319 – Prodigies under new management
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"Good morning, girls." A middle-aged man with already graying hair and dressed in a sharp suit.

Shu stared at him and then looked over at John.

John stood there with a serious look on his face. Not dismissive or cold, but one that indicated this wasn't a joking matter.

It was the studio dedicated solely to Prodigy. Like Mister John asked yesterday, all the girls had arrived and waited for him to show up.

...Though to be honest, none of the girls had left after yesterday.

Chi-chan had been embarrassed and guilty so she asked for them to talk it out. Yuri and Suzu-chan were still upset at Chi-chan, so Shu did her best to mediate everything.

It was a long night. And everyone was still a bit tired, operating on just a few cups of coffee and barely any sleep.

But it would be rude to yawn, so even though Shu was tired, she forcibly suppressed the yawn threatening to emerge and-

A yawn. But not from Shu. Instead, it came from Chi-chan.

"Uncle Kai." She tilted her head and said, "Why are you here?"

"Huh?" Yuri turned to look at Chi-chan and said, "He's your uncle too?"

Chi-chan blinked and then slowly turned to look at Kai.

Kai let out a relaxed smile and said, "Yuri's grandfather is my teacher, Chi-chan."

Calm. Composed. The man... Kai was his name.

Right. Shu remembered seeing him at the Christmas party and a few other times before.

Anyway, he looked calm and composed, but Shu sensed that he was nervous. He did well to hide it, and it seemed like he was trained as a martial artist too. That, or he had faced a lot of life and death encounters to maintain that composure.

But there was a subtle tension that Shu could recognize. The readiness and caution to face a new battle.

...Probably.

Shu was a bit rusty at reading people from that sort of world.

John smiled and clapped a hand on Kai's shoulder. "I know it's a bit sudden and early, everyone. But starting from today on, Kai here is going to be helping you guys out as your personal doormat."

"Manager."

John looked at Kai and said, "Isn't that what I said?"

Kai adjusted his tie and said, "It isn't." He paused and then let out a sigh. "Though all things considered, I suppose it isn't wrong." He looked at the girls and smiled. "After all, I'm supposed to ensure the girls feel welcome and can brush away all the dirt bothering them at the door, am I not?"

John gave Kai a blank look and said,"...Where was that intelligence last month, Pal?"

Kai cleared his throat and looked at the girls. "In any case." He smiled and bowed his head. "As John mentioned, my name is Kai." He raised his head and said, "Starting today, I will officially be the manager responsible for Generation 1, Prodigy in Project MirAIs. But please, feel free to address me casually if you wish."

A comfortable banter between John and Kai.

From that, Shu could tell that they were close and good friends. Though, considering that John had invited him to the Christmas party and a few other events, that was obvious.

Mister John didn't just let anybody into his personal life. And he especially kept private about his family.

So it didn't seem like Mister John was just abandoning them to a random person he hired, but...

Suzume quietly raised her hand.

John noticed and looked at her. "Yes, Suzu-chan?"

"Um..." She looked at Kai and then glanced back at John. "...Pardon if I am being rude. But Mister John... Are you abandoning us?"

An uncomfortable silence.

Chi-chan fidgeted, messing with the collar of her shirt.

Yuri frowned, turning to look at John.

As for Shu... She stared carefully at John.

Mister John wasn't the sort of person to do things for no reason. It might seem that way, but he had always been working in their best interests. So...

John shook his head. "Absolutely not." He looked at all of the girls and said, "You all have my number and know where I live. My office is open as well if you ever want to talk."

Suzume pursed her lips and said, "But then... Why do we need a manager?" After that, she looked at Kai.

Yuri nodded and said, "Yeah. We're doing fine by ourselves. And our Senpais don't have one, right?"

John nodded. "That's true. But two out of three of your Senpais are adults. And both of them treat your last Senpai as a younger sister and help her out. All of you are still kids."

Chi-chan flinched.

Yuri frowned again and crossed her arms.

Suzume looked thoughtful.

But Shu nodded.

It made sense-

Wait.

Shu looked at John and said, "Mister John."

"Yes, Shu?"

"You said two of our Senpais are adults. I know that Asako Senpai is one, but the other isn't Rin Senpai, right?"

John nodded. "That's right. The other adult is Alphy."

A confused silence. One shared by even Kai.

John picked up on it and tilted his head. "What?"

Kai turned to John and said, "Alphy... isn't a teenager?"

John gave Kai a blank look and said, "Haven't I told you? Alphy's the oldest of my daughters."

"Yes. But..." Kai tilted his head, as if doing some mental math. "...How old were you when you had her...?"

John paused to think. "...18?"

"And right now, you're... how old again?"

"Well." John reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. After that, he opened it to check his driver's license and said, "According to this, I'm... 45. Huh." John put his wallet away and smiled. "Look pretty good for an old guy, eh? Must be all the training I did in my youth."

Kai let out an exasperated sigh and said, "Never mind. I should have known better than to ask."

"Wait!" Yuri spoke up and held up her right hand, using the other to rub her temple. "You're telling me..." She looked at John and said, "Mister John. You're really that old?"

John nodded. "Plus or minus a few years. My birth certificate got messed up and I don't have the original, but it's something like that. Physically though, I'm perpetually in my mid-twenties." He laughed after that.

Yuri blinked and said, "T-Then, how old is Miss Yue?"

"Hm? Oh, she's about ten years younger than me."

"A-And... So... How old is Alphy Senpai?"

John tilted his head. "...If I do the math right, she should be 27?" He paused and then looked around at everyone. "Is age such a big deal though?"

Another round of silence.

"Anyway." John looked back at Shu and said, "We went on a bit of a tangent there, but does that clear it up?"

"Y-Yes." Shu nodded. "Thank you, Mister John."

But they were all that old, huh? It seemed like Grandfather was right in how training in martial arts kept you young when you reached the peak.

...Although it didn't seem to work on him considering his silver hair and wrinkled face.

"Back to the important stuff." John spoke up again and looked at the girls. "The reason why Kai's going to help you girls out is because of two things. One: since I've got a new baby to take care of, there will be times where I can't help you girls. Two: he knows the industry and the problems it brings better than I do."

Kai cleared his throat and said, "As I said, I know the *idol* industry in-depth. Streamers and this new wave of entertainment however-"

John waved his hand. "It's the same sort of deal, just magnified. I'm sure you can handle it, Pal. Besides, you bootstrapped yourself up to make Mystic Bouquet top the worldwide charts, didn't you?"

"...Yes, but..."

Wait.

Wait, wait, wait.

Shu stared at Kai, carefully examining his face.

It was different. The middle-aged man standing there was unfamiliar. But as Shu kept looking... and as she imagined his hair still all black and his face more carefree with less wrinkles...

She gasped and pointed at him. "You're the manager for Mystic Bouquet!"

"WAIT, WHAT?!" Yuri turned towards Kai and said, "You never mentioned that, Uncle Kai!"

Chi-chan's eyes widened as well and she quickly nodded. "Yeah! I thought you were just a businessman!"

"A-Ah." Kai cleared his throat. "Well. I did my best to try and keep that fact separate from my work. It was more of a side-job and passion project..." After saying that, he gave a pointed look at John.

He laughed and said, "Told you it'd work out."

Suzume slowly raised her hand again.

John noticed and said, "Yes, Suzu-chan?"

"Um... What's Mystic Bouquet?"

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