334 – To the New Year – I
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Yuri meekly sipped on a glass of water while she stared at the people seated around her.

After unpacking and getting comfortable in her room, Suzume's parents called Yuri and the other Prodigy girls down for a late dinner.

Yuri was expecting a somewhat casual setting with just the other girls and Suzume's parents. But instead...

"Well, well." Asako took a seat across from Yuri and grinned. "I was just wondering what our cute kouhais were up to. So this is why you all set premieres for this week, huh?"

Alphy sat down on Asako's right and said, "It's a lot of hard work to stream, Asa-chan. And isn't it obvious to want to enjoy the new year?"

Rin sat down on Asako's left and said, "What Onee-chan said. And it's more fun when there's more friends around to celebrate, right?"

Asako snorted and looked towards Chihiro. "Sure. 'Friends'..."

Chihiro coughed and lifted up her tea cup to cover her face.

'This is going to be a long vacation, isn't it?'

Yuri resisted the urge to sigh and shifted her gaze away from Asako, focusing on the surroundings.

A low but long table, lined with cushions on either side for seating. On the surface, various Japanese dishes were laid out. Grilled fish like salmon and tuna. Some sashimi and miso soup. Vegetables like pickled radishes... Essentially, a full course meal with dishes and chopsticks laid out for everyone around.

And speaking of everyone...

One one side of the table, Yuri was seated along with the other members of Prodigy. Chihiro was to Yuri's right, followed by Shu and Suzume.

On the other side were their senpais, Asako, Alphy, and Rin.

Everyone was wearing a kimono of some sort... although Yuri noticed that Alphy's seemed a bit different in style. More Chinese than Japanese.

But either way, the scene looked like a traditional Japanese meeting... probably.

Except for the fact that Suzume's adoptive parents were standing off to the side and taking pictures.

Well, mostly Suzume's adoptive mother.

Suzume's eye twitched and she let out a strained smile. "Mother. Would you kindly cease?"

Suzume's adoptive mother lowered her camera and pouted. "But it's the first time you've brought friends home to visit! We have to take pictures! Especially since everyone is so dressed up and cute!"

Suzume's adoptive father nodded and said, "While my wife is a bit enthusiastic about it... this *is* included in the package that your senpais bought, Meimei." He looked towards Alphy and said, "Are we being too intrusive?"

"Oh no." Alphy shook her head and then smiled. "The more pictures the better."

Suzume's adoptive father looked back towards Suzume and said, "See?"

Suzume let out a long suffering sigh.

Suzume's adoptive father laughed. But after a bit, he stopped and said, "Well, that's enough of that for now." He grabbed his wife and started dragging her away. "We'll leave you girls alone to enjoy yourselves. If you need anything, just call the main line. We'll come back later to clean things up, so don't worry."

"Wait!" Suzume's adoptive mother squirmed and said, "But Meimei!"

"But nothing, Cherry. You're being annoying. Now come on."

"Aww..."

And like that, it was just the Project MirAIs girls sitting around the table.

Was it because the other girls of Prodigy were shy? Or were they still embarrassed at meeting their senpais so out of the blue?

For once, Chihiro was being super quiet. Suzume was quiet as always, but she also seemed a bit tense. Maybe embarrassed? And Shu...

Ah. She was just busy eating.

As expected, Shu didn't let the small things get to her.

Seeing that, Yuri decided to follow suit and started serving herself some food, ignoring how Rin was watching her with a thoughtful gaze.

An awkward atmosphere. One that definitely wasn't going to be broken by Yuri's genmates. Seeing that, she decided to bite the bullet and break the silence.

But before she could, Rin spoke up and said, "So! Did you have anything fun planned for this trip?"

Asako snorted and started grabbing some food for herself. "Way to break the tension, Sis."

"What?" Rin pouted and said, "I'm being serious, you know? Besides, you're taking the senpai thing too seriously. Look how scared Chi-chan and Suzu-chan are."

Chihiro huffed and said, "I'm not scared. I'm just... being respectful."

Asako raised an eyebrow and said, "Sure you are, Miss 'I can do better than Aoko.'"

Chihiro flinched. "Grk."

Shu laughed and then patted Chihiro's shoulder. "Don't worry, Chi-chan. Asako senpai is just messing with you."

Alphy chimed in and said, "That's right. If Asa-chan was really mad, she'd throw you off a building."

Yuri snorted, suddenly remembering the little incident in VR.

Alphy looked over and smiled.

Seeing that, Yuri coughed and averted her gaze.

...It was still a bit weird. Was Alphy senpai really that same girl she saw back at the cafe...?

Rin clapped her hands together and said, "Okay. That's enough of that." She smiled and looked around at everyone. "We're all friends here, and we're all here to have fun. Since we were lucky enough to meet like this, how about we take the time to really get to know each other?"

Asako raised an eyebrow and said, "What? The other times we met and talked doesn't count for you, Sis?"

Rin waved her hand and said, "That's work! This is for fun." She looked across towards the Prodigy girls and said, "I'll go first!" She smiled and said, "I'm Rin Hibana, the first member of Project MirAIs! I met Mister John after he saved me from doing an icky job and I've been having fun ever since."

Asako picked up her chopsticks and pointed them at Rin. "You know, Sis. Out of context, that sounds really bad."

Alphy giggled and said, "Well. Most of the time the things that happen around Papa sound really bad without context. Like the time he walked into Auntie Zhaojun's room in the middle of night and ripped off her clothes."

A sudden silence.

Asako blinked. "...What?"

Alphy picked up her own chopsticks and started grabbing some food to put on her plate. "Papa and Auntie were fighting against some bad people earlier and he realized that there was some dangerous poison thrown on Auntie's clothes. She would have died and there wasn't enough time to explain... Well, that's what Papa said."

-----AI|IA-----

"Achoo!" John wiped his nose and then glared at the sky. "One of these days, Fate. One of these days..." He shook his head and then focused back on his work.

Yue was watching Aurora tonight, so John finally had some free time to catch up on things. And by things, he meant the work he had been neglecting as Project Prototype's manager.

Sitting behind his desk in his office, John sipped on a cup of coffee and looked over to the person helping him. "Any ideas on where to start with this mess, Jenny?"

Jenny adjusted her reading glasses, flipping through a pile of documents. "...Onii-chan. You suck at management."

"I don't suck at management. I just... don't like doing it." John cleared his throat and then glanced towards his computer monitor, watching the live feed of social media posts around each girl in Prototype.

As always, #ProjectMirAIs was trending on Twotter. The buzz seemed to be more on the mystery premiere videos and why all the girls in Project MirAIs seemed to have taken a break though.

John sipped on his coffee again and said, "I forgot how much ordinary people jump to conclusions when they don't have anything better to do."

Theories about some of the girls having secret boyfriends. Along with those, some theories about one of the girls getting pregnant. And some doubts about whether Prodigy was going to continue since they didn't seem to be doing as well as their senpais...

Jenny set her stack of papers aside and said, "Don't worry, Onii-chan. Kai knows how to manage the media stuff."

"I'm aware."

After all, the fact that Kai was able to get his former idols out of the industry after that giant mess and also quiet down the buzz was incredible in hindsight. Especially since John barely came across any news about them when he did his initial research on idols.

It had only been a cursory search, true. But he had definitely crawled the web and plucked all the publicly available information.

But anyway...

John set his cup of coffee aside and then rubbed his chin, staring at Twotter's trending page. "I'm just wondering on how we go from here."

It had only been a short couple of months, but both Myth Inc. and Project MirAIs were here to stay. Not only that, but from the fact that #VTuberUprising had been trending every day since the full MIRAIZ app dropped, John was sure that things were going to get hectic as soon as the new year ended and the big corps started the new year.

John tapped his fingers on the table and muttered, "Should I just clear the way?"

It'd be simple to do. Annoying, but John could sort it out. But-

"No." Jenny shook her head and said, "We have to do things the proper way if we want the girls to be able to live normal lives without being involved in that side."

"...True." John sighed. "I *hate* politics though."

Jenny placed a stack of papers in front of John and then smiled. "Just think of it as setting up a happy married life for Alphy down the line."

John rubbed his forehead and said, "I still haven't even begun to think about *that* can of worms..." He let out a deep sigh and then shook his head. "Well. If Homie could push through boring work for his baby daughter, I should be able to do the same."

"That's the spirit, Onii-chan. Now help me sort out candidates for community managers and which corporations we might be able to poach talents from later."

John sighed and started looking through the papers.

'Well. I guess this is payback for having Yue handle everything back at home.'

With another heavy sigh, John got to work.

...Hopefully the girls were having fun at least.

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