From the author: Kit only wants one thing in the whole world: for her band, Flying Jelly Attack, the world’s greatest Shonen Knife cover band, to play at Cherry Blossom High School’s Spring Dance. Two things stand in her way: 1) Lizard Blood, a Lolita death metal band, her bitter rivals; 2) The end of the world.
I only want one thing in the whole world: for my band, Flying Jelly Attack, the world’s greatest Shonen Knife cover band, to play at Cherry Blossom High School’s Spring Dance. Two things stand in my way:
1) Lizard Blood, a Lolita death metal band, our bitter rivals
2) The end of the world
Lizard Blood isn’t a real band. They only care about going viral and how many hits they get on UltraPluz. They never really learned to play their instruments. Instead, they use synthesizers plugged into programmable neuromuscular implants, upload whatever song they want to play, and play it--or "play" it, rather. They even have their implants synched so they play together—not that that really matters when it's death metal.
Lizard Blood’s fake lead singer and fake lead guitarist, Yuki Niamori, is very rich—or at least her family is— and she can have anything she wants. What she wants is to be lead singer of a Lolita death metal band that will play at Cherry Blossom High School’s Spring Dance.
She must be stopped.
As for the end of the world, I’m not really paying attention. It’s got something to do with cyber attacks on big banks draining all the money out of their systems—not transferring it, not stealing it, just deleting it as if it never existed. The banks are shutting down and the government can’t stop it. Experts are saying to change your online passwords and stuff, but that doesn’t help because the hackers fix the system so it doesn’t need passwords at all. Change your passwords and biometric logins all you want, doesn’t matter. The hackers still delete everything you have.
It’s not like I have much money anyway, since I spend everything on guitar strings and upgrading my amps. And we still have to go to school, even though half the teachers haven’t shown up all week and the other half are threatening to strike if they don’t get paid soon. Our parents are making us go because they think it’s safe—Cherry Blossom High School’s security guards are still here when the actual police have fled the city. It’s all very complicated, but I’m working too hard to get the chord progression right on “Brown Mushrooms” to notice. If we don’t get to play at the Spring Dance, nothing else will matter.
The big audition for who gets to play at the Spring Dance is in three days. Only two bands have signed up: Flying Jelly Attack and Lizard Blood. Attrition—we scared everybody off. Yuki possibly made threats—at least, she’s made them to us.
Miki, my bass player, says our best course of action is to avoid Yuki and her girls entirely. Ru, my drummer, goes into a murderous rage whenever we even mention Yuki or Lizard Blood. She’s prone to murderous rages, where all her hair stands on end and her eyes go wide and she bares her teeth like some kind of demon. Miki and I both have to hold her back to keep her from doing damage It’s this kind of thing that makes her a great drummer.
Trouble is, we can’t avoid our enemy entirely when our enemy seems bent on searching us out.
There we are, just hanging out between classes—or these days, just hanging out until we find out whether we’ll even be having classes. Miki, hair in a ponytail and her wire-rimmed glasses slipping down her nose, hunches over her deck doing something online—because she’s always doing something online when she isn’t playing—while Ru and I discuss what we should wear to the audition. Modern art mini-dresses or jeans and leather jackets? Cute or vintage rebellious? Whatever would make us the most different from Lizard Blood, is my opinion. Ripped jeans and anger.
“I don’t really care, you pick,” Ru says. When she isn’t angry, her hair lies flat in a pixie cut. Really, I don’t even know why I’m asking her—she doesn’t have any fashion sense at all. Me or Miki pick out all her clothes. If we didn’t have school uniforms she might not wear anything at all.
“I just want you to pick one, skirt or jeans?”
“Kit, look!” Ru points down the hallway, and I swear the lights dim and a mysterious wind begins howling past us. Even Miki looks up from her deck.
Lizard Blood appears, standing together, glaring a challenge at us: Yuki, with Azumi and Hana flanking her like acolytes. Between all of them, their poofed-out skirts fill the corridor. They have dyed their hair three different shades of pink: hot, bubblegum, and rose.
We get to our feet and it’s like an Old West standoff.
“Hello, Yuki,” I say. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be practicing?”
“You can’t win,” Yuki says. Her arms are at her sides, her hands in fists. She’s wearing a black and white striped tea dress trimmed in lace and a little derby hat the size of an apple. She is above school uniforms, as she has often informed us. Just think, if she spent as much time practicing guitar as she did dressing, she could actually learn to play. “Why don’t you give up?”
“We’ll let the judges decide.” I cross my arms. I’m not afraid of her. “It’s only fair.”
“I’m trying to save you the humiliation of losing.”
“That’s very kind of you, I’m sure.”
She studies a manicured, black-painted nail. “I don’t know why I bother. You’re too stupid to listen to anyone.”
At that, Ru roars and launches herself as a mad battering ram at the trio across from us. Miki and I grab her just in time, hooking our arms across her body and holding fast.
Predictably, Yuki laughs. Her henchthings start in a second later, and stop a second after she does. Throwing a last glare at us, they turn on their high-heeled patent-leather Mary Janes and march away.
“I hate her so much!” Ru hisses, slumping in our arms out of exhaustion.
“Our best revenge is to win the audition and play at the dance,” I say. “We’ll practice tonight, right after school.”
“I may be late,” Miki says, her expression scrunched up in apology. “I have ... a thing.”
“A thing? What thing?”
“Just. It’s. I’ll explain later.”
She turns and runs, bumping up against a boy standing at the end of the corridor. It’s like he just appeared. He glances briefly at Miki, then stares at us, and I wonder how long he’s been standing there. Did he see the whole confrontation with Lizard Blood?
This guy, he’s cute. He’s in a pale suit with a blue shirt and a thin tie. The jacket sleeves are rolled up and his hands are in his pockets. His dark hair flops perfectly over his forehead, framing his very mysterious gray eyes.
“Who is that?”
“I think it’s the new boy,” Ru says. “Just transferred in.”
I can’t look away, but I have nothing to say to him. Then, with a final dismissive glance, he turns and is gone.
Seriously, this is not the time to be distracted by such things as new boys at school.
I try to find out everything I can about the New Guy, but it’s not a lot. He transferred in from New Tokyo Polytechnic, but I don’t know anyone from there I could ask for gossip. He’s taking a normal roster of classes, but rarely speaks. Even though he’s collected a gaggle of girls and a few boys following him wherever he goes, he ignores his admirers completely.
“I bet he’s a secret agent,” Ru says. “He’s spying.”
“I don’t know. Just on something.”
What can there possibly be to spy on at Cherry Blossom High School?
“Or an undercover cop, like in the movies. He’s going to make a drug bust and set the whole school in an uproar.”
“As long as he waits to do it after the Spring Dance.”
The guy stands in the doorway of the lunch room and just ... watches. I’m not thinking it’s drugs because with the city falling apart and the police on strike, would they really send someone to bust drugs at a high school? This has to be bigger than that, which means he’s a government agent. There’s an international spy ring made up of teachers. Or a secret cavern under the school with a breeding den of giant monsters.
“I bet the school is home to a secret laboratory creating superheroes,” I say, and Miki and Ru just stare at me. I keep going. “You know, like some of our fellow students may in fact be superheroes in disguise, with strange mental and physical powers. There’s a secret high-tech gymnasium under the real gymnasium where they do their training.”
Miki says, “If there are secret superheroes, why don’t they do something to save the city?”
That is a very good question.
Finally, school ends and we can get to work.
Despite saying she would be late, Miki’s already at our practice space in a second music room behind the school auditorium’s stage. She’s finally put her deck away. Ru and I hurry to get our instruments and tune up. We have the space for an hour and have to make the most of it.
We’ve spent months working on our set: “Twist Barbie,” “It’s a New Find,” “Banana Chips,” and of course our signature “Flying Jelly Attack.” This is for a dance—we have to get people dancing first thing or we’re doomed. But Shonen Knife makes it easy to dance. Their music is all about dancing and being happy. How can we not win the audition, when Lizard Blood is all about death and fashion? Of course, times being what they are, maybe people are in the mood for death.
We practice and I start to feel better.
Besides the dancing and expressing happiness, another reason I started a Shonen Knife cover band is that the lyrics are pretty easy to learn.
“Naaaa na na na naaaaa na na na naaaa na na naaaa na na naaa—”
This is music in its very purest form, I think.
Everything’s coming together, we’re rocking, and I start to think maybe we should back off, save our strength to ensure that we don’t peak before the audition. But then Miki biffs a chord. I’m about to yell, but she’s staring at the door. We all look.
And there he is, studying us with this little frown and a narrowed gaze, like he’s on some kind of treasure hunt. The New Guy, in his perfectly starched suit and his very cool manner. Is he following us around? What does he want with us?
“Hey!” I yell. “This is a private rehearsal, can’t you read the sign?” I’d taped a handwritten sign to the outside of the door to discourage gawkers.
He glances at the sign, then back at us, and his lips press into a thin, uninterpretable line. Why doesn’t he say something? Then I have a terrible thought: Is he spying for Lizard Blood, so they can learn our strategy for winning the audition?
Before I can yell at him again, he walks away. Only one thing to do: I unsling my guitar, gently set it down, and charge after him.
“Kit, wait!” Miki yells, as Ru shouts, “That’s not a good idea!”
“I have to do something,” I shout back. “He can’t just lurk in doorways and get away with it!”
Miki turns panicked. “But he could be dangerous!”
He’s far too handsome to be dangerous. Mysterious yes, but not dangerous. At least not a bad dangerous. Heroic dangerous, maybe. He looks like a hero.
“Hey!” I yell, and what do you know, he actually turns around.
“What?” he asks. His voice is soft but somehow compelling, —authoritative and full of secrets. The voice totally goes with that suit.
“I want to know what you’re doing here! You’re not really a student, are you?”
His gaze is appraising. Smoldering, and appraising. He has better eyelashes than I do.
Finally, with a curt, dismissive nod he says, “It’s best you don’t know. Don’t pay any attention to me. Go back to your friends.” He walks on, turning the corner ahead.
When I chase him around the corner, he’s gone.
Principal Jono is trying to cancel the band auditions for the Spring Dance. I argue with him, explaining that the auditions are a necessary distraction from the current tragic events and that hearing us perform would raise morale among the students.
“But Kit,” he says sadly. He’s a large, balding man with a thin comb-over and drooping face. “I don’t think we’ll be able to even hold the Spring Dance. Band auditions seem just a little ... pointless right now.”
I declare, “What lesson are you teaching us with that kind of attitude? Are you saying we should give up? Are you telling us that perseverance in the face of adversity is not a good quality to have? Of course not! We must show that we are better than the evil that lurks in the rest of the world! Cherry Blossom High School and the Spring Dance will not be defeated!”
He relents, but I think only to make me go away.
Another reason I started a Shonen Knife cover band is the clothes. Basically, we can wear whatever we want, as long as we match. We can wear surf T-shirts or white tunics or leather jackets or bell-bottoms or miniskirts. And no matter what, we’re cute, spreading brightly colored happiness wherever we go. Lizard Blood, with their fancy corsets and big crinolines and little bitty hats and velvet boots and too much makeup—it’s like a uniform with them. Baby-doll fascists. It’s sad, really.
I would spy on Lizard Blood—do they plan on playing a lot of screechy thrash or are they actually going to go with a set list that people can dance to? Because if they expect to win the audition they have to play stuff that people can dance to— Unless Yuki has paid off all the judges. This is an angle I haven’t considered, and it leaves me thoughtful, because even with all the banks shut down, her family is so rich that she still has money. She keeps telling everyone she still has money, anyway.
If she’s paying off judges, what can I do to compete? Nothing. Unless I can somehow expose her bribery plot. Maybe, just maybe, the New Guy is here to investigate Yuki. That would be helpful.
After the banks lost all their money, a bunch of people started looting grocery stores and things because pretty soon they wouldn’t be able to buy anything. Some people tried to keep going to work and pretending everything was normal, convinced that their money would return and they’d get paid and the police would arrest all the looters and everything would be fine.
But then the water stopped. The hackers broke into the computer systems handling the city’s water treatment and distribution plants and deleted the software. Water flowing through pipes stopped. No more showers, no more drinking. The hoarding of bottled water began. People fled, and the streets and trains out of the city became impassible.
Everyone says it will only be a matter of time before the hackers destroy the power grid as well. I don’t think they’ll go that far since they need the power grid and computer networks functional in order to do all that hacking in the first place. Nevertheless, just in case, I acquire a gas-powered electric generator for our instruments. Even if the city goes completely dark, we will still be able to audition for the Spring Dance. If I’m truly lucky, Lizard Blood will not have an electric generator, but since Yuki is rich I’m not counting on it. She has everything. If we’re going to defeat her, we need to rely on our immense talent, the fact that we are good guys, and the sheer uplifting power of the music of Shonen Knife.
The dance will be in the gymnasium, the biggest room in the school, with polished wood floors, a high ceiling, and one wall full of windows looking over the city’s downtown skyscrapers and monorail tracks. The monorail isn’t running anymore because the hackers corrupted the system’s software. A couple of trains crashed before the authorities shut it down.
Miki and Ru come with me to scout out the area where we’ll be playing for auditions tomorrow. Well, Ru and I scout, and Miki sits in a corner and works on her deck: headphones on, eyes on screen like there’s nothing else in the world. It’s weird.
“What are you doing on your deck all day? You can’t possibly have that much homework.” The teachers who still bother showing up have stopped assigning homework in favor of teaching us survival techniques like starting fires, collecting dew for drinking water, and spinning wool into yarn. Who knew they’re all survivalists? It’s almost comforting.
“Nothing. Never mind. It’s a secret.”
Like that isn’t suspicious.
And then when I turn around—there he is again. New Guy. Watching us from yet another doorway. Staring, like some creep. A very handsome creep in a nice suit, but still.
I’m about to yell, but he slips away as if he hadn’t been there at all. Miki and Ru also look after him.
“That’s it,” I mutter.
“You said it,” Ru mutters with me. Her hair starts to get messy, which means she’s about to rage out.
“Don’t worry. We’ll find out what this is all about. I have an idea.”
Here’s how we set a trap for New Guy. First, we schedule another impromptu practice. Technically, we don’t have the practice room reserved, but since no one else at the school is playing any music and most classes have been canceled, no one stops us. The trick is, we have to catch him as soon as he shows up. No delay, no time for him to figure out anything’s wrong. Just boom, captured, and then we can shine a bright light on him and demand that he spill the beans.
But Miki isn’t there. We get to the practice room at the right time, have our ropes and a flashlight and everything ready to go, and she’s not there. How are we going to fool New Guy into thinking this is a legitimate practice if Miki isn’t here?
“This isn’t going to work.” Ru looks despondent.
“No, it will. The plan doesn’t change.”
We wait in ambush, standing on either side of the doorway, each of us holding a can of Silly String. I plug my phone into speakers and play a concert bootleg of “Redd Kross.” Maybe it won’t fool him—maybe he’ll know it’s actually Shonen Knife on a recording and not us—but I’m willing to take that risk.
We hold our breaths and wait, wait. ... At our other practice, this was about the time New Guy appeared in the doorway. Sure enough, listening hard past the beat and the bass line, I hear footsteps, a careful approach of expensive loafers. Ru and I exchange a glance.
New Guy peeks in, looking confused for a moment when he doesn’t see anyone. That’s when we attack.
Silly String is a really good weapon because it’s totally shocking and totally nonlethal. We cover him in instant rubbery spaghetti. Futilely, he puts up his hands to fend off the swarm of plastic, but it’s no good—he’s covered. When he stumbles back, trying to turn and get a good look at his attackers, he trips over the rope we slung across the floor. He goes down with a crash and lies prone. We stand over him, empty cans held out like guns. Ru is growling.
“What are you doing?” he exclaims, picking Silly String from his face, blinking at us. His thin frown might be curled into a snarl.
“Why are you following us?” I demand. “What do you want with us? Are you spying on us for Yuki? Are you working for Lizard Blood?”
“What are you talking about?” he says with admirable calm, given that he’s lying on the floor covered in yellow, orange, green, and blue Silly String. He starts to sit up. The plastic bits come off him in one giant sheet.
“Don’t move!” Ru shouts. Her eyes are red and her teeth are bared like a wolf’s. If she could grow fangs, she would. He doesn’t move.
“It’s all right,” I say to her, lowering my now-empty cans of string. “I think he’s safe.”
He regards us both. “Where is your friend? Your bass player.”
My heart gives a little jump knowing that he pays attention enough to know who plays what instrument and that he knows the difference between a bass and a guitar. Not everyone does.
“She’s out. Why do you care?”
He looks at us so calmly, speaks so evenly, you’d never know he’d just been attacked with Silly String. “Because it’s true. I am spying on you.”
“What?!” Ru yells, and I have to grab her arm before she starts clawing at him.
“Why?” I say. “Who are you working for?”
“May I ask you a question?”
He totally isn’t a student. He’s not even trying to pass for one anymore, not that he ever did. He stands, scraping off the rest of the string. “Do you know what your friend Miki does on her deck all day?”
Ru and I look at each other. I say, “Homework, I think.”
New Guy is very serious now. “We’ve traced the cyber attacks on the national banks and water system to this school. We believe one of the students here at Cherry Blossom is the hacker.”
“You ... you don’t think it’s Miki, do you? It can’t possibly be Miki!”
“Because she’s a good guy! Because she knows all about Shonen Knife! Because I trust her!”
He presses those skeptical lips together. I almost cry.
“If you trust her, then help me clear her. Find out what she’s doing with her deck. But don’t tell her I’m investigating her.”
“We can’t spy on our friend!” Ru says. But of course, we can. We have to, and New Guy knows it.
“If you’ll excuse me.” He adjusts the cuffs of his jacket and leaves the room like nothing happened.
Half an hour later, Miki shows up with her bass. And her deck. Ru and I haven’t had the heart to start playing without her.
“Sorry I’m late, I got held up. They’re rationing water now, you know that? I’m trying to find a way to sneak bottles out of the kitchen—hey, what’s wrong?”
I stare, stricken. Miki, dear sweet Miki, hacking the city infrastructure to destroy it? I don’t believe it, not for a minute.
“We’re depressed,” Ru says, which is true enough.
“You can’t be depressed, auditions are tomorrow! We have to practice!” Miki says.
I feel grim. “I think we’ve practiced as much as we possibly can.”
I nod. “We’re ready. It’s time to face Lizard Blood.”
This is it. The most important day of my life. Will I be allowed to spread the message of true pop rock throughout the universe, or will I be defeated? I feel sick to my stomach.
We decide on wearing A-line tunics and pants in primary colors to better channel Shonen Knife, and to separate ourselves from the frilly bleakness of Lizard Blood. Sure enough, they show up in black and white with double the crinolines and corsets and curly purple wigs and giant eyelashes dashed with glitter. They carry their instruments proudly, and their neural implants gleam along their arms and foreheads. Like they think they can’t lose.
All we have are calluses on our fingers.
Everyone’s there. At least, everyone who is left is there: Principal Jono and the remaining survivalist teachers, clipboards in hand and pencils raised, ready to judge our worthiness to play at the Spring Dance. A crowd of students gathers in the back of the gym, thrumming with eagerness. This is going to be the fight of the century.
The stage waits, bare.
I hate this, waiting, my guitar slung over my shoulder, plinking the strings. They make weak little ringing sounds, since the instrument’s not plugged in yet. It’s the same sound my heart will make if it breaks, if we lose. Ru holds her fists over her eyes, like she can’t even watch, her drumsticks sticking out of them like antennae.
But even right before the audition, Miki sits on the floor, working on her deck.
I glare at her. “What are you doing? You’re always on your deck. I’m worried about you.”
“What? Oh—it’s secret. But you’ll like it. I promise.”
Off to the side, New Guy watches us closely. What if he’s right? What if Miki is behind the destruction of the city?
What would Shonen Knife do? They would trust each other, and they would play. That’s all we can do.
Principal Jono will flip a coin to see who goes first. He announces: “Flying Jelly Attack is heads, Lizard Blood is tails. Whichever side lands up will get to choose whether they go first or last.”
Yuki and I stand on either side of Principal Jono, seething. Soon, it will all be over. The coin spins, glinting in the light coming in through the windows. It seems to spin forever before falling like a bullet into Principal Jono’s hand. He slaps it on the back of his other hand, looks at us both, and finally reveals the outcome.
I should have thought more about what would be best: play first and get it over with, play last to leave the final impression with the judges, play first to show how great we are at warming up a crowd, play last so we could respond to Lizard Blood’s strategy—
Miki taps me on the shoulder. “Let Lizard Blood play first.”
She seems very confident, hiding something behind her big brown eyes and glasses. Okay, then. Shonen Knife trusts each other, so I trust her.
“Lizard Blood will go first,” I say and step aside.
It takes them a stupidly long amount of time to set up because they have to plug in their instruments, warm up their neural implants, synch all their systems, and I figure this will be a black mark against them because the longer they take the more restless everyone gets. But I know them, and I’ve heard them, and once they start playing, they’ll cast some kind of weird headbanger spell that will overpower the crowd with a wall of death metal. They’ll burn out everyone’s hearing before we even get onstage.
But then something happens. Something amazing.
Yuki starts to strum a chord—that is, her uploaded programming directs her arm to play a chord. And nothing happens. Her hand goes limp and splats over the frets, and her other hand tangles in the strings instead of strumming. Azumi does a little better, getting her bass to play a couple of chords, but they’re bad chords, out of tune and wavering. The drumsticks fall clean out of Hana's hands. When she scrambles to pick them up, she falls off her stool.
It’s like they’re not in control of their own bodies. It’s like something has gone wrong with their neural implant programming.
I look at Miki, who nods with satisfaction. “That’s what I’ve been doing with my deck—hacking the implant software Lizard Blood uses to play their instruments. It was tough because they had massive protections on their system. Military-grade firewalls. Best money can buy—you know Yuki. But I got through, you know?”
I stare at her with really big eyes. “You. Are. A. Genius.”
She’s my new hero. I could kiss her, but I have to go back to watching Yuki and Lizard Blood fumble around, trying to figure out what to do with their instruments without the software to guide them.
New Guy arrives in time to hear the explanation. “Ah. That clarifies much,” he says. “That only leaves one suspect in the bank-hacking case. Thank you, girls.”
“What?” I blink at him.
He approaches the stage and draws a badge from his pocket. Yuki and the others finally go still.
“I am Detective Fukaya, and you, Yuki Niamori, are under arrest for destroying the city through the cybernetic network.”
Well, who expected that?
Yuki should deny it, but she doesn’t. She throws down her guitar and clenches her fists. Even Azumi and Hana look surprised, so they must not know anything about it.
At the edge of the stage, Yuki looks over us all, green eyes filled with rage.
“You think this is just an act!” she shouts. “You never respected me because you think all this is fake!” She gives her frilly skirt a tug. “It’s not an act! It’s anarchy! Yes, I destroyed the city’s banking and water infrastructure! I want everything to burn!” She throws horns with both hands and screams, “ANARCHY!”
I have to admit, I finally sort of respect Yuki a little bit because she seems very honest about her mission.
She jumps off the stage and shoves Detective Fukaya aside. He’s so surprised he doesn’t go after her right away—I mean, who expects Yuki to do anything that smacks of effort? So she runs and we all think she’s going to get away, but then Ru trips her. Just sticks out her foot, and Yuki goes sailing, purple curls flying and tiny hat spinning off toward the ceiling. It’s great. Detective Fukaya arrests Yuki. Azumi cries while Hana leads her away, arm around her shoulders to comfort her. And that’s that.
It turned out Miki had such a hard time hacking Lizard Blood’s system because all of Yuki’s neural interfaces and military-grade firewalls were a cover for her high-level hacking activities. Lizard Blood really was a fake band. Who knew?
So, that’s how Flying Jelly Attack triumphed and won the chance to play at the Cherry Blossom High School Spring Dance. We auditioned with our signature song, “Flying Jelly Attack,” and we sounded triumphant. That just goes to show that Rock and Roll Will Never Die.
Unfortunately, by the time of the Spring Dance the power had indeed gone out all over the city. But that doesn’t matter because we have the generator, and we insist that the Spring Dance go on as planned for the sake of good morale. We decorate the gym and fill it with students. It seems like a miracle that everybody comes, but I know I’m right: times like these, everybody just wants to dance.
So we play for them. Outside the windows, far away in the city, mobs riot at bank headquarters and government buildings for not doing more to stop the economic collapse. A couple of skyscrapers are on fire and helicopters buzz around them, recording footage for the news. The city really is falling apart, but I don’t care, because my dream has come true: my band is playing at the Spring Dance. The Cherry Blossom High School gym is the safest place in the city. Hundreds of students surge screaming at the stage, and me and my girls have our instruments plugged into amps, ready to go. I look at Miki and Ru, meet their gazes, and they nod back at me. Their hands are poised to begin. Nothing else matters.
I turn to the microphone and call, “One two three four—!”
This story originally appeared in Hanzai Japan.