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"HHI mini: Employee Relations"
   LAST EDITED ON Jul-29-20 AT 00:53 AM (EDT)
Tuesday, May 29, 2390
Negi Tower
Hatsune Heavy Industries Galactic Headquarters
Sapporo, Japan, Earth

As a connected interstellar operation, Hatsune Heavy Industries could never really be called "closed", as such. Somewhere in the galaxy, at pretty much any time of the day or night back in Sapporo, some branch of its sprawling enterprise was in action, and so there was always someone at the home office. Even so, it was only natural that some shifts were busier than others, and the third shift—which ran from midnight to 9 AM, local time—tended to be the least busy of all, when there wasn't a tour on.

At 1:30 on this Tuesday morning, for instance, the entire building contained fewer than a dozen people, not all of whom were awake. Up on the 17th floor, only one light was on, only one office occupied: the Network Operations Center for the Piapro Network, wherein converged all the various interconnected assets of the company's vast digital web. Despite the fact that this system was larger than the entire internets of some planets, its sophistication was such that it required only one operator on the overnight shift.

As with most places that operated a 24-hour NOC, the honor of maintaining that third-shift vigil tended to fall to the least senior personnel. On this occasion, said personnel happened to be a young man from North America, less than a year out of college, who was discharging his onerous task with the slightly bored good humor of someone who knows he is paying his dues.

Although his first anniversary as a Hatsune Heavy Industries employee was still a few weeks off, Philip Moyer was observing a private anniversary of sorts on this shift. Exactly a year before, he'd set foot inside Negi Tower for the first time, having been summoned thence for the second of the two interviews he'd had to pass through to get the job he now held.

As a longtime fan of the company's work and its very public principals (and principles, come to that), Philip had applied to HHI more or less on a whim in the course of his final semester's job search. He'd never imagined for a second that they would actually show an interest in a random applicant from the other side of the world. The call for a telepresence first interview had taken him by surprise, the offer of a second one in person even more so...

... But both of those surprises had paled in comparison to the one he got when he showed up for that second interview and found himself being introduced to the company's chairwoman. After all, he was only being considered for an entry-level performance tech position, the job still known within HHI by the time-honored rock title "roadie". If he had thought about it at all, he would have assumed that the likes of Miku Hatsune her very own self, the person whose name was literally on the building, had more pressing things to do than watch someone from her HR department ask a soon-to-graduate compsci major with a minor in theater design about his nonexistent experience of setting up and operating virtual stage show equipment.

And in all honesty, looking back, he had to admit she hadn't really participated much. She'd just introduced herself (as though that were necessary) at the beginning and thanked him for coming at the end—but she was there, perched on a chair in the corner of the conference room, for the whole thing. She hadn't seemed like it was keeping her from more important business. If anything, she'd seemed to be having a slow day. She'd spent a lot of time gazing wistfully out the window at the fine spring day in progress outside, for which he couldn't particularly blame her.

It was her profile in that moment Philip was idly, half-consciously drawing now, his pencil moving across the sketchpad in his lap as if on autopilot while he kept one eye on the network status screen and one ear out for the facilities monitoring alarm. Miku as she'd appeared from where he sat that day: sitting crosswise in a swivel chair with her feet up on the arm, knees drawn to her chest, looking out over them with an expression that was not exactly melancholy, but certainly lower-key than the public persona she displayed on most of the company's promotional materials.

Without really thinking about it, he started embellishing the image, adding details that hadn't been in the original. He was just detailing the flight feathers on the nearer of the angel wings he'd given her when a voice said from behind him, "Oh wow, that's really pretty."

Philip started, nearly dropping his pencil, and swiveled to see the person who'd spoken. She looked nearly as startled as he felt, and it took him a moment to marshal his faculties enough to recognize her. A petite, slender, very attractive young woman, standing no more than five-foot-six in what appeared to be a pair of Rabbit Yukine slippers, she was dressed very casually indeed for an office environment—even one as generally laid-back as HHI's—in a pair of ratty sweatpants and a worn T-shirt from Disaster Area's "For Tax Purposes" galactic tour of six years ago.

Even as dressed down as she was, with her extremely long aqua hair falling loose down her back, there was no mistaking her—the startled face with the wide blue-green eyes was the same as the one looking out from the laminated Employee No. 01 ID badge hanging by a lanyard around her neck.

Why is she wearing an ID badge? Philip wondered irrelevantly, with the small part of his mind not busy processing the fact that Miku Hatsune had just wandered into the ops room at 1:30 in the morning and caught him drawing her.

"Ah! Sorry!" said Miku, her hands up as if in surrender. "I didn't mean to surprise you, I just—" She waffled for a moment longer, then composed herself and bowed, repeating the apology.

"No, no, it's no problem, I just... wasn't expecting anyone," Philip said, not adding out loud, Particularly you...

Straightening up, Miku regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, tipping her head on one side, then brightened. "You're Philip, aren't you? Philip Moyer. You joined us last year."

"That's... right, yeah, I am," he said, then belatedly realized he was still slumped in his chair and got to his feet, returning her bow. He'd had to get used to that gesture, working for a Japanese company, but at the moment he was so taken aback it had slipped his mind.

"Oh, you don't need to get up," Miku said, waving him back to his seat. "I'm not here officially or anything. I was just wandering around and noticed the light was on in here." Looking around, she seemed to realize for the first time that it was the ops room, an impression confirmed a moment later as she added with a wry smile, "But then I guess the light is always on in here, isn't it?"

"Yeah, pretty much," Philip confirmed. He sat back down, but it felt awkward with her still standing, and he was thinking over whether getting back up would be even more awkward when she bowed again and said apologetically,

"I'm so sorry I spaced out like that at your job interview. In hindsight, it was really rude of me."

"?" Philip replied, not entirely trusting himself with words at his current bemusement level. She remembers my job interview? he wondered.

"I had a bunch of stuff on my mind that day," she added earnestly, "but that's really no excuse. To tell the truth, I was mostly just in there to hide from Luka-chan. She had a bunch of boring administrative stuff she wanted me to do, and all I really wanted to do was go outside, but I knew she'd be staking out the lobby waiting for me to try to leave." She grinned wryly. "I guess I could have cvported straight to the arboretum, but that feels like cheating. Anyway, I've been meaning to apologize to you the next time I ran into you, but it seems like our schedules never lined up." Bowing a third time, she added with just a hint of mischief in her voice, "I hope you can forgive me."

By this point, Philip had regained enough of his composure to realize that she was making fun of herself to lighten the moment. He found it impossible not to smile, not that he was trying very hard to avoid it, and replied with mock gravity, "You're forgiven."

"Yay!" Miku beamed, clapped her hands, and made a little hop in place, like a small child given a treat; then, with a somewhat more grown-up smile, she dragged over a vacant chair from the other end of the ops console and went cheerfully on,

"So! To make up for ignoring you at your own job interview, I'll go get you whatever you like from the vending machines, and then we can talk for a while." Striking a pose, she added with a faux smirk, "I expect to learn all about you, Mr. Moyer!"

In later hindsight, Philip would have to concede that she'd nearly accomplished that feat, or at least taken a healthy stab at it. They ended up talking for hours—almost all the rest of his shift—and Miku made sure that he was doing most of the talking, subtly teasing out details of his background, his school career, his interests and passions.

He wasn't even a person very much inclined to talk about himself, but she made it so easy, plumbing his personality with such effortless grace, that he barely even noticed she was doing it. Particularly when they got onto the subject of his interests outside work—by that point the conversation was going full steam ahead, both their voices becoming louder and gestures more animated, as they discovered mutual devotions to the Muppets and certain ancient and occult corners of classic rock.

"Tell me something," Miku said at length, sublimely eliding the fact that he'd spent the last several hours telling her things. "What's your goal here? At HHI, I mean."

Philip looked puzzled. "I'm not sure I understand the question?"

"What I mean is..." Miku paused to consider, then said frankly, "Well, look. Not many people take the position you're in because it's what they hope to spend their careers doing. Not that it's a bad job! I mean I hope it's not a bad job," she added with a mild blush, "but there aren't many people whose dream is specifically to be a roadie for a traveling musical act, or work the graveyard shift in a NOC when they're not touring. For most people, the job you're in is a stepping stone. A way to get inside the organization, and then start sniffing out what they really want to be doing." She shook her head with a rueful smile. "I'm making it sound almost sinister."

"No, I get what you're saying," Philip said. "And you're right that I wouldn't mind working at a saner time of day," he added wryly. "But, well... I've only been here a little less than a year. I haven't really got a feel for everything that goes on in the company yet. It's a pretty big organization. Right now, I'm happy to help out wherever I'm needed. What makes me happiest, whatever I'm doing, is knowing that what I'm making is useful to someone."

He was aware as he said it that it sounded like the kind of rote answer a person would give at... well, at a job interview; but in his case, at least, he knew it was actually true. Just working at Hatsune Heavy Industries was, in itself, more than he'd ever expected to accomplish when he'd sent in the application. He'd have been pleased if they'd hired him to sweep the floors.

Philip didn't say that part out loud, of course, but Miku seemed to understand. It occurred to him then, a bit belatedly, how... how not intimidating she was. Here he'd just spent the last however long bending the ear of the chairwoman of the company he worked for, who happened to be an interstellar superstar, renowned scholar, and various other things to boot, and not only did she not seem to mind, she'd instigated it in the first place. By this point, they were just chatting away like they'd known each other for years.

You can really see why everyone loves her, he thought.

The whole time, he'd been unconsciously adding to the drawing of her he was working on when she first came into the room. Miku had been watching him at it, out of the corner of her eye, while they talked. Now, as the conversation came to a natural lull, she could contain her curiosity no longer and asked,

"Can I see your drawing again?"

Philp blinked, becoming fully aware for the first time that he'd kept drawing, and then turned the pad around. The sketch remained essentially the same, showing her half-sitting, half-lying curled up sideways in a chair, but he had added a lot of details. Most notably, he had embellished her clothes to the point where the Miku in the drawing was now dressed completely differently from her real-life model.

On the day, Miku had been wearing (or, well, simulating, he supposed) business clothes, a neatly cut suit in some slightly shimmery dark grey material with a tie of her usual aqua green. The sketched version now sported something more akin to one of her many performance costumes, although, as she examined the drawing, she realized it wasn't any of the established ones. It incorporated various details from several, including a few so obscure she was surprised he knew about them, but the totality of it was something new.

"Oh wow, I like that," she said. Taking the pad gently from his hands, she examined the drawing more closely, her eyes widening with delight. "I really like this. It's so..." She groped for words, but didn't find many. Miku Hatsune was many things, including a sometime fashion designer, but she'd never really learned the jargon of the trade. In the end, all she could come up with was, "... It's so me."

Then, looking up from the paper with a sparkling, hopeful smile, she said suddenly, "Can I use this as the signature module for this year's Magical Mirai? Please?"

Philip blinked again. "... Sure?"

"Yay! Thank you!" Miku cried, abruptly lunging forward to hug him.

"You're welcome?" Philip replied, unsure whether he should try to hug her back. Before he could make up his mind, she'd let him go, springing back into her chair and spinning it around like a kid.

"OK!" she said, suddenly all decisive energy. "I'll need a day or so to set everything up, so why don't you take tomorrow off, so you have a little time to reset your body clock, and come in around midday on Thursday? I can have you set up by then and we'll get started!"

"Set up?" Philip echoed, feeling like his mind hadn't quite caught up with whatever was unfolding. "Get started with what?"

"Why, the module, of course!" Miku replied. "We'll have to work this up into a proper design, pick some colors and materials, figure out how everything's supposed to drape and move... there's a lot of work involved in making one of these things!"

"... And you want me to... be involved?"

"Of course!" she repeated. "You're the designer!" Brandishing the sketch pad, she went on, "Did you think I was going to take your idea and hand it to somebody else to realize?"

Philip, who had thought exactly that, found himself shaking his head like a schoolkid asked a rhetorical question by the teacher, then heard a voice that sounded very much like his own ask,

"But what about my regular job?"

"Oh, we'll find someone to cover that," Miku said airily, waving a hand. "Worst comes to worst, I'll make Kaito do it. He could stand to do a little honest work around here now and then," she added with a conspiratorial wink. Then, free fist on her hip, she sat up very straight and said mock-imperiously, "You work for me now!"

Monday, May 29, 2395

Another Monday morning, and Philip Moyer entered his office looking forward to the week. He generally did, and tried never to let himself lose sight of what a rare and lucky thing that was in the world of work.

When Miku told him, "You work for me now," he hadn't expected it to be so literally true. He figured he would help out with the conversion of his sketch into a proper costume module, and then it would be back to the roadie pool with him. And that seemed to have been the plan at first, but by the time that job was done, there were some stage graphics she wanted to consult with him on, and then Rin Kagamine asked for a costume along lines similar to Miku's, and within a few months, the temporary designer gig had silently become permanent.

So now here he was, with his own office on the 39th floor (all of three doors down the hall from Miku's own), and the title "Visual Designer (Performance), CV Division" on his (extremely flashy) holographic business cards. He wasn't the only Visual Designer (Performance) in the company, to be sure, but he was one of only a few who worked directly with the top level of the Concert Vocaloid Division—in other words, the Concert Vocaloids themselves.

The main project he had on his plate today was a new set of introductory graphics for Luka Megurine, which would be used at the beginning of her set at the upcoming summer's NatsuFest. The extremely vague brief she'd given him was "something that pops, but elegant," which, since it was as good a summary of the artist herself as he could think of, was a better starting point than it seemed like on its face. He was well into the preliminary design groove now, with every expectation of having the rough draft of the opening vid—the sequence to be shown on the Gigatron at the back of the stage before she made her entrance—ready for review by Wednesday. Munching idly on the little bag of potato chips that represented the last of his lunch, he returned to work.

Engrossed as he was in his task, Philip had no inkling that something lurked in the suspended ceiling of his office; but across that gulf of space, an intellect vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded his chips with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew its plans against him. Silently, with infinite patience, a dark, many-armed shape eased aside the tile above his desk, then poised itself on the precipice, gauged the distance, and leaped.

With an audible thwack, the creature landed on the preoccupied designer's head, its powerful, sucker-covered arms wrapping around the upper part of his skull and the base of his neck with an unbreakable grip—all but the one that reached ardently for the bag of chips. Ardently, but futilely, for Philip Moyer was a tall man, and the creature's arm was too short to reach its prize, stretch however it might, without the others letting go of his head.

Under such a sudden and bizarre assault, a normal man might have screamed, or leaped up from his desk and flailed at the intruder in panic, or summoned building security, or all of the above.

Philip, on the other hand, laughed and said, "You do realize that trick is never going to work, right?"

"Chips!" the creature cried in a high, plaintive voice.

"Yeah, yeah," said Philip indulgently, returning to work. He supposed he'd been asking for this outcome, bringing the chips back to the office with him. There were few more reliable ways of summoning Takoluka.

"Whatcha doin'?" Takoluka inquired.

"I'm making a new intro video for Luka," he said.

"Oh, nice. Chips?"

Philip shook his head. "You know full well if she comes in here and catches me feeding you chips again, we've both had it."

"Aww," said Takoluka disappointedly.

A few moments later, an intercom icon popped up in the corner of his holoscreen, identifying the caller by color and lettering as Luka Megurine. "Philip? Sorry to bother you, but have you seen Takoluka?"

Philip looked up with a smile, though the connection was voice-only, then replied, "Technically no, since I don't have eyes on top of my head."

"Ah, I should have known," said Luka. "Hold on." The icon disappeared, and a few moments later, the lady herself appeared in his office doorway. "There you are," she said. "What have I told you about bothering Philip?"

"He has chips!" said Takoluka brightly.

Luka put her hands on her hips. "Mm-hmm, I see that. And he hasn't given you any, if he knows what's good for you."

"That's true," said Takoluka sadly.

Luka kept the stern look fixed on her... mascot? Familiar? Doppelgänger? Philip had never been entirely sure... for a few seconds, then relented with an I-can't-stay-mad-at-you smile and said, "Very well, you can have one, if Philip doesn't mind."

"Not at all," he said. "Here you go."

"Yay, chip!"

"And now let's go back to our own office and let the man work in peace."

"She doesn't have to leave on my account," Philip said mildly, then added with a little smirk, "I've worn stranger hats."

Luka laughed. "Well, if you're sure you don't mind. Would you care to show me how it's coming along, or is it too early?"

"Sure, have a look. I'm just playing around with some animations. With luck, I'll have a rough ready to try full-scale by Wednesday."

They chatted about the project for a while, with Luka making a few suggestions, and then she headed for the door, remarking, "I like what I've seen so far, keep up the good work. Just drop Takoluka by my office when your neck gets tired..." As she was leaving his office, Luka paused in the doorway and added, "By the way, I hope you're not counting on pulling an all-nighter on this tonight."

"Hm?" asked Philip, looking puzzled. "No, why?"

"Oh... no reason," she said with an enigmatic smile—one that told him beyond doubt that there was a reason. And with that, and a mellow chuckle he didn't know how to interpret, she was gone.

"I like Luka a lot," Philip observed to the closed door, "but I don't understand her very often."

"Mm," Takoluka agreed. "She's like that."

Philip pondered the unknowable for a few moments longer, then returned to his task. The rest of the afternoon melted away in a pleasant fugue of detail work. He got so far into the groove that he failed to notice Takoluka leaving; when he realized she was gone, he wondered whether she'd left by the door or found her way back up into the ceiling somehow. Either was entirely possible. Not for the first time, he wondered how such a creature had come to exist. He'd never dared to ask, and now he put the thought aside and took up his light stylus again.

The next thing he knew, it was five-thirty and someone was speaking his name—in person, not on the intercom. He pulled his head out of the zone and looked up to see Miku standing in front of his desk, smiling as usual, with a mild glint of mischief in her eyes. She was dressed casually, in jean shorts over striped tights, sneakers, a satin bomber jacket with the company logo on the back, and (a trifle oddly) a flat tweed cap like a 20th-century newsboy would wear in an old movie.

"Your work day is now ending," she said, inflecting her voice mechanically, like the computer system she once had been. "Please save your work to avoid data loss."

Philip raised an eyebrow, but did as she suggested. "... OK?"

"Kidding aside, were you planning to do anything in particular after work today?" she asked.

"No... why?"

"Great. Come with me!" she said, holding out a hand. Puzzled, he took it and let himself be whisked out of the office, barely managing to snag his jacket and close the door behind him as she all but dragged him down the hall to the elevator. On the way down she was all smiles, bouncing happily on the balls of her feet, and pretended not to notice his continued questioning looks.

Miku didn't speak again until they were most of the way across the lobby, when she suddenly asked, "Do you know what day it is today?"


She shook her head, still smiling. "Nope. I mean it is, but that's not what I mean. It's the 29th of May. Ring any bells?"

Philip considered. Since he was occupied with that, it didn't occur to him for a moment that they had just left the lobby together, and Miku was still half-pulling him along, down the sidewalk, away from Negi Tower.

She's loaded her ConcertLink unit, he realized. The Miku who had hold of his hand wasn't the usual hard-light holomatter projection who roamed the office and appeared on stage at the bigger, better-equipped venues. She'd uploaded her cybermind to one of the autonomous bioroid bodies the Vocaloids used for their longer, farther-ranging tours, or when the whimsy took them to get out and really experience the outside world.

Some of the Original Seven, he knew, enjoyed that experience more than others. Gumi swore by it, and rarely parked her ConcertLink chassis to use the holomatter system instead. Meiko and Rin likewise favored embodiment. Len and Luka, on the other hand, weren't big fans; they found the material world too awkward and disorderly ("badly designed" was Len's phrase) to put up with it for very long at a stretch. Kaito, with his usual easygoing tendency to just abide, could take it or leave it, and Miku, as she often did, took a middle road, allowing that each system had situations where it was the better option.

"Do you really not remember?" Miku asked, sounding on the verge of a pout.

They'd reached the corner now, passing out of sight of the Tower, and Philip knew if he didn't stop woolgathering he'd lose track of where they were entirely. He still wasn't terribly familiar with the street layout of downtown Sapporo, even after living in the city for nearly five—oh!

"My interview date," he said, slapping his forehead with his free hand.

"Pin-pon~!" sang Miku gaily. "If you want to get technical, two of your interview dates. One to get into the company, and one to get onto my team," she explained.

"... It was an internal review all along?" he wondered as the light changed and she semi-dragged him across the street.

"No, no," she said, shaking her head. "Don't get the wrong idea. I didn't go to the NOC that night specifically because I was scouting you. I really did just wander in at random. It only turned into an internal review about halfway through, once I'd gotten to know you well enough that I realized I wanted you in my crew," she went on with a beaming smile.

"I... don't know what to say," Philip admitted.

"You don't have to say anything," Miku replied. "Oops, almost missed the turn, it's down here."

"Where are we going?" he wondered, somewhat belatedly.

"Well, we have reservations at Albert's at six. After that, would you like to guess who has two VIP passes to the new wing at Brick Wonderland?" asked Miku with an impish grin.

"The one that isn't even open to the public yet?" said Philip, eyebrows rising.

"That'd be the one!" Miku confirmed, winking.

"You are the greatest boss in the history of bosses," he said sincerely.

"That's sweet of you to say," Miku replied; then, her demeanor becoming less chirpy and more serious, she went on, "but I'd like it better if you said I was your friend." At his surprised look, she continued, "I know, I know, every tech company likes to pretend it's some kind of family, and it's usually toxic nonsense, but... I like to think it's really true at HHI. We're not in it for the money, we're in it for... for the happiness. Right? Spreading it, and feeling it. Everything else is just a means to an end. A way of... sharing the dream."

Something in the look in her eyes invited, if not implored, Philip to see what she was getting at. With an almost audible mental click, he did, her words linking up in his mind with one of their shared passions—one they'd originally discussed in that very first conversation. It was suddenly obvious where the whole operating philosophy of Hatsune Heavy Industries had come from, and he felt vaguely stupid for not realizing it consciously before.

A slow smile stealing onto his face, he agreed, "It's the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with."

Miku's face, so serious a moment before, lit up with relief and delight as if someone had thrown a switch.

"Exactly," she said, squeezing his hand. "So... I'm the leader, because I was first, and because someone has to be, but... I've never thought of myself as the company's 'boss'. I don't like the word. It's so... heartless, and heart is what we're all about. We all have the same dream, and that makes us sort of like a family."

"I... hadn't thought of it that way. Sorry. I didn't mean to offend you."

"Oh, you didn't!" she assured him. "I'm just telling you how things are. I'm not taking you out to reward a good employee, I'm doing it to celebrate a happy occasion with a friend... I hope?"

Philip smiled. "You bet."

"Hooray!" Miku cried, hopping forward to hug him and drawing a few curious looks from passers-by. Just like that, she lost all her apprehension and replaced it with renewed enthusiasm, and he once again found himself being pulled along in her bubbly wake as she resumed course for the restaurant.

"Of course," she added, winking over her shoulder, "you still have to do as you're told at work."

"Yes, ma'am," Philip replied gravely, and, laughing together, they disappeared into the crowded streets.

"Employee Relations" - a Hatsune Heavy Industries mini-story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
with (and starring!) Philip Jeremy Moyer
special to the Eyrie Productions Discussion Forum
© 2020 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited

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