain roughly 1,000 patients, with several larger compounds slated for examination and… experimentation.” She said the last word with a little too much glee in her voice. “How ironic. Entire buildings dedicated to examining and documenting a disease that doesn’t even exist.”
“Neru, I have voiced my opinions on this matter before” Haku said, a bit of annoyance in her tone, “I do not share your enthusiasm for these so-called ‘experiments’. While I realize that certain parties could not be persuaded without certain promises of… scientific freedom, I am still opposed to the idea. I ask that you refrain from such topics when in my presence.” Her eyes had a dangerous look in them, indicating that she would not ask again.
Neru quickly composed herself. “My apologies, milady. I forgot myself amidst the excitement. Would there be anything else I can do for you?”
Haku was about to decline the offer when she realized that there actually was one matter of business she had nearly forgotten about.
“Yes, there is. Please contact Ruko for me. I have an assignment that is suited to her unique talents.”
“At once” Neru replied. The feed went dark for a few moments. Then another figure appeared. Haku could not make out any features, save for a single red eye. The rest of the face was obscured by dark hair.
“You require me, milady?” the voice was steady. It had a vaguely cold quality about it, as if its owner didn’t care much for the topic at hand.
“Indeed, Ruko” said Haku, “I have a mission for you. I need you to find someone for me; and I expect that it won’t be easy.”
The one visible eyebrow raised questioningly, intrigued. “Oh? And who might be so difficult to find that you would need me?”
Haku hesitated a moment, knowing that if she went ahead with this, there would be no turning back. No. She had let go of those feelings years ago. She would entertain no further misgivings on the issue.
“Her name is Luka. Luka Megurine. And I have not seen her in many years.”
Saturday, August 28th – 3 days until Project DIVA
Gumi Megpoid was freaking out just a little.
You couldn’t really blame her though. It was only a few days until she was going to be forcibly removed from her home and placed into the custody of the government against her will. Fortunately, she was prepared.
That didn’t make it any less stressful, however. She could be prepared six ways to Sunday and she was still going to be worried. As things stood, she doubted her plans amounted to one way to Sunday, let alone five more.
But despite her understandable nervousness, she also felt her resolve harden. This was it. It was actually happening. Once again her infallible instincts had been proven right. As unlikely as it had seemed her suspicions that the government was working its way up to the removal of Vocaloids were correct. But that left one question: what now?
The answer to that question came in the form of a rather peculiar device that was currently bolted to Gumi’s wall, pointing at her bedroom door. The net launcher gleamed as a stray bit of light bounced off it. It looked rather… intimidating, she had to say. She also knew that it performed its intended function rather well, as her previous experience had shown.
Speaking of her previous experience, she had at least managed to repair the damage to the net. It had taken her almost two days to finish patching it up. She was also dissatisfied with the fact that the breaks were now weak points. She did not have access to the exact material the net was made out of and she had had to make do with less sturdy metals. It wasn’t that big of a problem. Gumi doubted that the materials she used would fail to serve their purpose but it was the principal of the thing.
She had also thought of a few more things she might need in her escape. The announcement had said that people should consult their local news stations for information on the exact times for the extractions in their areas.
It being summer, albeit late summer, the days were longer and it stayed light later. This did not work to Gumi’s advantage. It was easier to hide when it was dark. She had therefore decided to make her escape and find someplace to lie low until she could move under the cover of night. But the dark could be a hindrance to her as much as it was to her pursuers. Or it would be, if she wasn’t a genius.
Fortunately Gumi is a genius and therefore had no problem modifying her trusty goggles with night vision capability. She had several pairs of commercial-grade night vision goggles lying around that she wasn’t using so the process was a simple one (simple being a relative term here. Gumi isa genius after all). The end result amounted to the same goggles she had started with, now with really thick green lenses and a bunch of wiring in the frame. She’d have made them better with more time, but that wasn’t really something she had a lot of right now.
She had also made one tiny concession on her “no injury to others” policy, at Miku’s insistence. But that particular device wasn’t done yet. She doubted she would ever use it anyways. It had just been to appease Miku. Besides, she didn’t think that under any circumstances could she muster the courage to do that to someone. She shuddered as she imagined the intense pain it would cause.
But now that she was running out of things to do except go over the plan again it was becoming hard to distract herself from the worry that was ever-present at the edges of her mind. She’d suffered a miniature breakdown when she’d first heard the announcement even though she had sort of known that it was coming. It’d taken a few hours, several strong cups of tea and no less than three phone calls to Miku to calm her down completely and even then she was still jittery.
She knew the plan by heart now. She’d run through it a million times in her head. Step one, escape her house. Step two, get out of town. Step three, meet up with Miku and Luka at their rendezvous point in Sesame Town. Step four, make their way back to the safety of Luka’s cottage. It was pretty clear cut when laid out like that but Gumi didn’t like the lack of specifics. There was a lot more to step one than just “escape her house”. It also involved a fair amount of “incapacitate military personnel with net launcher”. Step two was missing a bit of “sneak past army blockades on a scooter”. And step three felt a little light on the “travel for days on end to reach a destination you’ve never been to”.
But those were dynamic concerns. You couldn’t really deal with them until they were actually happening. The present concerns of Gumi’s mind were beginning to include “panic about impending capture and incarceration”. It was a good thing Miku was so darn convincing with her hopeful attitude.
Sunday, August 29th, 2 days until Project DIVA
Oh, did I say “hopeful attitude”? What I meant to say was “barely repressed anger”. Two days had passed since the announcement and Miku was just now managing to speak at a normal volume instead of yelling.
She’d held it together while she was talking to Gumi, for her sake (someone had to be the strong one and it sure as heck wasn’t Gumi). But now there was nothing to hold her anger back.
At the same time, there was also no clear enemy to direct her anger towards, so Miku had basically been seething with no way to relieve the stress. Luka had forbidden her from holding glass objects of any sort until she calmed down enough not to crush them. She was angry, irritable, and emotionally repressed, and it did not make for a good combination.
Her training was proving to be the only outlet for her tension. Luka had been right when she said Miku learned better when she was angry. They had moved through five different techniques in two days with Miku effortlessly mastering each one presented to her. Luka was half tempted to let her stay mad until she learned everything she had to teach her but living with an angry Miku for any extended period was quickly proving to be insufferable.
All conversation was simple and one sided; Miku only offering simple yes’s and no’s as answers. She was also causing undue damage to the house. Doors tended to be closed harder than they needed to be and Miku’s dresser had been mysteriously moved several inches to the left in what Luka suspected was an attempt to cover up a fist-sized hole in the wall.
All in all, Luka wasn’t sure how much longer she could put up with it. She had to figure out a way to channel Miku’s rage into something constructive. Fortunately she had a pretty good idea of how to do it.
That morning at breakfast she had said something along the lines of “so… found your purpose yet?” At first she was afraid that she had miscalculated and that Miku was about to go hulk on her. Her eyes narrowed and her hands balled into fists (thankfully she wasn’t holding anything at the time). It looked like she was going to explode or worse, explode twice. Then all the tension left her and she slumped down in her chair. “No…” she replied dejectedly.
Ok… depressed Miku. Slightly better than angry Miku, but still quite a ways from happy Miku. She had to cheer her up somehow. “Oh… that’s ok.” She replied. She resisted the urge to facepalm. Wow Luka, GREAT choice of words there. “I mean… that’s ok. I’m sure you’ll find it soon enough. Don’t you have even the slightest idea of what it might be?”
Miku’s response was not hopeful. “No, and I’m beginning to think I never will. It’s been two months and I don’t have any more of an idea about it than when I started.”
Well, at least it was more than “yes” or “no”. That was a start.
“Miku, I didn’t discover my purpose until I was twenty-one. You’re only sixteen. Plenty of time” said Luka, attempting to be helpful.
“Seventeen, really. August 31st is my birthday” she said nonchalantly.
“Wait… what?” Luka was taken aback. You’d think a birthday would be more important than that! “So… you just failed to mention it before now. Is that it?”
“Yeah, well there were more important things. Worst. Birthday. Ever.” She said, dropping her head onto the table.
Luka was still stuck on the fact that Miku had just neglected to mention that she was turning seventeen. That was only the most important age ever in Lucentia…
Oh yeah… not in Lucentia anymore.
Luka made a mental note to remember Miku’s birthday later when she wasn’t depressed or angry.
“Ok, well, sure, so it might not be the best birthday ever, but I highly doubt it’s going to be the worst” said Luka, trying to salvage the conversation, “I mean, you’re not dead, and that means you win. You can still fight.”
“Yeah, I can fight, but there’s nothing to fight” came Miku’s melancholy reply, “We don’t even know who the bad guys are.”
“We can figure that out later. For now we have to concentrate on getting Gumi here safely” said Luka, attempting to direct Miku’s thoughts towards something she cared about.
Miku perked up a little at the mention of Gumi. Hey, yeah! She had to be strong for her friend, didn’t she? Poor, helpless, defenseless Gumi. How would she possibly manage without Miku’s help?
“Yeah, I suppose…” she said, “But shouldn’t we be doing more? Shouldn’t we go and get her instead of meeting her halfway?”
“Miku, the military is going to be all over the place when this goes down” said Luka, “Your hometown will be crawling with soldiers. If we go in there we risk not only Gumi being captured, but us as well. We are illegal Vocaloids right now, which means we’re prime targets.”
Miku gave her a look. “Seriously? You’re worried about the military catching us? I’m sure we could fight them off easily.”
“I could fight them off Miku, but what if I’m stuck protecting two teenagers at the same time? I don’t think even I could divide my attention enough to do that” said Luka.
“Hey! You wouldn’t have to protect me! I could take on a couple of soldiers no problem!” said Miku, thumping her chest proudly.
“Ok, maybe so, but could Gumi?” Luka’s logic cut like a knife. “What if Gumi got injured, or worse, killed because we drew attention to ourselves? What then?”
Miku didn’t have a response. If Gumi died because of her… she didn’t even want to consider it. She grudgingly agreed with Luka.
“Still, it makes me feel useless not being able to do anything except sit here!” she said, “I want to take action, not stand around hemming and hawing and thinking about what might happen!”
“Who says all we’re doing is thinking? We’re preparing” Luka said.
There was that word again. Prepare. Gumi used it all the time. She was always saying they needed to “be prepared” but what did that mean? To Miku “preparing” felt a lot like “waiting”, and she had already expressed her feelings on that subject.
“Well if this is preparing I don’t want anything to do with it” Miku replied, crossing her arms.
“Fine then, let’s do some more ‘active’ preparation” said Luka, a mischievous grin on her face. Miku knew that look. That was the look that usually immediately preceded something bad happening to her.
Sure enough, half an hour later Miku was dodging lasers and explosions and running for her life as Luka pursued her, laughing like a maniac and shooting off bolt after bolt of vocal energy. Luka had to admit that this was quickly becoming one of her favorite pastimes. And hey, Miku didn’t have time to be depressed or angry when she was trying not to die!
Sure, it was only a temporary solution, but it was better than nothing, right? Besides, in two days, they would be leaving for Sesame Town and Miku would have to concentrate on that.
So, for the moment, Luka just let out another manic giggle and continued to chase her terrified student.
Miku had that same recurring dream that night. She was once again perched precariously on the edge of a tall cliff, the base obscured by swirling mist. She backed away from the long drop, wary of its implications.
“You’ve got to be stronger or the fall will kill you, you know” said a familiar voice from behind her.
She knew that voice. She knew she’d heard it before, but where? She spun around quickly…
There was nobody there.
“Wha-?” she said, confused. How could there be a voice but not a person to make it? Could it be… a ghost?
“I said that you’ve gotta’ be stronger or that fall is going to kill you, numbskull!” came the voice again.
A very rude ghost, it would seem. Pesky spirits. Why couldn’t they just butt out and leave the living world to those of us who were still, you know, alive?
“Down here hair-for-brains” said the voice.
Miku glanced down and she immediately lost any semblance of confusion concerning where she had heard that voice before. It wasn’t a ghost; that was for sure.
“You!” she shouted, pointing a finger at the small figure.
“Yes! Me!” Hachune shouted back, waving her leek around.
“What, but how? How can you be here? You’re only supposed to be in my head! You can’t… wait… oh God… Am I unconscious right now?” she asked.
“Asleep, but that’s really neither here nor there” Hachune said, then she reconsidered, “Actually, it is here I guess, since this is where we are.”
“Ok, what am I doing here then?” she asked, but then also reconsidered, “Actually, the more accurate question would be what are you doing here?”
“I live here, you just visit occasionally” replied Hachune.
“We’re inside my head aren’t we?” Miku asked.
“Sure we are. Whatever makes you feel better” Hachune said with a sly smile.
Ok, it was official. Miku had absolutely no idea what was going on anymore. They were in a dream, apparently (whose dream it was, exactly, was up for debate); one that she recalled having had many times before, at that.
“Oh no, I know where this is going” said Miku, “We’re just going to stand here and talk in circles with you insulting me. I’m out of here.”
“Out of here?” asked Hachune, “You’re more than welcome to jump off the cliff yourself this time. Goodness knows I’ve pushed you off of it enough. But I feel I should mention, though I would have thought it might have penetrated your thick skull by now, that the fall will kill you. You have to…”
“Yeah, yeah. I have to be stronger” said Miku, waving her hand dismissively. “I’ve only had this dream like a bazillion times before. What do you think I’ve been doing, twiddling my thumbs? I’ve been running myself ragged every day trying to get stronger!”
“You’re just not getting the whole ‘metaphor’ thing here are you?” Hachune asked, “I spend weeks slaving away over a hot subconscious and what do I get for my efforts? A whole lotta’ nothing, that’s what.”
“Metaphor? I thought this was a dream” Miku intoned, not following in the slightest.
Hachune sighed. “Kids these days…” she muttered, “They just don’t got the head for all this metaphysical stuff… Look, it’s like this: you’re standing on the edge of a cliff, right? That represents your current situation. A bunch of crazy stuff is about to happen. And that mist and fog down there? That’s all the uncertainty you’re feeling about it.”
“Ok… I guess that makes sense… kind of…” said Miku, her face wearing an expression of confusion, “But what does any of that have to do with me being stronger? I’m already doing that, aren’t I?”
The diminutive doppelganger shook her head. “Why are you so dense? It’s your purpose you dolt! It’s not about getting physically stronger it’s about growing as a person!”
Miku groaned. Why was it that the exact thing she needed to figure out was the one thing she couldn’t? Someone give her a hint!
“Again with the purpose” said Miku exasperatedly, “I have been trying for months to figure that out! What’s the deal? Is it some sort of forbidden knowledge or something?”
“Oh for Pete’s sake!” said Hachune, throwing her leek on the ground in disgust. “Ok, look. This thing we’re doing right now? You know, this dream thing? I’m just going to tell you now that you’re going to keep having it until you figure this out. So either you hurry up and get with the program or…”
Suddenly she stopped. She looked around and then sighed in an overly exaggerated manner.
“Nuts, we’re out of time” she said, “We’ll have to pick this up tomorrow. I have places to be.”
Miku just stared. She was a mental construct; what urgent appointment could she possibly have to keep?
“Where could you possibly…” Miku began, but was interrupted.
“Think fast!” said Hachune. Without warning, she leapt forward and smacked Miku in the knee with her leek.
“Ouch!” yelled Miku, hopping on one foot, “What was that for?”
Hachune didn’t reply. Instead she took a running start and threw herself into Miku’s chest, sending her teetering backwards and over the edge of the cliff. As she fell, Miku crossed her arms and huffed. That little demon was going to be the death of her. In fact, she noted as she looked below her, her metaphorical death was only seconds away. She braced for impact.
Instead her eyes flew open and she found herself safe and sound in her bed. Oh right, imminent death usually signaled the end of the dream. She sat up and looked at her clock. Three AM. She sighed. Getting back to sleep would not be easy.
Oh well, at least she wouldn’t have to deal with any more crazy midgets tonight.
Monday, August 30th
Early afternoon sunlight filtered in through the curtains of Teto Kasane’s bedroom window. Birds could be heard singing outside, their tranquil melodies filling the air with the promise of another glorious end-of-summer day. But for Teto the weather, glorious or otherwise, was of little concern.
She was supposed to be in school right now. It was the first day of the new school year but she had elected to stay home. Uta had wanted to stay too but Teto had insisted that she go ahead without her. Normally Riko wouldn’t have allowed her to just skip like this but given the circumstances…
She sat on her bed, staring at the wall across from her. A long, thin crack ran from the baseboard up to the ceiling and she briefly wondered how it had gotten there. The thought only lasted a moment, however, before flitting out of her head just like all the others. Teto couldn’t keep a train of thought today to save her life. There was simply too much to take in at once. She felt like screaming, crying, hiding, and running away all at once, but she couldn’t decide which one was the correct reaction.
Only one truth managed to stay in place long enough to consider and she’d been pondering it all day. This truth was that in just over 24 hours, her mother would be taken from her; stolen away by a government that didn’t care about what Teto felt or what she wanted. Under new laws, her mother was deemed “risky” and “unstable”; neither of which could be further from the truth. How anyone could think that her sweet, caring mom could be in any way dangerous to anyone was beyond Teto.
This one thought had circulated through her mind countless times since she had woken up. She felt that she should do something to save her, but she couldn’t muster the energy to get up. A feeling of hopelessness had consumed her, and the inevitability of the situation threatened to crush her under its weight.
What could they possibly do anyways? Run away? They wouldn’t get very far with constant military patrols covering the town. And even if they could get away, where would they go? They would be fugitives from the law. If they were ever caught the consequences would be much worse than simply being sent away to some Vocaloid containment facility.
The only thing to do was to make the most of the time they had left, however they could.
Teto got up from her bed and went downstairs to find her mother. If they had to make the most of it, then they would make the most of it. They’d… she didn’t know. But they’d do something.
Riko was sitting on the couch in the living room. The television was off as it had been since the announcement, and the curtains were open. She stared out the window with a calm expression. Tonight was the night, the last night. It all came down to this. Soon, she would be gone, and Teto would be on her own.
For her part, Riko had taken the news of her impending relocation rather well. It was rather nerve-wracking, of course, but she needed to be strong for Teto.
She was strong. She would survive. She had to survive. The consequences of giving up were too horrible to imagine. She heard her daughter enter the room behind her and started to speak when she felt herself encircled by a pair of thin arms. Teto’s cheek pressed against the side of her face, wet with tears.
Suddenly, maintaining a strong outside appearance didn’t seem so important… or possible. Riko got up, turned around and hugged her daughter close. Oh God, how was she going to live without her? This girl was her whole world. She was all that mattered to her.
Teto felt the same way. How would she manage without her mother there to guide her? To care for her and tell it was going to be ok when life hurt a little too much? She was a typical teenager and she often acted as if she was being smothered by Riko’s affections, but the reality was just the opposite. She loved her mother with all her heart, and the pain of losing her was almost greater than she could bear.
They stayed like that for what felt like hours, just holding each other until the tears ran out and there was nothing left to cry. Evening was rapidly approaching by the time they parted and managed to speak.
“I don’t want you to go mom!” said Teto, her eyes red and puffy and her voice shaking just a bit. “What am I gonna do without you?”
Riko hiccupped a little. “Shh…” she said, stroking Teto’s hair a little, “It’ll be alright. You’re a tough girl. I know you can handle it. And don’t forget that Uta will be here to look after you too.”
Of course Uta would be there. Sarah Utane, her mother, had called Riko the instant she heard the announcement and had told her that they would be taking care of Teto. Riko had tried to protest but Sarah would hear nothing about it. Teto would be well cared for, and that was that.
“I know… but Uta’s not you!” said Teto. “I’m going to miss you so much!”
Riko hugged her close again. “I’m going to miss you too, Drill Bit. I’m going to miss you more than you can possibly imagine. But you have to be strong. You have to be strong for me.”
Teto just squeaked in response. Riko continued. “You’re the woman of the house now, you know? You’ll have to take on some new responsibilities.” She tried to sound like she was lecturing her and failed spectacularly, her voice threatening to break in the middle of her sentence.
She held Teto out at arm’s length, taking in her daughter’s appearance. It hadn’t occurred to her lately just how fast Teto was growing up. She was not the same little girl she remembered. She was on her way to becoming a lovely young woman. Riko lamented the fact that she hadn’t noticed sooner.
“You’re such a beautiful girl” she said, fussing with Teto’s hair again, “Pretty soon you’re going to have all the boys after you.”
Riko giggled a bit. Teto tried to make some sort of protest or say that she was being embarrassed but she didn’t have the heart. Instead she just shook her head and smiled.
“I love you, mom” said Teto, not knowing what else to say to express what she was feeling at the moment. Words seemed insufficient.
Riko smiled. “I love you too, Teto. I…”
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. It was more of a pounding, really. Both Teto and her mother froze. They looked at the calendar. Surely they hadn’t mistaken the day? No, there it was, Monday the 30th. The move wasn’t scheduled until tomorrow.
But the next knock at the door made them reconsider.
“Riko Kasane! Under Section 1, Part C of the Vocaloid Relocation act you are hereby ordered to surrender yourself into the custody of the national armed forces for immediate relocation to an appropriate facility until such time as a solution to the current crisis is found. Resistance will not be tolerated. This is your only warning. Do you understand the conditions as stated?”
Riko was speechless. Her mind couldn’t process what was happening here. She hadn’t had any time to prepare for this. She had thought the relocation was tomorrow, why was the military here now?
The voice sounded again. “I repeat: you are to surrender yourself to our custody immediately! If you do not comply, appropriate force will be used! I will not repeat myself a third time!”
“I… wha… I don’t…” sputtered Riko, the color draining from her face. She wasn’t ready for this! This was insane! How could they just suddenly come to take her? It wasn’t…
Then the door crashed open and her world was turned upside down.