Author's Note: And here we are again with another chapter of Midchildan Music. Hopefully it's a good one; if it's not, let me know. (It is not the last chapter, no matter what the title might imply.)
I should mention that if there's something that seems odd, or something you want to ask about why I did what I did, I've been posting more verbose "author's notes" about my stories on my blog lately, which is set as my homepage on my profile. If you want to ask me a question and be assured of getting an answer, asking it over on my blog is more likely to get you one. Ideally I should reply to all of my reviews, and I really do need to thank all of you (ThanosofTitan, GeshronTyler, Alex phoenix Wing, Tsukino Kage Spectre, Queensarrow, Gundum M, alatnet, Baughn, and Keimarios) who have taken the time to review this. So, well, thank you!
At any rate, there's more detailed commentary over on my blog about this chapter, and asking questions there will assuredly draw my attention.
Finally, one more administrative detail: any translation of the Vocaloids music that shows up in these stories will be my own. I expect most of the stuff that shows up here will be too fragmentary to use elsewhere in any great detail, but that doesn't mean you can claim it as your own, all the same. And on that note...
Disclaimer: I don't own Nanoha, nor do I own the Vocaloids characters, nor do I own any of the Vocaloids music.
The sun had set hours before, and yet my keyboard still clicked away incessantly as I hammered at the problem before me. Well, perhaps "problem" is the wrong word. Miku (or rather, the headphones into which I had installed Miku) sat on the analysis unit that was hooked up to my computer, hovering slightly in the field that it projected.
After what had happened at the training field, no one in the battalion had been particularly interested in having me around. Had I known that that company had been conducting training in dealing with high-power threats, or that letting Miku sing would have turned me into one of those, perhaps things would have ended differently. And it was in fact my fault that I hadn't known what would happen. So now was the time to go back over the code and make damn sure there weren't any further surprises locked in there.
It was… not particularly easy or enjoyable. I had already glanced over this, and whoever had written this code had not been interested in making it understandable to anyone else. It's considered good practice to use comments to clarify what everything does, but none of Miku's code had any, not even the sections that could have been copy/pasted from any other device in existence. There was the possibility of that being just an idle mistake… "good practice" doesn't mean "required" after all. But I was starting to wonder if maybe whoever had written this didn't want anyone else to be able to understand it.
Which didn't mean I couldn't make a damn good try at it. The spell database still existed, that I was sure of. Normally, though, that database would be designed to return the spell that the device's AI requested of it, pulling the necessary energy through what the user could provide and casting that spell directly without any intermediate steps. That wasn't how Miku's database was set up, of course. In fact, the database looked like it would only listen to requests regarding the music files that were part of her database. Better yet, it would only respond to two kinds of queries: list of music file names, and a request for spellcasting access with one of those music files.
"Well, I was definitely right earlier. You're not a normal Midchildan device AI," I told her idly.
"You've called me that twice now," she complained right back. "I don't even know what that's supposed to mean."
"Sorry," I apologized contritely. Or as contritely as I could manage given my distractions. "It's just, I've never seen an AI designed this… oddly."
"Am I damaged somehow?" she fretted. I could actually sort of tell she was worried by what I had said… the slight tickle in the back of my mind hadn't budged an inch since it had first manifested itself back on the training field. "Is there something I'm not doing right?"
"No, not at all," I replied idly. "This goes to whoever designed you; it's not something you have power over." After a long moment, I continued, "You are aware that you're essentially the operating system for a device designed to assist spellcasting, right?"
"Is that what a Vocaloid is?" she asked me again, curiously.
Again with that word - "Vocaloid". Not one I had ever heard before. Was it just part of her personality files, or was that an actual designation? I couldn't open up the personality files without completely shutting Miku down, and I certainly wasn't about to do that without a damn good reason…
"No, not precisely. Actually I've never heard of these Vocaloids before… could you tell me what that means?"
"You haven't?" she asked me, with the slightest hint of a crestfallen note in her voice. "I thought… Never mind. Well… the Vocaloids are a series of AIs designed to produce music, either singly or in concert, with files designed to be read by our synthesis programs. As far as the Vocaloids are concerned, I am Version Two, code zero-one, ID Miku Hatsune."
"That's the only purpose? Music?" I asked sharply, filing away the rest of that for later consideration, like what happened to Version One. Right now, there was a much more serious question: had I made a mistake when I integrated this particular AI into an Intelligent Device? But there had been the incident at the training ground earlier… Did she not know her own strengths?
"Well, yes," Miku replied, interrupting my thoughts a little hesitantly. "My primary function is to take the data files that my master provides and turn them into music."
"Hold on a moment," I interrupted. Well, I don't know if she had more to say, but judging by the sense of slight irritation I was getting, I assumed she did. That wasn't the explanation I needed, though. First, the simple. "How do I provide you with a data file? Can I just copy music from my computer?"
"No, I have an edit system," Miku explained. "It doesn't seem to be able to access any of the files I have currently, but I suppose you could try to create a new one."
"Yeah, no," I told her directly. "I don't know the first thing about music. But that can't be all you can do… you do remember the training field, right? That wasn't music."
"I know…" she sighed heavily. "I don't know what that was, either! I just… It was kind of instinct, I guess… I don't have any explanation for it!"
I could tell she was starting to… well, "panic" was the wrong word. It seemed like she wanted to answer me; that was clear enough. It was also clear that she couldn't.
"You don't need to worry about it," I stopped her before she got too much more out of sorts. "I do need to note that whatever the data you have access to indicates… you are a device AI as well, capable of assisting with spellcasting in traditional Midchildan style."
"But what does that even mean?" she protested angrily.
… Wow. Whoever programmed her personality files left a lot out.
"Okay, well…" I thought back to my academy days. "Most devices and their AIs, including you, are loaded with 'programs' that the device can execute, calling on the user's energy to produce a wide variety of effects. We usually simply refer to it as magic."
"And you're telling me I have these 'programs'?" Miku asked. "But… the only data files I have are the music files…"
"That's why you're not typical," I reminded her. "Normally a device AI will have direct access to its spell database. Your database, however, only permits access through those music files. Your ability as a device to control and direct energy is tied to your ability as a - Vocaloid, you called yourself? - to sing."
"Oh." Miku was silent for a long moment.
Needing no encouragement, I filled the space with further explanation. "Furthermore, somehow, that singing permits you to act as an amplifier as well. That's the part I'm trying to understand now, by looking at the code governing your spell database. Somehow, you took an amount of energy that wouldn't have blocked a punch and turned it into a barrier strong enough to turn aside an entire company's worth of full-power energy attacks. I'm trying to figure out how that happened."
"Well, I didn't even know that I could do anything like magic, so I don't see…"
I gave her a moment after she suddenly cut herself off, just long enough to realize that she was not going to continue. "Don't see what? How you could explain it, I assume?"
"Uhn…" A most unmusical groan came out of the speakers.
That got my attention. "Is something the matter, Miku?"
"Just… I found… something." Before I could ask for details, she provided them. "Ritual… system…"
"Ritual system… RS? But what about the M…?" I muttered to myself.
"Ritual amplification program." she continued slowly, almost as if she was in pain. "Energy, directed in a specific pattern governed by a focus element… and given time… can be increased by orders of…" There was a long pause. In an only slightly more normal voice, she finally continued, "Nope, that's all I can remember."
I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped. What in the world was she talking about? "Um… Miku?"
"Sorry, I don't… know what that was, really," she told me, sounding distinctly shaken. "I guess, something explaining all this was on my system at some point, and that was left over after the file itself was deleted."
"… I want to see the rest of that file," I sighed heavily. "I guess it's been overwritten by now."
I mean, at this point I didn't think I had any remaining "shocked" capacity left. And yet I was still surprised. I could feel the waves of frustration practically rolling off of her.
"All I wanted to do," she sighed helplessly, "was to be able to sing for someone…"
"Pardon my ignorance…" I started slowly. "Why can't you take your edit system and create something to sing yourself?"
"I wouldn't know what to do with it either!" she almost wailed. "I know how to sing, but I need someone to tell me what to sing!" More softly, she continued, "I need you to tell me what to sing…"
That froze me in my tracks. "Why-" I started to say. I had been planning to ask her why it was that I had to do that. The sound of someone hammering on my apartment's front door interrupted that.
Instantly, I fell silent, as a female voice yelled out "Bureau enforcer! Open the door!"
Miku didn't understand, not like I did. "Um, what was that?" she asked idly.
"At any other time," I hissed back, "someone looking to talk to me about some kind of investigation."
"What do you mean 'at any other time'?" she asked, too loudly for my taste.
"Open the door immediately!" the voice yelled again.
"I'm willing to bet that this is about you, Miku!" I bluntly informed her, snatching the headphones off the analysis unit and settling them on my head.
"I will force the door-"
"All right, all right, I'll get the door!" I yelled back, cutting the enforcer off.
Miku sounded worried as she asked, "Wait, what's going to happen to me, then?"
"If I have any say in the matter, nothing," I told her. "But we'll see."
With that, I finally got to the door and opened it, to reveal a sight I had never in my wildest dreams imagined I'd be seeing. It wasn't just any Bureau enforcer standing outside. No, I was looking at Fate Testarossa Harlaown, one of the heroes of the JS Incident, S+ class mage and an absolutely relentless enforcer. Oh, and it looked like she had been about to make good on the promise to break down the door… considering that her Intelligent Device, Bardiche, was in her hands and pointed at where the door had been. That is to say, pointed directly at me. Throw in the barrier jacket that she had equipped, and I was starting to feel a distinct lack of confidence in my ability to deal with this problem.
"Um… Is there something I can do for you?" I asked as politely as I could manage with a weapon pointed at me. Mentally, I tried to get something across to Miku. I think you might want to just start singing now…
There was a long pause, Fate staring at me and me staring right back, while I prayed that Miku had "heard" me. Finally, into the silence, her own voice echoed faintly in my head. Do I need to set up first?
You'll need to set up before I can effectively use the spell, I shot right back, but this'll turn into a fight the instant you do that. So if you can, just start singing for now.
"You're the Sergeant serving as one of the primary mechanics for the 42nd Battalion, correct?" Fate asked me curtly.
"Yes…" I replied just as shortly.
"And your commanding officer has been sending a number of interesting inquiries to headquarters regarding something that you found just recently." It was a statement, not a question.
Well, damn. Should have realized that any public searching for information was bound to draw attention. Still, attention from Fate?
It's asking for authorization again, Miku grumbled.
You have it. "Is there something I should be saying here, or have you already decided what's going to happen?" I shot back almost angrily. Perhaps this wasn't the best time for my dislike of authority to be showing up, but I never said it was controllable.
"You will surrender the data chip that you found to me," Fate replied implacably. "You will then come with me."
"No and no," I shot back instantly, as the soft strains of the same song from the training field began to echo in the air around me. "I can't give you the data chip without destroying my new device, and that is not going to happen. As for the latter," I continued furiously, "I'm reasonably certain that picking something up off the ground isn't something for which I can be arrested!"
Fate's expression tightened. To herself, she whispered, "I knew the new device couldn't have been a coincidence." More openly, she continued, "In that case, I will be forced to take you and your new device into custody. You are in possession of a potentially dangerous magical artifact, and this is for your own safety. Do not attempt to resist. Otherwise…"
As she finished her statement, she held out Bardiche, which shifted into a new form. A yellow scythe blade of energy materialized from its head.
"I'm still not convinced that you have the right to be doing this," I complained to her. "When will I be informed of the charges against me, then?"
Fate was silent, with an expression of clear distaste. That was when I realized.
"There aren't any, are there," I stated with rising anger.
"For your own safety, I need you to come with me," Fate demanded again, with only the tiniest crack in her confidence. As if she was trying to convince herself, rather than me…
Proudly, I shot back, "You can either explain that, or arrest me here and now for whatever crimes I may have committed. Until then, I'm not-"
A rush of air. The metallic clatter of a weapon being put to use. The tip of that yellow energy blade, a quarter inch from my throat. An empty space in front of me where she had been standing a second before. And I had never even seen her move.
Yeah. This was going to go real well.
Had I been thinking clearly, perhaps I would have acknowledged that and gone quietly. But I was angry. Here I was, about to be arrested by an ace Bureau enforcer for… picking up a data chip off the ground? It made no sense!
To this day I don't know whether Miku simply picked up on what I was feeling, or whether she made the decision herself. All I know is that in the next instant, both of us heard her voice.
"Start sequence complete!"
I don't actually know what happened in that first, confused second. Had Fate not realized that the headphones were my Intelligent Device, and thus thought that I was completely unarmed? Had Miku's decision to act essentially on her own in setting up taken her by surprise? Or perhaps some measure of mercy had caused her to hesitate before she actually took the strike?
Whatever the reason, Fate's blow came an instant too late, landing not on me but on the barrier that formed around me as my barrier jacket and device deployed. To me, it looked as if I was surrounded by a field of teal-colored light, just as on the training field. To her, well… at the range in question, the expanding barrier probably hit her pretty hard. We'd see how that turned out. Even if it seemed otherwise from the "inside", the setup process only took a second or two, so Fate hadn't had time to hit anything solid yet.
As the device itself deployed, I mentally reminded Miku, We're going to need a barrier jacket this time.
But… she protested.
Use whatever materials you like, I told her sternly, and adapt whatever designs you have to match my uniform as closely as you can manage.
I can only do so much! she protested helplessly.
As she finished speaking, a wave of energy washed over my clothing. In an instant, my typical uniform was replaced with a grayish-silvery shirt and long black pants. A blue necktie settled into place, and long black sleeves materialized over my lower arms. I had a moment to realize that the visor on the headphones was no longer present, glancing down to the sleeves and the screen that was somehow built into the right-hand one.
In the next instant, I felt the defensive field fading, and dove forward. The light shattered around me as I flew out the open door of the apartment. A crash sounded behind me as I landed in a crouch outside the door, and I glanced back to where Fate was picking herself up out of a pile of wreckage where my computer had been sitting. I took a moment to curse my horrible luck… and then froze in surprise as Miku's song echoed outward.
Before I had set up, it was little more than a light background element, barely audible. Now, though, it could probably be heard through most of the apartment building. And I paused for a moment as I realized that something was different.
Oh, she was singing the same thing as before. At least as far as I could tell, because the words themselves were no more understandable the second time around. But there was still that connection to Miku that hadn't quite been there before. It wasn't the usual translation method that I was familiar with… it was more like I could hear what Miku was thinking as she sang.
I am not yet complete
Until I have sung all of your songs…
The moment passed as Fate stood up. I instantly refocused on the immediate threat, but she didn't seem to be attacking immediately, just staring at me in surprise. "What have you done with that device?" she asked me incredulously.
"Don't look at me," I shot back, as the music began fading out. "She was like this when I found her. And I have to say, it works out just fine for me…"
"Warning," Bardiche cut in. "Over-S magical power levels detected. Threat index unknown."
"How…? You're C rank!" Fate gasped.
"Back off, ma'am," I stated coldly, taking a step forward as a teal-colored circle flared into brightly glowing life at my feet. "Go back and tell whoever had this 'dangerous magical artifact' that they've forfeited any right to work together with Miku."
Fate merely stared, and there was a brief, shining moment where I thought she might actually back down. Then her expression hardened, and her composure reasserted itself. "I'm sorry."
I tried to say something, force her back into a conversation. But I didn't make it in time.
Bardiche came down. "Plasma Smasher!" Fate yelled to the heavens, and a veritable tidal wave of yellow energy erupted from the air in front of her, filling my entire front corridor.
I had the time to curse before bringing my hand up frantically. "Protection MRS!" I screamed desperately, bracing myself for the impact.
I'm pretty sure that the entire building shook when her attack hit my shield. I had to shield my eyes from the flare of light that the clashing energies produced, in fact. It felt like I was locked in place, my hand reinforcing the steadily weakening shield as a seemingly never-ending tide of magical force washed over it.
Finally, the inevitable occurred. I practically felt the first crack that flashed through the barrier, almost straight down the middle. Scraps of the beam attack leaked through the barrier and lashed across my chest, thankfully blunted by my clearly functional barrier jacket. As Fate's attack began to fade, I desperately drudged up the necessary focus to put together a reply.
See, you don't precisely need a device to cast magic, it just makes it easier. Since Miku couldn't really do anything to assist with my attack, I'd have to handle that myself. I returned fire with a trio of energy bolts, bursting out of my own weakened barricade and lashing out at Fate.
Her Plasma Smasher had already begun to fade. I had a brief moment to exult in the fact that I was still standing after an S+ ranked mage's attack… and then my attack reached Fate, just as she lowered Bardiche.
She didn't even move. Didn't raise a shield, didn't even try to dodge. The three bolts arrowed in and slammed into Fate's barrier jacket. And that was it. Fate just stood there, not fazed in the slightest.
I could only stare. If she wasn't going to back down, I'd have to make her back down. And she could have found no better way to prove how likely that was.
"Um… Start singing again?" I asked Miku a little sheepishly.
Fear and uncertainty were radiating off of her. "I'd never finish in time, would I," she stated as much as asked.
"No, not really," I admitted.
Almost before I had finished speaking, a ring of energy bolts flashed into existence around Fate, firing almost as soon as they appeared. I had another moment to contemplate the impossibility of fighting a mage so far beyond my own level before fire cascaded through me, causing the world to go black.
Fate sighed heavily as her fellow Bureau employee collapsed to the ground, barrier jacket and device disengaging as they lost their source of energy.
How did that happen? she asked herself again. A C-rank mage, and he blocked a shot from my Plasma Smasher…? Perhaps this "research project" really is as dangerous as Doctor Haynes was suggesting…
She shook her head to clear it slightly as she stepped over to the unconscious Bureau sergeant, disarming her own weapon as she did so. "Bardiche, prepare to record a message for transmission to Doctor Haynes."
After a moment, her device replied, "Ready."
"Doctor, I have tracked down the Bureau mechanic who came into possession of your research project, and defeated him. You were correct in that he would not surrender it willingly, but I have doubts as to whether he was truly under compulsion, as you believed would be the case. However, as ordered, I will be bringing him and his device to your facilities, once I receive confirmation from you that you are ready for his arrival. End message."
"Message recorded. Send?"
"No, hold on one moment," Fate replied. She paused for a long moment, staring off into the night sky, before she finally spoke again. "Prepare to record a message for transmission to Admiral Harlaown."
"Are you sure?" Bardiche queried dispassionately.
"I'm not convinced that he actually knows what's happening here, and I don't think he would have given that Doctor Haynes so much authority if he did," Fate replied uncertainly. "Just do it."
"Yes sir," her device responded. "Ready."
"Admiral, I believe my mission under Doctor Haynes is nearing its conclusion, and I must admit to some doubts about the orders he has issued to me," Fate began. "If he truly has your full confidence, then I will complete my mission without complaint, but I believe he has overstepped his bounds in dealing with this situation. And I believe that he may be abusing the broad authority of an Enforcer to illegally circumvent the procedures that would otherwise have to be satisfied before normal authorities could take action. Please advise. End message."
"Message recorded." Bardiche paused for a moment, and then continued, "Given the time of night, it is likely that neither Doctor Haynes nor Admiral Harlaown will immediately receive your message."
"Send the message to Doctor Haynes," Fate instructed. Pausing for a brief moment, she continued, "Flag the message to Admiral Harlaown as high priority, then send it as well."
"Both messages have been sent," Bardiche informed her.
All right, Fate sighed heavily. Hopefully Chrono gets my message before-
"Incoming call from Doctor Haynes," Bardiche reported.
"What?" Fate burst out in surprise. "Was he just sitting there waiting for word or something?" With a heavy sigh, she continued, "Accept the call, Bardiche."
There was a moment of silence, and then the doctor's voice filled the air. "Fate, I just got your message. Excellent work. You can bring him in right now, actually; you do know where the lab is, correct?"
Fate paused for a long moment. "Yes, I have that information. But, I need to at least wait until the police arrive to make my report-"
"Enforcer…" Doctor Haynes cut her off. "Again, you have your orders. Orders that, I might add, stem in the end from Admiral Harlaown's direct authority. I have been keeping him informed of the situation, and neither he nor I will appreciate it if you delay this matter."
Fate's eyes narrowed sharply, and she glared at Bardiche as if her stare could be seen through the audio-only call. He's been keeping Chrono informed? she thought suspiciously, replying at the same time with, "I understand."
"Good! I'll expect you within the hour then." Without so much as a farewell, the call cut off, leaving Fate standing there in the wreckage of the apartment's entryway.
I don't have enough, Fate admitted to herself angrily. I don't like him, and I'm not confident that Chrono actually knows what he's doing… but I have no proof that he's doing anything wrong.
"Nothing from Admiral Harlaown?" she asked Bardiche almost hopefully.
"Nothing," her device reported.
With yet another heavy sigh, Fate walked over to the unconscious Sergeant. All I can do is carry out my orders and hope that Chrono gets back to me soon with new ones.