AnimeSuki Forums

Register Forum Rules FAQ Members List Social Groups Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read

Go Back   AnimeSuki Forum > Anime Related Topics > Fan Creations

Notices

Reply
 
Thread Tools
Old 2009-10-07, 23:42   Link #1
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Controversy's Shorts(tories)

I'll just be putting up short stories relating to various anime here. Character studies, episodic humor, whatever it may be when the mood takes me. I hope you enjoy.

Commentary, especially specific criticisms, are encouraged. I haven't written anything other than my novel in a year, so I need help scraping off the rust.

--- --- ---

Entry 1: On the Matter of Kimidori Emiri, a Character from The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi

Forgettable

I cannot say I have any strong feelings one way or the other about the task I have conducted all these years. It's a matter of how I was made that it feels as natural as I imagine breathing does for a human. I am Kimidori Emiri, the Coordinator for all Humanoid Interfaces of the Data Integrated Thought Entity in the country of Japan, on Earth.

This identity, by my own contrivances, is not one oft remembered. That's part of the point; we of the Passive faction always endeavor to be forgettable so that what work we do undertake is not traced back to us. If you picked up that loose thread and pulled and pulled, you wouldn't unravel me. I'd simply let go of the frayed end in my hand, and you'd be left to wonder again.

But as I said, this is only part of the point. The Passive faction is ideally suited to provide Coordinators for groups of other Interfaces because our meekness, our fleeting presences and low-energy ideals leave us without ego, when others bit by bit give into it. At least, this is the touted line of reasoning.

We have examples, of course. I do not mean to seem accusatory, and I hope you will forgive me for being so presumptuous, but I do feel Asakura Ryouko, Interface of the Radical faction, is an example. Her deviant action was spurred on by an individual motive. The Data Integrated Thought Entity cannot permit independent action. It will always disagree within itself, but it must act without with a single purpose. Unify in anonymity. That is the Passive 'motto'.

Do you consider it a reflection on me that she behaved as she did? Do you question how much her Coordinator could have done in that situation? Perhaps these are valid questions. Of course, I had expected she would be fine under Nagato's guidance.

Hmm? Oh, I mean Nagato Yuki. She and Asakura were a natural pair, since they are both experimental Interfaces. Even now, Nagato displays more and more traits of what some factions call 'maverickism'. I do not wish to cast aspersions on her. I simply serve. I have always watched and prepared the way for others.

I cannot say I have any strong feelings about the task I am conducting to this day, but I can say that perhaps even I have developed a sense of the meaning in the word 'I'. You see, under the guise of keeping up human appearances, I have left one mark on the strongest memory sense of one person. The one person who would still be left to remember even if Data-Creating Anomaly Suzumiya Haruhi unmade everything.

To be forgettable. That is part of my task. But when the day comes that I leave and am already forgotten, he will remember the scent of flowers in my hair and struggle to match this to a face and name.

I am forgettable.

I am the one maverick who will never be truly forgotten.

Last edited by Ricky Controversy; 2009-10-24 at 20:06.
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-10-11, 19:08   Link #2
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Well, I've had a number of ideas, but I feel like sticking with the Haruhi theme for a bit longer. There may be one or two more entries after this on those characters, then I have some ideas about minor characters from Naruto or some such. I tend to prefer watching stuff targeted at adults, but I also like material targeted at younger audiences when the occasional gem shines through. Enough about me for now.

Edit: I ended up rather liking this 'vision' of Asakura, and want to develop it more, but I'm not sure the execution's working for me. Probably because I just barfed this up in six minutes or so, but I can't quite pinpoint what seems off to me. Any suggestions would be great.

--- --- ---

Entry 2: On the Matter of Asakura Ryoko, a Character from The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi

Equip

It's not accurate to say it was all a facade. I'm not offended, mind you, but it's simply not the truth. If I had any reason to believe such simple language could convey the necessary data to settle his nerves, I would speak it, but for the time being I am silent as he looks at me with apprehension. His body is completely paralyzed under his own conflicting animal instincts: though I have not done so, I may as well have locked him in place like that time...

"Nagato-san, she--"

"Disintegrated my body, that's right. So you're wondering how I'm standing here?" I offer him the softest smile I can muster, but it's reflexive. "It was determined by the Radical faction that an agent was needed to represent its concerns as the situation becomes more critical. You will see the need soon enough."

"But why you? Asakura-san, didn't your actions conflict with your orders?"

"Ah," I say, nodding, and I laugh, not because anything is particularly humorous. Though, how would I really know, when it comes down to it? By my understanding, the sensation of humor requires a degree of connection which I've yet to have with these humans or even my fellow Interfaces. I laugh because it's absurd. "Under less sensitive circumstances, a new unit would be superior to redeploying me, yes, but in the case of Suzumiya-san and her environment, the factions are mostly agreed that we must be subtle. My return will be welcome here, and I do hope we can be friends again, Kyon-kun."

"We were ne--" I know what he's about to say, but he swallows the rest, which is surprising. I watch his eyes shift subtly, I can tell he is remembering something. What is it?

...That's worth noting. I've observed the humans closely for a long time as a way of developing a demeanor they would think of as 'kind' and 'approachable', but it has never occurred to me to wonder what they are thinking or feeling. It was never necessary for my own array of emotions. The personality I constructed for myself almost universally inspired positive feedback, so why should I have concerned myself?

"Asakura-san," he spoke after some time. The expression from before was gone. His irises no longer twitched, but were focused, unbelievably still, directly on me. It was then I noticed my lips felt different. They were not upturned. I was not smiling for the first time in...so long. "You tried to kill me," he said, but it was an even tone, no hint of accusation.

"Yes, I did." A concession to this matter of fact was all I could offer.

"At the time, you know, you were the last person I'd have expected anything like that from," he said, and then he...

He laughed. It was short, terse, not the kind of laugh my human 'friends' would have considered handsome. But it was just misplaced enough to pique my interest.

"At the time, I'd have expected it from Haruhi, or maybe even Yuki...I thought they were both insane at the time, while you were our model student."

"Yes, that's right." That was the perfect moment for a reassuring smile. The motions are well memorized in this egoscopic projection shell, this body. Flatten and spread the lips slightly, tense the upper cheek muscles to draw the corners up. Close the eyes, incline the head thirty-two degrees. None of this happened. It couldn't happen.

"Maybe that person is you, in some ways, but I remembered what you said. You did not understand why I was afraid to die. Do you understand now, somehow?"

"No, I do not."

"Do you understand why people have the emotions they do?"

"No, I do not."

"Then how can you promise me you wouldn't try to kill me again if the situation seemed right?"

"...I can not."

He sighed. I couldn't decipher the frustrated half-growl he gave under his breath, but something didn't seem to line up. I could tell his heart-rate was accelerated, his body overheated, I could see all the ways he was tensed and ready to run for his life, yet he only showed a resigned frustration on his face.

"Then where do you expect things to go from here? Why come to me asking for...what, us to get along while you're here?"

"We of the radical faction are presently satisfied with Haruhi's recent behavior and look forward to the increase in spontaneous data generation as the situation mounts. So, Kyon-kun, I have no reason to want you to die. Therefore, can't we be friends?"

That laugh again. It was inappropriate for the context, it was crass, it was black. It was fascinating.

"So it's that simple, is it?" he gave a half-smile and I couldn't suppress a bodily reaction of surprise. "Right, well, we'll work on this, I guess. Nagato-san and Kimidori-senpai have you under tighter observation this time anyway."

"Of course, you're safe for now. I won't hurt you." I wasn't going to, it's a fact, so why did he seem so dismissive? This was not the reactionary animal behavior I had observed up to this point. In this moment I am seeing my carefully constructed concept of the human mind as a system of controllable inputs and outputs fall apart. I am now the one rooted to the spot as he heads to the door to leave.

"You can't be so clinical about these things, Asakura-san. You've perfected your emotions but you don't have..." he furrows his brows as he stands in the now-open doorway. I am wondering what he is thinking and I am aware that I am wondering and I'm no longer in familiar territory. This is all a new field of study now. "Empathy, that's the word. You don't really connect, feel what others feel."

An active agent of the radical faction isn't intended for input. Only output. Changing, not being changed. I can't expect him to care about such notions, so rather I say: "I was not designed with this 'empathy', Kyon-kun."

He shakes his head and walks out the door.

"Nagato-san wasn't. I wasn't. Nobody is, but you can learn it." He waves slowly, and disappears from sight.

"I would like very much...to understand."

I wonder if I mean it.

Last edited by Ricky Controversy; 2009-10-14 at 13:46.
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-10-14, 14:11   Link #3
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Not anime related, but video game related, and I've noticed works other than fanart/fanfiction in this section, so I figured this would be appropriate. Bit of black humor I drazzled over two hours or so back when World of Warcraft's "Wrath of the Lich King" was new and exciting to me. I quit the game back in February, not long after writing this.

--- --- ---

Realities
~or~
Portrait of the Artist As a Practical-Minded Orcish Soldier, Not Actually The Artist At All



The First Part: Shovel

“All hail Moragor Thundercall, hero of the Horde!” they say. I ride through the streets of Orgrimmar atop my trusted worg companion, Kranok, the titanium plates of his armor gleaming in the warm sunlight. It is an exceptionally fair day, and the wind brings the scent of roasted boar, freshly brewed ale and honeyed breads down from the awaiting banquet hall.

“Moragor!” the grateful people shout, lifting on high their offerings; the finest cloth, glimmering jewels, elegant blades. I make a show of turning these down.

“The safety of our people is all the thanks I need,” I explain, bowing my head. Yes, right now, they are all my people. My children. When I step into Grommash Hold moments from now and offer the head of Arthas to Thrall, I shall stand not even as his equal, but as the mighty Warchief's better. I know he will kneel to me in reverence. It will all be perfect.

Or rather, it would, if I were Moragor Thundercall, hero of the Horde. As it happens, I am Gurk Orlak, Dung Shoveler of the Horde. I have the crucial task of, you guessed it, shoveling up the waste our lovely, slobbering worgs drop in the makeshift stables here at our forward camp in the scenic Dragonblight. My captain, a stuffy Blood Elf named Siras Pallium believes me uniquely suited to this job as I apparently exhibit some immunity to this job's usual perils.

“It has come to my attention, Gurk, that the scent of worg manure would neither improve nor damage your natural odor,” is how he put it, I think. However it happened, I've been working the position since we first set up this ramshackle base about two months ago. I think I may be due for promotion, perhaps to Lord High Executor...of Dung Shoveling. Yes, I will take the worg stables and make them like unto a fiefdom of feces: a fiefdung.

I lapse into that particular daydream maybe four or five times during a given day of duty. It ranks among my three most frequent daydreams along with the hero thing, and the dream where I'm friends with this Eredar barber and I make meat pies from bits of hacked-up Scourge. Since the entirety of my day is spent cleaning up after the cavalry, it's really more fitting to divide time up based on what I'm thinking instead of doing, and those dreams make up three fourths of my time. The rest consists of trying to muster up the confidence to demand my due respect from the captain. I try to make him seem less intimidating by imagining him in a dress, but that doesn't really do much more than concern me, because he seems to cut an equally fine figure in both spiked saronite and fetching fuschia felt.

“I am the greatest dung shoveler this land will ever know!” I will say, voice booming with a confidence that shakes the very resolve of the Scourge surrounding us, with a power that ripples over his tasteful dress. He will pat out the wrinkles and ruffles awkwardly, apologetically, curtsying to me.

“Of course, Lord Orlak! All praise to he who wields the Cleansing Spade, for it is hefty indeed!”

A smack on the back of my head awakens me from my reverie, and I am back at our delightful little post, in the stables. The many offensive odors of unkempt battle-worgs flood my nostrils again, and I see the dopey grin of the one whose open palm tore me from my world of triumph.

“Hey, Gurk, where were ya?” the pleasant, vacant face asks.

“A bold, proud new world, Nerosh,” I tell him. Nerosh is a Mag'hari Orc with brown skin and a black tail of hair woven tight from the back of his head, the roots of which actually penetrate into his brain, interfering with its function and making him ever so tragically witless.

“Uh, yeah,” he says, not really sure what he's agreeing with. “So, listen, captain says a new guy's comin' in soon, some big famous lieutenant from Agmar's Hammer. I say we have ourselves a little drink and get a look at 'im. Never seen a hero before!”

I should be insulted, and I am. Never seen a hero? Why, what other sort of orc could do what I do with such dedication? Surely, after such a remark, the worgs will not begrudge me a drink to ease my nerves.

“Sounds good,” I say, setting my shovel up against one of the stable doors and following Nerosh out into the cold. The sun is bleak overhead, cold and crystalline. I lower my gaze for just a moment to look at Wyrmrest Temple. Its gilded domes glisten even in the weak, pale daylight, and though it is five miles away, we still live in its shadow. I've always hated that damn building, and I stop to shake my fist at it. Nerosh gives me a questioning look and shakes his head.

“Why do ya always do that? You got something against the dragons?” he asks.

“Other than the fact that they do not use their vast, godlike power to clean up any mess other than the ones they cause, but expect us to take their orders and help them with things they could solve just by taking a deep breath? Well, quite frankly, they all have mug problems.”

“Mug problems?” he puzzles, and for a moment I think I see that worg-tail of hair take a long draft from his skull.

“They are ugly, you see,” I tell him.

“Hey, and who says scribes aren't good in wars? You could bore the Scourge back into their graves with your shitty jokes!”

I wince a little at that, the whole scribe-somehow-became-manure-manager thing is still tender for me. You ask ten people, Horde or Alliance, what they think when they think of Orcs, whatever moral judgements they may make, they all seem to agree that your typical Orc is composed of rippling muscle with thick, pulsing veins. That is not me. I am as thin as an Orc comes, really, but apparently I had something worth noticing, because I was taken not long after my birth as slave and student to a scribe at the Arathi internment camp where I was born and raised. Under a harsh mentor I learned my letters. When the uprisings and the Third War had played out, I studied hard. Not more than a year ago, I finished my training. I can write fluently in six languages. I have a masterful grasp of many histories. I told the Captain on my first day. I got the shovel.

“Aw, toughen up, I didn't mean nothin' by it,” Nerosh says, slapping me on the back hard enough to smart through my leather tunic. We walk from the stables to the palisade wall, ascending the ramp onto the high planks to look out over the snow fields. Miles of snow in every direction, as always: snow, ice and rock. Further out in every direction, there are terrible things that hate us and want to claw, stab, smash, burn, rot or eat our faces and, quite possibly, the rest of our bodies.

As we lean over the wooden wall, he looks over his shoulder to make sure the captain isn't watching, then reaches under his furred cloak to pull out a ragged skin, handing it to me first. I remove the cork and take a swig of the foul grog inside, letting the burn take my mind off other things. What other things? I don't know. My mind is off them!

I wheeze and tear up a little, and hand the skin back to him, nodding approval before I look back out over the snow. The only actual dirt visible in this graveyard is the sad little road we keep dug out from the front of the camp for the couriers to come and for the riders to head out for patrol. Sometimes, all of us here at the camp hate that road more than we hate the Scourge, because it's where all our contradictory orders come from.

Oh! While Nerosh is going cross-eyed from grog, let me tell you a little something about this camp. We were set up here not long after a victory over a local pack of Magnataur and their kobold friends. We're on a small hill, the thirty of us, overlooking some of the Scourge digging operations, the ones they get their dragon bones from. We were set up by a joint order from Overlord Agmar and Saurfang the Younger, and so we take orders from both of them. Here's the problem: they're both of equal rank, and they each send us different, contradictory orders. How do we cope? Well, I have to give it to the captain on this one, he came up with the perfect answer.

“The solution is simple; we do nothing,” he said.

“Nothing?” all of us asked.

“Nothing. One set of orders very specifically directs us to attack the Alliance outpost east of us, while the other suggests we establish cooperation with them. To fulfill one would be a direct violation of the other, so we do neither.”

Instead, we return the couriers that come with a message that politely informs both leaders that we have seen Scourge movements in the area and are surveying them. Survey duty really amounts to sending the worg riders for a joy ride around the hill and staring out from the walls, though to be fair, the Scourge certainly do move from time to time. It is certainly something you could say that they do.

“Watch duty, huh?” a deep, rough Tauren voice asks from below. Huun, our resident healer, waves at us and approaches. It's a relief that he's coming, because as nice as he tries to be, Nerosh is not a dazzling conversationalist by any means, and Huun is a good deal brighter.

“Seeing anything interesting?” he asks when he reaches us. Truth be told, I am not a diligent scout. I've taken my eyes off the endless white carpet, and try my best to mask my relieved surprise when I focus upon it again and find it exactly the damn same as before. I scan the horizon for something to kill time over, and find a familiar-looking creature not too far north, shambling around near a huge boulder.

“Hazi's at work again,” I say, pointing at the thing.

“Still? Poor bastard,” Huun grumbles.

Hazi, you see, used to be our engineer. He was quite a Troll, he was. Diligent, even-handed, thoughtful, deliberate, precise and sympathetic. In short, he was all the things the rest of us aren't. That was before we put the finishing touches on the camp's defenses about five weeks back. The actual planned layout of the camp calls for some additional walls and posts out from the base of the hill where the boulders provide good defense points. Hazi, being the hard worker he was and is, goes out early in the morning to take some measurements, make a few charts, and near as we can figure, a lone ghoul gets him, he kills it, but he's blighted. So, now he's a dead Troll engineer, and having a hard time letting go of the engineer part. He's presently looking up and down the boulder, scratching at his ragged little chart paper, then shambling over to the next boulder. He gets into it, he does, feeling the boulders with his rotten hands, trying to figure out how sturdy, how dense it is.

Nerosh and Huun and I watch him do this every day. It's relaxing in a strange way. He's gone, but not entirely. I think to myself that if he can carry on in death, Hazi will always be there to give us a little bit of peace and predictability in the face of this war. Yeah, whatever you may have thought, most of us soldiers would sooner be bored than dying in glorious battle. Most of us. I hear the jarring sounds of armored mounts; three worgs approaching on the road. The one at point looks suspiciously like my trusty Kranok! Atop his back, what looks like titanium statuary sits with a power and tension that's oppressive to look at.

“Is that the new lieutenant or a monument?” Huun asks, looking at that metal-covered monster. As the three worgs and their riders come further up the hill, the captain barks at us from below.

“You three, if you're not doing anything useful, open the gates for them. If you are doing something useful, shut up, because you're lying, and open the gates for them!”

We three exchange glances and head down, unbarring the gate and drawing it back, the riders barreling on through right away. As they dismount, the leader makes straight for me, worg in tow. His stride is powerful, his black-and-gray armor brutal and mighty, vastly more impressive than the captain's. A vicious axe, about as big as me, hangs on his back. This orcish colossus of steel descends upon me and hands me his worg's reins without a word, turning to the captain.

The mastery of it all! The aura of power and assurance! And is he a mind-reader? How did he know I was the worg stabler? His two comrades, a pair of Forsaken clad just as royally, pass their worgs off to Nerosh and Huun, then turn to follow their friends. Well, that's one out of three. Not bad! We take the worgs to the stables cautiously, slowly, as the lieutenant speaks to the Captain with urgency and a mighty voice. What about, we do not know, but surely, it is something heroic.

When we get to the stables and have found room for these three regal-looking hounds, I nearly spit up in my own mouth.

“Did you see that?” I shout. Huun and Nerosh look surprised, and they step back from me. “He and his worg and his friends there were wearing enough Titanium to pay off an entire Goblin regiment for a year!”

“Hah, jealous 'cause you've gotta wear leather and swing a cobalt axe like the rest of us?” Nerosh tries to joke after he thinks I've calmed down, and he nudges me in the ribs with an elbow. This is a terrible mistake, and I shove him away and storm out of the stables. I am mad as the Nether and I'm not going to take any more of this hero nonsense. I'm going to march right over to that lieutenant and suddenly Huun's strong hand has gripped my shoulder and locked me in place.

“Nuh-uh. None of that,” he says, turning me to face him.

“When you are a serf in my grand fiefdung, you will rue the day you interfered!” I snarl, well beyond being cogent.

“Right. So, what's got you all up in arms?” he asks.

“Heroes,” I tell him, without even waiting for him to finish.

“Heroes? What does that mean?”

“The ones who think we should kiss their hides for cleaning up the messes they make. The ones who always have to change things. Ones like our new friends.”

“Gurk, I think you're taking this a lit—”

I shake my head and sigh, looking at the lieutenant and his aides talking with Captain Siras, and even he seems to be irritated by this glorious champion, though he likely does a better job hiding it. Other soldiers from the camp are walking away from their duties to gather around the new lieutenant and fawn over him, and I really just want to hold my familiar shovel again.


---


The Second Part: Crutch


I have devised a new rule which I am intent on circulating amongst the fine soldiers of our nameless post, which reads as follows: Anyone whose armor would sell for more in a Gadgetzan market than your mother would ransom your life for is an irredeemable beast and should be shunned as a leper, yea, as a leper gnome!

Resolved to share this bold new moral construct as quickly and powerfully as possible with my comrades, I move with purpose to make use of our base's highly sophisticated intelligence services and promptly nail the parchment onto the inside of the lone outhouse's door. It is nailed directly over my previous crucial pamphlet expounding on the depravity of people whose names feature three or more incidences of the letters 'k', 'x', 'y' and 'z', and partially blocks the sheaf containing my unfinished novel, The Rain Forest, a scandalous tell-all about the quality of meat storage in our camp. Such is the new rule's urgency. As I nail it into the door, I think ahead to the future when the hero, having grown full of glory and enemy blood, rushes to the outhouse gallantly—heroes use the bathroom, right?—and upon entry, finds himself confronted with my crushing prose.

I wonder: in what feeble words will he grovel to be spared the wrath of this scribe's righteous quill?

“Hail, brother!” a mighty voice and strong, scarred face greets me the moment I turn from my work, and my body, compelled more by the gravity of my journalism than pure, concentrated fright, jumps backwards into the door and catches itself upright against the outhouse. I shake my head and attempt a more appropriate greeting.

“I didn't hear you coming,” I say in the most cordial manner possible, which really still sounds more like “Oh, hello there, I was just posting something sardonically defamatory of your person in the outhouse. What? Why no, I did not want you to be physically present for this, as in a fight outside the arena of writing, I find myself more in need of the aforementioned outhouse! This is actually my perfect nightmare, thank you for asking.”

For a moment, there is silence, and I begin to wonder if I said that entire part out loud. When he extends a gauntleted hand to me, I am somewhat stunned, half in relief, half by the audacity he displays by trying to bypass my thoughtless hatred for him.

“My name is Targash Blackaxe,” he says, nodding solemnly. “I want you to know that I will defend this place with my life. You can trust me, brother.” The promise is delivered with such assurance and calm that I begin to wonder if all that plating is meant to keep him aground despite the tendency of hot air to rise. I hide my hands behind my back subtly and begin to rack my brain for excuses not to take that unnerving Titanium hand. “My hands are soaked with ink from writing today” or “My hands are unsavory from working the worg stables” sound good, but I fail to bridge the gap and out comes:

“My hands are soaked with worg ink.” Rumble, rumble, rumble CRACK, rumble, CRACK, CRACK, rumble, rumble. That is the sound of this conversation going downhill and hitting a few sharp rocks along the way. I smoothly do an about face-into-the-outhouse-door, briefly consider the merits of my new edict when read from half an inch away, and stumble towards the stables, leaving a thankfully confused Targash Blackaxe to contemplate what had just happened.

When I get into the stables, I pick up my shovel and just...I go after it. In the back of my mind, I see Wyrmrest Temple collapsing as the dragons within go mad, ripping it apart, attacking each other. They are touched by my fury, and they shall not be the last. I grip the shovel tightly for a long time, and when my blind rush finally ends, I find my palms raw, marred by splinters.

Something about the hero type is just profoundly awful. When my human tutor back in Arathi would have me transcribe human folk tales, I would sometimes muster the nerve to ask him what was so great about the heroes in them. Why was putting the fate of an entire nation in one man's hands a good thing? He told me:

“Imagine you are carrying a very heavy stack of books, so heavy, in fact, that you will not be able to make it to the shelf where you need to put them. A hero is the man who comes along and carries the books the rest of the way for you.”

I think a more fitting analogy is that the hero is someone who comes up to you while you're carrying the books, breaks your knees and elbows, takes the books, and then everyone cheers for him. You could have carried those books. You may have dropped them here and there, sure, but you'd pick them back up and by the end you'd be a little stronger. Instead, the hero comes in and now every time you want the books carried, you have to rely on him because you're some sort of crippled librarian.

I pluck the splinters out of my hand, set the shovel back up against one of the pens and crack open the stable door to peek out at the sky. The sun's beginning to set, and the clouds gathering overhead are a dark blue-gray, which means Hazi will be up on the boulders now, assessing the surfaces that will serve as the watch-towers' foundation, and I can't miss that, of course. I sigh and shake out the last bits of tension, then make my way back up to the balcony seating for tonight's show.

When I get up onto the palisade planks with Huun and Nerosh, we turn to watch the pre-show entertainment. Lighting the torches around the camp is a Troll woman we call 'Pyro'—in large part because we can't remember her real name, but also because of fire, vis a vis her abnormal enjoyment of it. Supposedly, she's part of the fifteen-man cavalry detachment here, but she's always 'on sick-leave', which seems odd given that she never shows any symptoms, but Huun's our healer and he always deems her 'unfit for patrol'.

“Why is she off anyway?” I ask him.

“Because this is a once-a-day thing. Doesn't have the energy for it if she rides,” he says, pointing to her as she makes the rounds, stopping at one of the large, pitch-covered torches, rearing back and slashing at the thing with her own, smaller torch. She grips it firmly in both hands, has an expression as grave as a channeling necromancer. Half the time the damn torch doesn't even catch. Eventually though, she gets the job done. We clap, toss copper coins to her, and get ready for the main event.

The camp's torches and the waning twilight illuminate the Blight just enough for us to see Hazi emerging from behind the largest boulder, where he rests. The one time we went out to see what he actually does back there, his rotten throat was trying its hardest to snore, and his ragged, damp chart paper was draped over his face. He knew we were there, but he insisted on taking his mid-day nap even though he's dead.

We love Hazi. We love to watch him. As he begins to scramble up the first of his stops, he treats us to something new and exciting. How will he arrange the four rocks that mark the bases of the watchtower's legs? Will the blue rock be at the front left? What is the fate of the highly cherished black shiny rock? For a brief while after Hazi was first turned, I would take bets on this sort of thing, and the whole camp was in on it, even the Captain. A few more conservative voices insisted we were sick, so the high-stakes, fast-paced world of Hazi-Rocks went just as dead as its bold pioneer, but without the continued movement. Still, watching him work, Huun and Nerosh and I laugh and smile and call to him. Sometimes, he turns and stares at us with his unseeing eyes. I remember the best moment of my childhood, when my owner took leave from Arathi to travel to Lordaeron, and took me along to a play where he shared a balcony with some minor lords.

Watching Hazi work tops all of that.

“What do you see, comrades?” Targash interrupts, sidling up to the wall alongside me. I clamp my lips shut, but Huun and Nerosh keep chuckling.

“Hazi, our resident engineer-turned-showman! He'll still be working well into the night, if you want to watch with us.”

“That Troll...he has the signs of undeath!” the lieutenant says with visible shock.

“Oh, yeah, ghoul got him a while back. Done this every day since,” Nerosh says, and as I look to see the heroic motive working itself out across Targash's face, I reach past Huun to grab my friend's worg-tail and tug it violently, damning it for compelling its victim to speak.

“For the honor of this valiant member of the Horde, I shall grant him rest. No one deserves the curse of undeath.”

I'm too busy playing out what's to come in my head to actually do anything to prevent it, and the hero flings himself adroitly over the wall, landing with a thud. He pulls his axe from its leather sling across his back. He walks with powerful determination towards Hazi, who takes notice of him when he shouts.

“Once-noble Troll! Brother in the Horde! I shall grant you release!” he says. Hazi just looks at him with as much confusion as a dead, half-rotten face can express, and then turns with what seems like a pleading expression up to me. It's too dark to see though, maybe he didn't really just...he couldn't have, being dead and all. The lieutenant draws near and raises his axe.

“He's dead already!” I want to say. “Honor doesn't matter to him anymore, just let him be!” I want to say. “You are a raging idiot and I hope your children are born on fire! Also, do not re-kill our harmless friend!”

But I don't say anything, and the axe comes down and splits Hazi in half. This isn't right. This is not how things should look from my balcony seat.

He walks back, triumphant, of course. Huun and Nerosh are silent enough for me to hear my stomach telling me in its curious bubble-based speech that it is time for dinner. I can't help but laugh a little, seeing what just happened, and my response is to be...hungry? In the time it is taking our hero to get back to the camp, I am convincing myself that after a snack and a brief intermission, I will return to find Hazi as he was.

Somehow, Huun and Nerosh manage to get me moving down the ramp and towards the middle of our camp, where everyone is gathering around the fire pit for some of our chef's sinister gruel. No sooner do I find myself repulsed by its odor—perhaps a higher dose of bile than usual? Maybe he got really creative and threw in some Harpy spinal fluid—than I am suddenly okay again. I see our heroic friend, looking reflective and dutiful, and I am alive.

“So, I don't know how it's done at Agmar's Hammer anymore, but we tend to pass the time at dinner with stories,” the captain starts, biting his lip for a moment as he carefully considers if he really wants to open the little box of horrors, “and since you three are new here, one of you should be the first storyteller tonight.” The captain is not my favorite person in the world, but I can sympathize with the desire for death by gruel that he must be feeling.

The lieutenant makes a note to appear as if coming out of deep, regretful reflection. His unwavering expression at once tells us, his audience, that he will carry the scar on his heart his whole life, but that he also knows it was necessary, and will carry on. He is a method actor.

“Very well then...hmm...there was once a mighty hero of the Orcish people, a bold adventurer whose heart belonged to all the world, and who was dedicated wholly to honor. As a child, he had great strength and was stronger than even the chieftan of his clan. When his people were beset by ravenous demons, the hero charged into battle and—”

“Single-handedly destroyed them all with lightning from his eyes?” I cut in, and the cut is deep, precise. He is silenced for a moment, and more than a few eyes look at me. Huun, sitting next to me, pats my shoulder gently.

“—rallied his people together, and united they drove them back. They lived in prosperity for many years, but the hero was not content to stay in his home for his whole life. He struck out for a distant land in search of greater honor—”

“Fame, you mean.” Huun's pat withdraws and turns into a nervous sideways glance, and I see the captain across from me, his cautioning look seemingly half-hearted even in the firelight. Targash lowers his head for a moment, clearly unused to someone not being captivated by him, and continues.

“—and hears the call of war to defend the world against a force as dark as death itself—”

“So he goes to a magical winter land where he turns everyone into a crippled librarian and then goes to a hole and kills their engineer to make him feel better and now we're never going to finish those outer defenses, you moron!” I spit. I am losing control of my mouth entirely and it is about time someone hear it, so I let it happen. “I mean, have you seen the designs he drew up? None of us have, because zombies can't draw, but I'm sure they were really good in his head, and now we'll never know!” Oh yes, that's perfect. It really articulates my concerns. It is so profound, in fact—not embarrassing—that I throw my bowl of gruel to the ground for emphasis. I stare at it for a minute, and while some may in retrospect say it looked like I was doing so with awkward uncertainty, it was raw intensity. Let me tell you here and now that I am infusing into this bowl a piece of the beast within, which will resonate with Targash threateningly when I walk away.

To my surprise, it is the captain who comes after me. I'm expecting another drawn out speech about the things I share with worg waste, but he just chuckles a little. I've never heard him chuckle.

“They sent him here to compensate for the fact that they can't tax us,” he says.

“...what?” I am still too woozy from my furor to grasp that.

“I'm saying that he's like a tax, meaning, a persistent nui—you know, nevermind. The point is, I know he's a pain. Think I enjoyed his three hour speech on honor and dignity? I don't like his type much either. Never been much for admiring suicidal idiots, but, we're stuck with him. Those are our orders.”

“What can we do about him?” I mumble.

“The same thing we do with all of our orders. Nothing. Agmar says to put him in charge. Saurfang says to keep him on a tight leash. So...”

“Nothing.”

Silence, and then...

“What was that part about a crippled librarian?”

Laughter and laughter unending.

I go to sleep not long after, feeling good about the derision I share with the captain for the hero. My condescending euphoria, however, does not mix pleasantly with what little gruel I did have, so I dream. I dream that I went out into the snow in the morning, and Hazi was back up in one piece, on his feet and able to talk! Still a ghoulish shape, mind you, but, he was really still our showman! He splits apart again, then puts himself back together and strikes a pose.

“Got ya! Now, for my next trick, I will remove the stick from your backside while keeping your spine intact!”

“What does that mean, eh Hazi?”

He never answers. I may be a scribe, but this life is not some fairy-tale. I am not the next great dream-seer. I wake up, and immediately refuse to let anything get to me today. It is time to shovel. Without Hazi, I can get my shoveling done earlier. I am a good, overqualified soldier who will one day receive his due. I do not look behind. I look ahead, to the glorious future, to my fiefdung.


---


The Third Part: Axe

The Scourge horn sounds early in the day, and it's not long before all thirty-three of us are lined up on the walls, looking North, bows on hand. From the horizon comes a quaking mass of flesh and bone, ghouls and abominations as far as the eye can see. There is no discernible reason why today of all days they should come in force to slaughter us, impale our corpses on twisted spikes and then use our fluids as the base for some sort of horrible new drink, the Gurk Orlak flavor of which would undoubtedly be the most popular. Unless...? I pause to consider if it is Tuesday. I have heard on occasion that that is the sort of thing people of the Scourged-persuasion like to do on Tuesdays.

Then, suddenly, it dawns on me. Yesterday, the lieutenant chopped Hazi. What if...what if Hazi wasn't trying to finish the defenses, but was really checking to make sure that he didn't build them before he was turned? But then why take weeks to...he was being very sure that he didn't build those defenses, so that his new Scourge allies could have absolute certainty in their attack plans. Without him, they must act on the information they have, but they are ready.
Yes, that must be it!

Hazi, you bastard.

But seriously, I'm standing here on the wall wondering how my best friend in the whole world, the charming Targash is keeping so cool when this army is going to come and open up this tiny camp like you'd open up a blemish to drain the puss from it. You know, the kind you get on your face when you're young, or on your back when you're sweating and wearing something that straps over your shoulders? I have to believe that the Scourge know that's how this is going to happen, too.

Some necromancer is undoubtedly nudging another necromancer and saying “Hey, we're going to open up that tiny camp like you'd open up a blemish to drain the puss from it.”

“Like the kind you get on your face when you're young?”

“Yes, or the kind you get on your back when you're sweating and wearing something that straps over your shoulder.”

“Oh, haha, yes, I can relate to this analogy because it is a universal concept which we Scourge share with living things.”

“Haha, indeed!”

Oh ancestors, I'm going to die. We are all going to die. Agmar doomed us by sending us a hero instead of more no-names like us. He will single-handedly crush the army, but not after every last one of us has been torn apart to make his victory costly. This means that I, being the naysayer in this hero's story, will die first, and in the most brutally visible way! Oh damnable literary cliché! You are a cruel master!

It starts and I have to stop myself from running my mouth to try and put this whole thing at a distance from me, because the ghouls are pretty quickly closing the real distance between them and the hill. We all fire at them, our arrows actually obeying their constraints. The wind knocks some shots off course, some of the others are just badly made, imbalanced, and go flying wide. Only Targash finds a target for every shot, and somehow, don't ask me how this works, certain arrows hit two or three Scourge at once.

It doesn't matter though. He doesn't matter. They start scrambling up the hill and we start to drop our bows and come down from the walls to ready a last stand at the barracks. Targash stays, readying more shots with stoic determination, and Nerosh is still up there with him, watching him, imitating him!

“Nerosh! Get down from there, you damned idiot!” I shout, but he doesn't hear me. There's some shouting from the other side of the wall, and next thing I know, Targash is alone up there, because Nerosh is crashing down at me. I'm too scared to catch him like I should. He hits the hard, frozen dirt with a loud thump, and I drag him until Huun notices and picks him up. We run for the barracks. I have never run this fast in my life. Nothing has ever smelled so bad as Nerosh's body does right now. Maybe the chef's gruel. I try to remember that one to tell him when we get to the barracks. I can't remember anything. What's going on? There goes Targash. Wow, he's sprinting. Scourge are breaking down the walls.

We get into the barracks and bar the front door. The barracks is the only structure in the camp made with any stone and metal. It will hold just long enough for me to brutally satirize this situation, which will win the day for us. The Scourge will cower before the dry wit that I marshal in my defense. I am defenseless, and the whole stick-and-spine thing from the dream makes sense now.

While Targash is barking at everyone about honor and glory, Huun is laying Nerosh down and I'm kneeling next to him. God, he's even uglier than before. Somehow, a bolt of necrotic energy did what I thought impossible. The skin over his stomach and ribs is rotting away, and it's spreading. His face has lost color entirely and is contorted in pain. I try so hard to remember the joke I had.

“Hey, Nerosh,” I say, trying to look sly because it's the first and only thing I know how to do.

“Y...yeah?” he asks, expectantly, trying to smile.

“You uh...yeah, you smell like...hey...now I know what the chef's gruel is made of.” I don't know how to do anything.

“That's harsh...” he rasps out. His throat's starting to go. “I'm gonna be—” There it goes.

“Okay,” Huun says with a slow nod. The last bit of Nerosh's neck strength goes into nodding, but Huun knows and I know and he knows that it's a straight lie, and it's all very abruptly the last thing he knows at all, because he just dies very unceremoniously despite all the courage he showed right at the end, he just dies and it's every bit as ugly as anyone else dying, and in that moment I know for sure that I don't want any part of this, I just want to live, oh ancestors I just want to live for all my little life is worth, I'd rather have it than nothing.

As soon as I rise, Huun knows, and I know that he's going to stay, because he's stupid, and because he wants this. It occurs to me as I start to run for the hatch that leads down into the hill and out onto the southern side that I don't even know why he wants this, why he joined this war, or why Nerosh did. We were never brothers in duty or glory or anything, just soldiers, just nameless soldiers and I am nameless but destined to live as I fling open the hatch and race dwn that dark tunnel. I can hear what sounds like Targash roaring as I descend, but it doesn't matter. Not he nor the Scourge nor honor can stop me from living now.

I reach the end of the tunnel and I run for my life. If this really is one hero's fairytale, than I've actually saved them all! Back at the barracks, right now, the following scene plays out: the Scourge forces relentlessly besiege the barracks un
til finally managing to smash down the door, whereupon their lead necromancer steps forward, currents of shadow ringing his fingers.

“FOOLISH MORTALS! YOU THOUGHT TO DEFY THE MIGHT OF...uh...hm. Where's that guy? The naysaying one? Because, you know, we have this sort of...narrative obligation, really, to kill him before we can kill any of the rest of you.”

“He's long gone,” Huun is saying, and Nerosh, who was actually just pretending to be dead but can't actually be because I'm not yet, nods. The necromancer bites his lip, scratches his chin, maybe sighs as he removes his sinister cow-skull hat and runs his fingers through his hair.

“Um, all right. Well, is he coming back? Is there a better time to do this?”

“Nah, he's pretty much gone.”

“Aahhhhhh, okay, well, that's a problem. We really need to kill a naysayer first. Principles, you know. Do any of you say nay?”

“Well, sometimes I say 'neigh' when I'm pretending I'm the prettiest pony. I've done that before, secretly” Siras will say, revealing to all a dark proclivity which I have known about for a long time.

“Yeah, that's not really going to cut it. Look, let's just call it quits for now. Let's see if we can get some nay said and come back to this later. See ya.”

But in my mind, their gratitude is certainly not expressed by Targash descending on me in a snarling rage with bleeding wounds all over he and his worg as is presently happening. Did that idiot actually charge through the Scourge to come after me just so he could get his worg and ride it? He did!

“COWARD!” he bellows at me with the fury of a champion scorned. “I will slay you and leave you for the Scourge for this dishonor!” It has what I can assume is the desired effect. I stumble and fall onto my back. I am still going to die. This hero killed me and killed us all. I crawl backwards as his worg closes in on me and he leaps from its back towards me, a stunning move for posterity. After he finishes his work here, the seated-worg-leap-into-a-bloody-murder maneuver will end up in the songs.

~How beautifully, how graciously he flies (Fliiiiies)
Now comes the part where Gurk dies (Diiiiiies)
Targash's mighty axe in the traitor's head (Mighty aaaaaaaxe!)
"Blargh, I am a coward and now am also dead!” (Dead indeeeeed!)

Heroically, he barrels down on me, gore-covered Titanium armor flashing. With legendary prowess, he hefts his great axe on high and brings it crashing down on my prone form, but I, being the cowardly fiend I am, roll out of the way, which only allows him to get his axe stuck in the frozen ground very triumphantly. I weakly jump to my feet by the will of my traitor's instincts, and as he struggles in epic idiom to pry his axe from the ground, I smash my closed, dastardly fists into the back of his noble head, which falls and splits itself masterfully against his own axe.

I fall on my hide. I've seen two good orcs, two heroes, die today. Their skin, their muscles, their blood, their bones are the exact same as ours. Their death isn't any better. There's no added nobility to it. More people will cry at their funerals, but they will still be dead, and that's that. Their honor does not continue to mean anything.

“Oh, I'm sorry, it's just...” the Orcish maiden sniffs as she wipes a tear from her eye. “Targash was just so honorable!”

“...uh, lady, you going to buy this pineapple or not?”

The honored dead cannot savor the succulent pineapples. The honored dead cannot rule a fiefdung! But the honored dead are some of my friends, now. The honored dead...I may have to think about the honored dead a bit. Oh good, here comes the captain, riding like a madman. He sees me, sees Targash, and just nods slowly as he dismounts next to me and picks me up. I'm just going to take a nap and we'll come back to this later.

Oh, and before I forget, for all my prospective serfs...the fiefdung is not going to be in scenic Dragonblight. Maybe back home...in Arathi, where they...know me...
__________________
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-10-23, 02:42   Link #4
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Well my major fanwork last night was creating a character for that Naruto thread. I'm studying up on some other manga I haven't read in a while to execute a suggestion I received...so here's yet another bit of Haruhi-ness to fill space.

Rewritten

602,855

It just keeps building up in the back of his head, the pile of things that had(n't) happened, persisting in spite of the furor of the editor. It was like writing with a heavy hand: between smudges and the deep cuts of the graphite on the paper, no furious amount of erasing could hide all the signs that something else was written there before. Nothing short of ripping a hole in that paper.

Kyon had some vague notion that it was Haruhi who was to blame. He'd learned well to be suspicious of deja vu when living in the Suzumiyan Shadow. After all, when had she brooked coincidence? Had things ever just happened without a reason, for all her spontaneity?

These fragments, they're real. All too real.

---

1

I stepped into the classroom to find her at her desk, busily working away. She was quite involved in whatever it was she was tending too, to the point that she didn't react to my arrival. I approached a few steps, but thought the better of coming closer, so I simply stood and watched the long-haired beauty Taniguchi had proudly declared an "AA+"

Why two As? Wouldn't two plus signs be more indicative of excellence?

"I've always been more fond of mathematical symbols for ranking as well," said Asakura Ryouko, catching me off-guard. "Are you participating in a survey, Kyon-kun?" she asked with a smile, setting down her pencil and looking up from her work.

I laughed it off and walked towards her, sitting myself down at a desk next to her. I suppose you could call it a sort of survey, though as a survey director, Taniguchi's methods are of the most questionable sort. He is the sole gatherer of data and the sole interpreter! His life's work would never see the pages of any sociological journals.

"Oh, I didn't know Taniguchi-san was such an active academic! Do you think he'd be willing to let me contribute? As class representative, I want to do what I can to encourage such spirit," she said sweetly, flashing a smile. Asakura-san and Haruhi were both beautiful girls, but Asakura-san's smile lacked the sinister edge of Haruhi's. It was a smile one could appreciate without a sense of foreboding.

"Ah, he's already finished with it, and it was only really for his own gratification," I told her, though in truth, she had already involuntarily been Taniguchi's most notable contributor.

"Oh, I see."

There was silence for a moment as she looked at me, first with her winning smile, the face of the ideal class representative. This gave way to something else entirely. Still a smile, still every bit as impressive, but somehow more...private?

"I'm glad you came," she began. "To put it simply, I was wondering if you would like to go on a date with me?"

At that moment, I felt a great disturbance in my mind, as if Taniguchi suddenly cried out, and then was silenced. The first word that fell out of my mouth, however, was 'Why?'

"Why?" she repeated, blinking. I thought for a moment she'd taken offense, but our clever class representative saw through my inarticulate blurt to my meaning. "I was touched by how you reached out to Suzumiya-san and have taken the effort to be her friend. I want to get to know you better. Is that acceptable?"

Now, I flatter myself that I'm not a demanding person. I entered High School with only one ambition, to lead an ordinary High Schooler's life and get through three easy years before going off to an ordinary university. Part of this plan involved an ordinary girlfriend, and I had assumed she would be decently pretty, but on the whole rather plain. Decently smart, but not a genius. Somewhat fit, but not an athlete. In this case, however, I felt that allowing something extra would be the wisest choice if it was being set in my lap.

"I'd like that," I said, and offered a half-smile that must have conveyed my disbelief, as she giggled, covering her mouth politely before she packed away the work she was doing and slung her satchel over her shoulder. We made the silent agreement for me to walk her home today and made for the door. As we moved through the rows of desks, Asakura-san tripped over a bookbag left at the foot of their desk by some inconsiderate student and began to fall. Wait, wasn't that Taniguchi's bag? I remember he'd moved to this seat to try his smooth-talking on one of the girls during the lunch break while its owner was out in the cafeteria.

Oh well, I don't have any more time to think about it, as I instinctively moved to intercept Asakura-san, and was promptly sent crashing down with her, my back taking the sting as I shielded her from desks, shoving a few out of order and landing just beyond the rows in the back of the class.

"Eh...are you all right, Asakura-san?" I said, sitting up and helping her do the same

"I am, thanks to you. But what about you? Are you hurt?" she asked with concern. Ah, this class representative of ours was more than just charm, her genuine care and sweetness in that moment seemed to rival even that of the lovely Asahina-san! Before I could answer that earnest face, the door to the classroom opened.

"Wa-wa-wasuremono..." Taniguchi scratched at the back of his head as he entered, freezing immediately when his eyes told his brain what was waiting within.

"Ah, uh..." I fumbled for an explanation as I saw his eyes widen.

"Oh, don't mind me!" Taniguchi exclaimed, disappearing from the door way. I could feel the heat filling out my face, but was pulled up from the awkward feeling by a soft laugh. Asakura was looking at me with flashing eyes, a delicate hand over her lips, her shoulders quaking as she tried politely to stifle herself.

"Your friend is interesting, isn't he?" she asked.

---

923

I couldn't quite believe what I was hearing. Now, understand me, this is entirely typical of conversations with Koizumi. The few times I can penetrate his endless philosophical tangents, he rarely seems to be speaking any sense, even if he later proves to be right. This, however, went beyond that. Koizumi was speaking about honesty! As if he has any grounds to.

"Ah, it is true, I have not conducted myself in a genuine manner up to this point. However, this has all been in keeping with the aims of The Organization. In order to keep Suzumiya-san's emotional condition as close to stable as possible, I have been actively cultivating this compliant, unassertive personality to meet her expectations of me as the Vice Brigade Chief," the ESPer said, sipping his cup of tea.

We've been over this before. Get to the point, you! What does all this have to do with whether or not I am being honest?

"Do you not know already? Well, then, allow me to explain. Suzumiya-san has unwittingly gathered around her three of the fantastic beings she so wishes to meet in the form of Nagato-san, Asahina-san and myself. However, she has chosen all three of us not on this basis, as she is unaware of our true natures, but on the basis of our personalities. In her mind, she has found a silent bibliophile, a cute and passive mascot figure, and a mysterious transfer student. Accordingly, Nagato-san is silent and rarely ever without her books. Asahina-san subjects herself to whatever Suzumiya-san wishes of her. I comply with and encourage her, and my own feelings are hidden as this would diminish the mystery about me."

Mysterious? Don't make it sound so harmless and charming. Haven't you said yourself it's an active deception?

"Ah, so you paid that close attention to my word choice? I suppose you have found me out. At any rate, that we were selected for our personalities is the greatest common link between the three of us and you, Kyon-kun."

"You're saying Haruhi had expectations of me from the beginning?"

"So you do understand. I'm glad I don't have to explain that much since you are so observant." the ESPer said with his characteristic overly handsome smile. "Suzumiya-san indeed has a specific hope that you will, no matter what, be honest with her. As far as I can see, you have done this. You've not been hiding anything from me, have you?" he asked with a slight chuckle under his breath. Sometimes, this guy...

"Please, do not take offense. I did not think you were being dishonest." Koizumi held up his hands in apology, though somehow I still felt irritated. "However, you must understand Suzumiya-san's feelings. She has particular motives for her erratic behavior towards you, and hopes and believes that your reasons for behaving similarly towards her are the same."

Please, Koizumi, if there is one thing I would ask you never to do, it is to compare my behavior to that Haruhi's behavior. That girl treats people exactly as she pleases without any consideration and crushes whomever stands in the way of what she wants.

"Oh, is that what you truly think?" he asked, looking amused. "Well, the point is that Suzumiya-san believes you feel the same connection to her that she feels to you, and is waiting for you to be honest with her where she can not, as of yet, bring herself to be. It is on the edge of this that the world is coming to rest. I do not expect you to take action immediately, but please try to alleviate the situation this week. We of The Organization would greatly appreciate it. I must take my leave for now."

The handsome ESPer rose from his seat, tea in hand and began to walk away.

"Koizumi, just what is it Haruhi thinks I feel?"

He stood silent for a moment, his back to me, as if he were having a hard time finding words. That was entirely unheard of from Koizumi.

"I believe," he said, turning to me with his cheshire smile, "that you already know the answer to that, Kyon-kun. If I were you, I'd carefully weigh your ties to Asakura-san against the risks presented."

Somehow, as the conversation was capped off, I had a feeling all this had already played out as far as it could. Somewhere along the line, this had been decided before. I suppose it had. Ever since I'd learned of Haruhi's powers, I'd had some feeling things would come to this. Asakura-san and I had continued on discreetly, but there was too much pressure. Haruhi would remake this reality to get what she wanted. The Asakura-san I knew and had grown to love would no longer exist. I wonder...what would she be like if Haruhi subconsciously wanted to get her out of the way?

Even as I think these fearful thoughts, I can't bring myself to be truly angry at Haruhi. In truth, despite all the trouble the girl has given me...she as a person is part of the pressure. Now I'm not given to poetic thoughts or exaggerations, but my mind genuinely feels as if it has been drifting towards Haruhi over a far longer span of time than my fifteen years.

But I'm not ready to give in to that yet. I'm sorry, Koizumi, but I still have a choice, and I choose...

---

12,474

I am kissing Suzumiya Haruhi under the streetlight. It feels incredible, and it should, with everything I feel for this girl, and yet for some reason, my mind is calling up the way it felt when I first kissed Asakura Ryouko a year ago. Before the fights. Before the indecision and confusion. Before we decided it was better to just...

"Kyon-kun! I won't let her steal you from me like this." It was her voice. Her knees were shaking, and though she was just outside the swath of the streetlight, I could see the tears in her eyes. I took a step away from Haruhi, felt her resist, felt her grip tighten even as the fabric of my shirt slipped through her fingers.

"Asakura-san, I know it's hard, but Kyon and I are happy. Can't you just let us have that?" Haruhi asked softly, her body relaxing visibly. Where had her rough edge gone? Of course she had a kind side beneath her brash exterior, but this was not a situation I expected it to shine through in.

"Y-you're one to talk. I don't know how, Suzumiya Haruhi, but I know that you somehow forced us apart!"

Why did those words root me to the ground with such a great weight? Though my mind and body rejected this ridiculous notion, something nagged inside my head with a frustrating vagary the equal of Koizumi, telling me "Yes, of course! This isn't right!"

"Kyon-kun, I love you, and I know you feel the same. Whatever it is you have with Suzumiya-san, I know I can give you better, so please..."

Haruhi looked more confused, more sad than I had ever seen her before. Strangely, I couldn't tell if it was for herself or for Ryouko-chan. To judge by her expression, neither could Ryouko-chan herself.

"I don't understand...why...still?" Haruhi abruptly fell to the ground. What's this sudden brightness I see in the sky? This couldn't be natur--

---

89,164

"--so that is why I am setting you free, Kyon-kun. I hope you are happy with Suzumiya-san. I truly do." She turned to Haruhi, smiling though tears were welling up in her eyes. "Suzumiya-san, please, take care of him. He deserves better than I could...I'm sorry, I have to go," she said, wiping her eyes.

The next day, Nagato told me that Asakura Ryouko, our Brigade's beloved slider, had left this dimension. The cover story our trusty goddess crafted was that her parents moved to Canada for work, taking her along. Haruhi heard this story the next day in the clubroom, spent an hour silently staring out the window, then got up to leave. As she walked past me, she touched me on the shoulder and looked at me with remorseful eyes.

Oddly, my heart felt more tired than damaged, like this was a long-carried weight.

---

360,810

I moved my rook forward five spaces.

"If you believe Haruhi is God, does this mean you believe in the existence of souls?"

I can't believe I asked our resident long-winded ESPer that question. Did I truly hate peace and quiet so much? Perhaps on the psychiatrist's couch I would uncover some long held disdain for simplicity that led me to stay in this Brigade and ask these questions.

"Why, I never thought you'd be interested in hearing more than was necessary."

Well, when you say something like that, it makes me regret it even more. You sound as if you've prepared a speech.

"No, it is not quite like that," he reassured me. "There is a good deal of information within The Organization that is above my rank's privileges, but there are those individuals in it who believe that Suzumiya-san is not literally omnipotent, but is effectively so as it pertains to a select group of immutable, eternal souls. However, this group is a minority. Within this group there is some debate as to the nature of these souls, as well, so no one comprehensive theory about the matter holds much influence. Why do you ask?"

"When you mentioned, the other day, that it was possible the world had been created even more recently than three years ago, I started to wonder," I admitted. And really, who wouldn't wonder? I take pride in being a normal person and I must say that I feel it makes me more normal to be unsettled by hearing such things. Only super-advanced alien beings such as Nagato-san or her 'cousin', Asakura-san could be calm about such things.

"So you're wondering to yourself, 'If the world were remade tomorrow, would I still be me, and if so, what sets me apart as me', am I correct? That's unusual for you, but I don't think it is an inappropriate reaction in this case. I personally haven't invested much thought into the matter, as I have the more pressing concern of preventing such changes from happening. However, if I were to conjecture, I would say that Haruhi is an incomplete god, and would treat the 'souls' in her care as she would human friends. Those closest to her will be treated best, while those most distant she does not extend such concern to. Now, as to what the 'best treatment' is, one could argue it is either preserving that soul in something close to the form it was originally created as, or that it means improving the quality of life for that soul."

Again, slowly, in human language, please.

"I'm sorry if my explanation isn't helpful to you, as I said I am no expert on such things."

At that moment, I heard the door opening and looked up from the chessboard to see a tall guy walk into the room, blue hair done up in his usual formal style: class representative Asakura Ryou, also the second of the SOS Brigade's Humanoid Interfaces. Though, don't tell Haruhi that; she recruited him as the 'necessary rival figure' after observing that he was competitive and her equal in every academic and athletic regard.

'His presence will create an inspirational tension! The kind of deep inner conflict that breeds aspirations to ascend ever higher and makes for killer television!' I recall her saying those exact words. What a troublesome girl. At the very least, he was genuinely friendly, and a better study at board games than Koizumi.

"Itsuki-kun, might I play Kyon?" he asked after setting down his satchel near the table, studying the chess board.

"Ah, of course, Asakura-san. I've already lost twice already today as it is, it is kind of you to relieve me. Shall I replace the pieces for this side?"

"No, no, I'll finish out this game if you don't mind." Asakura-san smiled as Koizumi stood up and moved to the adjacent seat to watch. The blue-haired fellow sat down and passed his gaze over the pieces once more.

"After all, by now, I'm pretty used to playing against a handicap."

---

415,992

"--so I shall kill you, and see how Suzumiya-san reacts."

She comes at me with the knife. There's more to this being wrong than just this moment. It's almost as if--

---

602,856

--just like Nagato-san had phrased her mission: inputting the correct variable. I wanted to be angry with Haruhi, but I couldn't. This whole time, she has simply been trying to figure out how to make everyone happy while getting what she wants, but I have to stop this somehow. I have survived these rewrites, with the memories to prove it, but Asakura-san has suffered. Haruhi has suffered. I care for them both and I can't let them hurt on my account any longer. I have to--

---

FINAL

It's the middle of the night. After everything we've been through over four years together, we still have nights like this, poised between happiness and disaster.

I suppose my literature studies in college have made me wordier, haven't they? Though you should hear Koizumi in class discussions these days.

At any rate, I'm tired in more ways than I can express. As I walk back to my dormitory from Haruhi's on the other end of the campus, I see a beautiful girl with formally styled blue hair, sitting with perfect posture on a lamp lit bench. I'll admit, I approached more out of a desire to sit my tired bones down than to make a new friend, but I was put-out enough that I may as well.

"May I sit here?"

"Of course," she said with a smile. I could see she was just as tired as I was. "Hmm, have we met before?"

"I don't think so. I'm Kyon, by the way"

"That's a curious nickname, but I like it. I'm Asakura Ryouko. It is a pleasure to meet you, Kyon-by-the-way." She laughs. It's a sweet sound.

Maybe tonight will be all right, after all.
__________________

Last edited by Ricky Controversy; 2009-10-24 at 13:05.
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-11-01, 18:42   Link #5
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
This will be a continuing one...


Haru

--- --- --- Episode 1 --- --- ---

As I walked along the sidewalk on this beautiful Spring day, I was thinking of any number of things I had hoped to use my all-too-brief vacation for before my third and final year of high school began. Catching up on the sleep I had missed since...two years ago...was certainly on the top of my list. Of course, I wasn't asleep. Failing that, a relaxed stroll through town wasn't bad, perhaps with Nagato or Asahina-san by my side.

Taking that same walk under the pull of a troublesome, freakishly strong girl obnoxiously dictating orders was not on my to-do list, however.

“What are you complaining about now, Kyon? This is important, you hear?” she barked, tightening her grip on my wrist as she turned to look at me with scolding eyes. I fail to see what's so important that you had to drag me out of bed at nine-o'clock, Suzumiya Haruhi.

“What? You should be up with the sun anyway, idiot. Where's your youthful vitality?”

Crushed squarely under your heel, you slave-driver!

“Anyway,” she continued, pulling me onward once more, “The S.O.S. Brigade has existed for two years without finding so much as one real supernatural event. I'd have thought by now that we'd be touring the galactic core as ambassadors to the Great Xyxkryg Republic, at least.”

It just sounds like you sneezed. Is that what you think an alien name sounds like? Furthermore, why do you have a specific idea about the species name, their form of government and their honorific?

“Don't you ever think about those things, Kyon? Even someone as plain as you surely has some ideas,”

“Well...now that you mention it—”

“There they are! Come on, stop dragging your feet!” Haruhi said with a half-smile, leading me on as she waved to three waiting figures, standing in that same square where we've always met. There with his immaculate smile was the ESPer, Koizumi Itsuki, the first to greet me.

“Ah, it is good to see you today. Are you feeling well-rested and ready for this meeting?” he asked, approaching me as Haruhi let go of me and ran to affectionately assault Asahina-san.

“I think you can tell just fine,” I muttered. Koizumi chuckled lightly and took quick stock of my face, no doubt noticing the dark circles, the slightly bloodshot eyes, the drawn expression, begging for sleep. I briefly turned to see our brigade's silent goddess sitting a short distance away, acknowledging me with eye contact but saying nothing as she took a cue to stand and approach. I followed the slight shift of her gaze and turned to face Haruhi, pushing along the lovely Asahina-san.

The Brigade mascot and resident time-traveler smiled sweetly at me as the group coalesced, flinching somewhat from Haruhi's rough grip on her shoulders, though I noticed for the first time just how much stronger she had grown. The abject terror of that poor abductee from the infancy of the SOS-Brigade was replaced with the playful skittishness of an older sister grown used to the younger's wildness and playing along. As Haruhi smiled at Mikuru, I could tell even she noticed the change. She seemed genuinely proud of our sweet maid...if a bit sad. For once, Haruhi and I agreed perfectly on something: this upcoming year would not be the same without her.

“Well, now that we're all here, let's go to our usual booth at the cafe. Kyon's treating as his fine for being late,” Haruhi declared.

We arrived at exactly the same time!

“No, I was pulling you behind me, so I was a few steps ahead of you. Besides, you're responsible for making me almost late, since I had to come rouse you myself. Don't you know I went out of my way for you? You should be grateful I'm not fining you double!”

You annoying girl, you didn't tell me we were even having a meeting until you were standing outside my house. Isn't this an emergency meeting?

“And that's exactly why it's critical that you should have been on time, Kyon. Now, let's go!”

That...the logic in that was so threadbare that I couldn't bring myself to believe she was actually serious. As we walked the short distance, I wondered to myself: could someone believe such disordered ideas?

“You should know, Suzumiya-san says exactly what she believes,” Koizumi reminded me as he sidled up to me. Too close.

“Eh, she can believe whatever she wants, I just wish she'd keep quiet about it, even just once.”

“Ah, but then when something radically changed in the world around you, you couldn't as readily figure out the connection to her. I much prefer, and indeed feel privileged by Suzumiya-san's decision to be largely transparent with us.”

That conversation thankfully dissipated as we stepped into the cafe and settled in, Haruhi glancing around conspiratorially, as if afraid someone would be listening in on us. No doubt whatever warranted this 'emergency meeting' was nothing of genuine relevance, but in that girl's mind was worth the full attention of any secret organizations bent on controlling the world. We placed our orders and made small talk until everything arrived, then Haruhi began.

“I have called this special emergency meeting of the S.O.S. Brigade because we're in a dire situation. We have gone out of our way to seek out abnormal people and events, or to draw the attention of those people to us. It has been two years now, and we haven't found anything! The Brigade is failing its purpose,” she said dramatically, loudly. So much for her secretive paranoia. I was hoping that would quiet the girl down some.

Still, in truth, her problem was that her goal, and the actual goal of the rest of the group were perfectly opposed. That she hadn't found what she was looking for was solely because we'd done our job and then some. All throughout the past school year, that strange situation with Sasaki had given us some close scares, but in the end, we'd worked it out somehow.

“This year, I won't accept failure. In fact, we need to find something supernatural before August, when Mikuru-chan will be going off to university. What kind of greeting could we possibly give the aliens if we couldn't offer her up to them, right?” she asked with her beaming smile, though I noticed the moment of hesitation just before. It had only been a split second that I had caught sight of the sadness in her eyes, but it was a split-second too long. For all her annoying ways, I knew what was beneath the rambunctious Haruhi of-day-to-day life: to see that part of her sad called me out. I tried to think of something comforting to say, but the moment passed and Haruhi was back in authoritative mode again.

“Obviously, the problem is that we haven't tried hard enough. Ghosts and shapeshifters are tricky, you know. So, we'll be ramping up our activities this year. Searching wider areas, longer patrols, maybe try to get some special equipment to detect psychic waves...” Whatever lingering traces of sadness may have been in her mind were surely pushed out by now. The look on her face was satisfied, determined.

“Um...well, if we,” Asahina-san began, pausing and staring at the table as she considered he words. “If we don't find anything before I have to start my classes...I hope you keep searching without me, Suzumiya-san,” she said with a sweet, appeasing smile. Haruhi seemed taken aback, but very quickly slung her arm around Asahina'san and drew her in close, stroking her hair.

“Don't be silly, Mikuru-chan, we'll definitely find something amazing! Won't we?” She looked across the table to where Koizumi and I sat.

“With Suzumiya-san's energy and vision, we will certainly unravel the mysteries of the universe,” the handsome ESPer declared with confidence. Hey, don't you think that's laying it on a little thick?

“Kyon, you should try to mirror his spirit. If you were as enthusiastic as him or as focused as Yuki, you'd have probably found something already.”

Never mind that being as focused on something as Nagato was impossible for a human being. Haruhi babbled on for some time about the specifics of the Brigade's renewed mission, though I mostly tuned her out, giving her a few casual wave-offs when she barked at me to pay more attention. When the bill came, she quickly pushed it off to me and announced that with the meeting adjourned, we'd be getting into the new season of scouting immediately. Instead of drawing straws as we usually do, she very hurriedly took Nagato and Asahina-san by the wrists and began dragging them off, telling Koizumi and I to go together.

“Hm, I noticed that unlike the times you have been paired with Nagato-san or Asahina-san, Suzumiya-san did not feel the need to tell you this was not a date,” Koizumi pointed out as he watched the girls leave the cafe, then turned to me with a sidelong glance and a smile.

“Even that girl knows that's not an issue.” I rolled my eyes and threw my money down on the table, stuffing my wallet back in my pocket.

“Or, perhaps it is that she is not so averse to the idea? If that is the case—” Thankfully, it seems my cross look communicated everything it needed to, as he stopped in mid-sentence with a look of surprise. “Oh, did you take me seriously? I'm terribly sorry. Though I am at least pleased it was convincing. Shall we take a walk?”

Other than the vaguely disheartening feeling that the wallet in my pocket was notably lighter than before, the walk was pleasant enough. My earlier drowsiness was completely gone, and Koizumi kept quiet, so I was able to appreciate the sounds and sensations of this fine Spring day.

“Actually, I was wondering if we could have a discussion of our own,” the ESPer asked as we neared a familiar bench. Ah, yes, this bench that doubles as a milestone of my life. Now, understand that I've never been the sort to form much of a sentimental bond to specific locations, but this place has taken on a special meaning to me, one that has been built up since Asahina-san first confessed the unbelievable to me. I began to wonder if the bench was some sort of sentient being itself, orchestrating all this. Nevertheless, we sat.

“First of all, I really should thank you for all the hard work you have put in. It seems that, between the four of us, we have managed to keep Suzumiya-san unaware of her powers. What's more, thanks mainly to you, she has reached a point of emotional growth and stability that is truly impressive. My superiors wish me to extend you congratulations on their behalf. If you had told any of us five years ago—”

He said more, but the better part of it was incomprehensible as I realized that the mysterious three-years-ago moment that had given me such headaches when the Brigade was starting off had indeed become five-years-ago. It wasn't so much that hackneyed sensation of not believing how fast the time had gone by, rather that it had gone by at all. Before Haruhi came into my life—no, before she took my life by storm—the days passed uneventfully, routinely. I'd hoped for a normal high school life, got just the opposite, and in truth, I was satisfied. Say what you will about Haruhi, that girl knows how to fill days with energy.

“I seem to have lost your attention. I apologize if I am confusing you, or perhaps boring you?” From anyone else, it would have sounded sarcastic, but the excessively polite ESPer's voice made him actually seem curious and contrite.

“No, just thinking about the past two years.”

“They have been quite eventful, have they not? I hope you will not consider me too bold if I say that I have enjoyed this time with Suzumiya-san and you. I think we have done a good job of ensuring she has enjoyed it as well, wouldn't you agree?”

“She's certainly having fun, maybe a bit too much,” I said, allowing myself a smirk as I thought about our tireless brigade chief's reckless vitality. “The more fun she has, the quicker that girl seems to run.” I let out a sigh, leaned my head back until it rest on the back of the bench and closed my eyes. From time to time, I'll admit I enjoyed scrambling for my life alongside her, but it still drained a man's reserves.

“If I may resume and steer us back to the conversation I had in mind?” Koizumi asked politely. I made some half-hearted gesture with my hand that told him to continue.

“Well, my thanks being said, this upcoming school year is a critical time, as far as The Organization is concerned. Suzumiya-san's emotional state has greatly stabilized, however this has occurred within a particular context: namely the daily activities of the S.O.S. Brigade in high school. Looking forward, can you see the two issues we are confronted with?”

I'm trying to relax, you. Don't waste time quizzing me, just say what you need to say. He waited for a beat, then chuckled.

“Ah yes, of course, excuse me. Well, the first issue we are faced with is the conclusion of Suzumiya-san's high school career. Given her talent and intellect, it is a foregone conclusion that she will be finishing her secondary education this year. Further, it is most likely that she will continue on to a prestigious university. Of course, that is a good thing for her in many ways, but surely you can understand that there is something to be said about keeping to time-frames when pursuing your goals. Five years ago, Suzumiya-san resolved that she would find some supernatural occurrence before her high school years were over. This three-year span has been the focus of all of her life's expectations, and she hasn't really given much thought to a normal life afterward.”

Three years, huh? When I met that chaotic girl, she was right in the middle, three years looking back, three years looking forward. As I idly thought about that time-traveling Tanabata incident, I wondered if that was part of what connected me to her. To wait for something amazing to happen for three years... My eyes opened slowly and I stared up at the trees, their foliage recovering after a rather cold winter.

“Do you think Haruhi will give up if nothing unusual happens this year?” I asked. I had some vague idea that perhaps I shouldn't have, but I let Koizumi take the reins back.

“Oh, that's interesting, you are rarely open with your concern for Suzumiya-san. This is a positive development. To answer your question, I do not believe that is the case. I believe she will likely be searching in some fashion all of her life. However, as you must know, she takes the S.O.S. Brigade very personally. She will feel disappointed that she failed her own goal, but she has matured to the point where she understands how to cope with not getting her way—”

That's debatable...

“—thanks largely to you. However, what will genuinely upset her is that she drew the four of us, people she considers her dear friends, into the pursuit of that goal which was not achieved. She will feel the sole responsibility for it, and worry that she has led us astray. As a creature of this current world, I do not wish to risk that kind of emotional turmoil on her part again. Further, as a participant in the ongoing deception that has kept her from seeing the supernatural, my guilt would be great. I believe I speak for Asahina-san and Nagato-san as well that none of us wish to see Suzumiya-san's spirit take such a blow.”

“But it can definitely be arranged for us to follow her to whatever university she goes to, can't it? That should make it easier on her,” I said, thinking of all the strings Koizumi's Organization had pulled before.

“This is true, and in theory Asahina-san's superiors may well already know what university Suzumiya-san will attend, and so will be waiting for us there. It may indeed make the transition easier if there is the promise of the S.O.S. Brigade's continuation. However, this leads me into the second point...” here he paused and looked at the ground with a sad smile. The number of such genuine expressions Koizumi had shown could probably be counted on one-hand, so I sat up, surprised.

“The second issue is that there is no guarantee that Asahina-san, Nagato-san or myself will be continuing on alongside Suzumiya-san.”

...What!?

“Aha, it speaks to your growing connection to Suzumiya-san that you take this group of ours to be inseparable as she does. I'm flattered to be considered one of its essential parts by you.” He offered a forced smile, and it was then that I noticed his normally gesticulating hands had been resting, folded, squarely in his lap the whole time.

“Koizumi, what are you talking about? That will definitely drive Haruhi over the edge, if the three of you can't stay with us.”

“With 'us'? Careful, your word choice becomes more revealing every day. You truly are quite attached to her, and you see, this is one of the reasons why it has been determined in my Organization, and likely by Nagato-san and Asahina-san's superiors as well, that the transition from high school to university would be the appropriate place for reevaluation of our observation methods.”

“Reevaluation?”

“Yes. Given the changing circumstances and the increased stock of observational data concerning Suzumiya-san, it is entirely possible that it will be found more beneficial for those of us presently watching over her to change our methods, withdraw completely, or be replaced by agents with different qualifications. The switch to university is, after all, a period of great flux for social groups and despite her outward optimism, Suzumiya-san's common sense is already telling her not to expect that we will remain alongside her. She is only banking for certain on your being with her. I truly am envious, I wish I had the same certainty you have.”

This is too much. Perhaps from the aloof positions of their higher-ups, this seemed like a good idea, but from where I was standing, these people hadn't been the agents of strange groups in a long time. They were my friends. Asahina-san, the angel who kept my spirits high, Nagato whom I trust my all with, even Koizumi, who despite his false front is often the only person who can or will bend his ear to me: these people are precious to me, and I know they are precious to Haruhi too. Why, after all this time, take them away?

“I can stop it,” I said, after gathering my nerves. “I still have my trump card. If anyone tries to break up the S.O.S. Brigade, I'll—”

“The situation has changed. Suzumiya-san is no longer as volatile as she was, you know. If you have it in mind to tell her what I think you do, then we have passed the point where that will necessarily lead to her recreating the world. It is still a possibility but...not a certainty.” It may have just been my imagination, but it seemed like he had more he wanted to say. Instead, he reached in his pocket and pulled out his cellphone, checking the clock display.

“I believe we should head back to the cafe. Thank you for your time,” he said, overly politely. We both got up and made our way back, but I kept thinking about what he had said. We found the girls waiting for us at the usual booth, though they now had a few bags of clothes lined up alongside their row. I was grateful for the distraction, and focused in on it.

“Did you just go shopping this whole time?” I said, glancing at Haruhi. She arched a brow and folded her arms over her chest.

“We had to today; we'll be too busy when the school year starts with all the extra effort we'll be putting in, and Yuki and I had to make sure Mikuru-chan was going to be fashionably ready for university. Of course, we also had to make the same consideration for ourselves. It's called efficiency! Besides, don't you want to see Mikuru-chan in cute new outfits?”

Promising, but beside the point.

“Really, so what did you two find then that was so amazing?” she asked.

“Ah, well...” Damn. She got me.

“Exactly what I thought. Idiot, Kyon.”

Lunch happened in the usual fashion, Haruhi dominating the conversation, showing off her fashion sense, of course explaining why the clothes she had chosen for Nagato and Asahina-san were perfect. The latter was agreeing politely, blushing furiously whenever Haruhi got around to talking about the items she considered 'sexy', while the former mechanically reached into the bag nearest her feet, always drawing out the exact piece Haruhi described in an instant. Koizumi and I did our best to give no sign of what we had discussed and acted as if the little fashion show was the only thing happening in the world, though I occasionally noticed Nagato giving me a focused stare.

When lunch was over and the time arrived to redeploy, out came the straws for our usual lot-drawing. I had to laugh: rules are rules and they must be followed, except for when Haruhi decides that's not the case. Imagine my surprise, though, when for the first time, Haruhi and I both drew the unmarked straws. This girl, who had so often frowned in annoyance at our separation-by-lot in the past, now simply seemed stunned.

“Oh, well, ah...let's get going then. We'll meet back here at the usual time,” she said, still studying the straw intently, disbelieving. The straw is not a lie, Haruhi. I watched the others gather up the various bags and go, Koizumi giving me a slight nod that told me they were going to use this opportunity to conference about the situation. Haruhi seemed to snap out of her daze after they left, setting down the straw and shoving the bill towards me.

“Well, hurry up!” she insisted. “We'll definitely find something this time.”

Yeah, yeah, it takes a couple seconds to reach in my pocket and get the wallet out. You'll live.

“What's with that attitude? Time-travelers wait for no man, Kyon.”

Actually, I know as a matter of fact that waiting around for others is the larger part of how they get things done, but I don't say that. After taking care of the bill, I leave with Haruhi.

“Which way should we go?” she asked, putting her hands on her hips and scanning the area. I thought hard for a moment, then pointed south.

“I think we sho—” And she's already walking north.

“Come on, you slow Kyon,” she demanded. As soon as I got within range, she took my wrist in her Herculean grip and began dragging me along. Needless to say, we didn't find anything, and within an hour of searching, she just seemed more interested in tugging me after her. We'd gotten turned around somehow and ended up at the Kitayama Botanical Garden, which, frankly, didn't seem like somewhere even Haruhi would look for strange visitors from beyond.

“That's exactly why we're here. It all makes sense, don't you see, Kyon?”

Do you really have to ask if I'm having trouble with your reasoning?

“I've recently developed a theory,” she said in a hushed tone, stopping and forcing me to crouch with her. Couples passed, arm-in-arm, giving us strange looks. “Hmph, there are too many people here, come on,” she whispered, and hoisted me up, hauling me off into a secluded space. Hey, don't just do something like that while people are watching, they'll get the wrong idea.

“So what's this theory of yours?” I asked, wincing as I willingly opened the flood gates.

“Shh, keep your voice down,” Haruhi scolded, then she smiled. “I didn't want to share this with the others, because they might be under observation by some dark faction because they're close to me.”

If only you knew...wait, so why are you sharing this with me?

“Isn't it obvious? Anyone would see you're the lowest part of the brigade ladder. They wouldn't waste time on you. Besides, no one would believe you if you told them.”

You're one to talk about believing me, Haruhi.

“Here's my idea. Obviously, we've been doing something right, we've nearly caught someone or something, and they're getting scared, so the aliens, ESPers and time-travelers have all teamed up to protect themselves. Maybe the sliders are in on it, too.”

Leave it to Haruhi to once again hit the bullseye...on the wrong target.

“They've paid attention to how we've gone about looking for them, searching for them in all the obvious places.”

What's so obvious about looking for strange forces in malls or restaurants? A shrine I could almost buy into, but in this city?

“So now, they're hiding in places we'd never think of looking for them in. A peaceful botanical garden where ordinary people go to admire the flowers and spark romance? It's so trivial, so foolish...it's brilliant!”

“Actually, I think this place is kind of nice,” I offered with a glance around.

“Focus, Kyon!” she said, barreling over my contribution to the conversation as usual. “We're going to head back out there, I'm expecting you to stay sharp. We're bound to find some suspicious characters.” The look of determination on her face was a little inspiring, but mostly frightening. I wondered if she would just up and assault someone she considered suspicious. We were walking along a path back to the main part of the garden when she suddenly stopped. I turned back to face her and I noticed her looking at me...expectantly?

“Well?” she demanded, the edge in her voice somehow blunted.

“Well what?”

She abruptly looked away, and I saw her face flush slightly.

“Well, they'll know we're just here to look for them if we don't act the part of a boy and girl here for ordinary reasons, so...” she steadfastly refused to look at me as she lifted her right hand, holding it out to me. This girl...can't she ever just come right out and say she wants something like this? But, hey, why not? Walking arm-in-arm with a beautiful girl I've known for a long while is far from a poor way for me to spend my afternoon. I walk back to her and link my arm with hers and she immediately locks eyes with me.

“Now, don't get any funny ideas, okay...?” Though she's scowling, I can see the edges of her lips wanting to turn up into a smile. I wish she would, but for now, this is just fine. Of course, while she made a show of diligently searching for something for a few minutes, she fell to talking about the plans she had for the Brigade this year. Though I knew it was a mere formality, she asked if I had any ideas to contribute, when I told her I didn't, she shook her head.

“How can you be so nonchalant about your life? Isn't it a huge annoyance to not have a plan?”

“If you build up too many expectations, it gets troublesome when they don't play out,” I replied. Though, that was only a half answer. It's not like those things falling through was always bad. If my expectations had held, my life would be far less interesting right now.

“That's a quitter's attitude,” she said, punching me forcefully in the shoulder. “If you just work at it with all your might, you'll get what you want. You have to truly want it with all your heart, though.”

This was a surprisingly uplifting sentiment from my longtime tormentor, and a welcome change from the usually chaotic-neutral alignment features of our twentieth-level brigade chief. Thinking back on Koizumi's words, I'd seen just how far she had come. The girl I met two years ago was mostly absorbed in her own wants and expected those around her to submit themselves to her goals, but today's Haruhi was a girl who wanted to share her boundless energy with the people around her, hoping they'd benefit by it somehow.

“Kyon,” she said, with unusual softness. Or perhaps that was just because she didn't preface it with 'idiot'. “Can you remember the first time you truly wanted something with all your heart?” What a question to ask! Her gaze, which suddenly seemed to look past everything and off into space made it apparent that she was really asking herself than anything, but I still thought back carefully.

To five years ago. Did even my life revolve around that crucial time-span? I wonder if Haruhi played some sort of role in all of that. Before a young boy's withered fantasies became solid beliefs. Before I came to this town. I shook the memories from my head, not because they were unpleasant, mind, but because there was simply no point in remembering them. The past is the past, as they say. Haruhi withdrew her arm from mine, not actively, but slowly, by a gradual loosening of her grip as if she was growing tired. Neither of us spoke much after that, and made our way back to our rendezvous point in silence.

Of course, Koizumi, Nagato and Asahina-san reported finding nothing and Haruhi dismissed us for the day, saying she expected us to meet again. Of course, the 'emergency meeting' premise was just to get us suckered into the scouting routine for the remainder of the brief Spring break. As we split up to head home, Haruhi's stride seemed shorter than usual, and I watched after her until Koizumi came up alongside me.

“Do not worry, she's simply in thought. Or at least, that is how it feels to me, and the Organization has not contacted me with any urgent duties. Though, may I ask exactly what transpired this afternoon to make her so contemplative?”

“I don't really know, nothing special happened,” I lied.

“Ah, I see.” Koizumi gave me a knowing grin. Just what are you thinking? “Well, as you have most likely guessed, I used the time with Nagato-san and Asahina-san to confer about the changing nature of our situation. Though in none of our cases have any decisions been made, all three of us are subject to discretionary reviews of varying natures. I do not wish to alarm you or put undue pressure on you, but it is in your best interests to be aware so that you can begin preparing for whatever may come.”

“Yeah, for all the good that will do.”

“Well, you are Suzumiya-san's chosen one. If anyone can find the right way, I ardently believe it is you.”

“Koizumi...”

“Yes?”

“Leave me alone. I'm not in the mood for any more of this right now.”

“Ah...understandable. But please remember that this is something we will all have to face up to eventually.” With that, the ESPer gave me a parting smile and went on his own way. I waited for him to round a corner and leave my field of view, then stuffed my hands deep in my pockets and walked on home. Not surprisingly, my sister was home with Shamisen, waiting to greet me, but otherwise the place was empty. She pestered me to fix her some dinner, so I shambled into the kitchen, threw together a sorry excuse for gyudon and ate silently with her, hoping the television would ease my mind. It didn't.

I put my sister to bed and went into my room, collapsing face-first into my mattress. If I were given to more high-minded thoughts like Koizumi, I might have spent the time before I faded into sleep thinking about what an injustice it was that keeping Haruhi happy led to just as big a problem as upsetting her, but instead I just thought about her question. That unusual softness in her manner and the sudden distance...what was that about? Did she want to tell me something?

I fell asleep and dreamed that I was watching the backs of Nagato, Asahina-san and Koizumi as they walked away. Somehow, they kept getting farther and farther, but I could always see them. I heard crying next to me and saw Haruhi standing there, her arms stretched out to them. She couldn't move from that spot, it seemed, but she called out to the figures as they receded further into the horizon.

“No, don't go, please! Aren't we a brigade? Why...why are you doing this? Why do you have to go?” she shouted, sadness and confusion mixed with anger. Suddenly, the Haruhi I knew was replaced with one I hadn't seen in a long time, the young Haruhi who vandalized her middle school that fateful Tanabata. This one's hands were clenched into fists. “Fine! If that's how it is, then just go! I can do everything on my own.” With that, she stormed off into the shadows in the opposite direction. I was going to call out to her, but I noticed a strange, fuzzy feeling in my mouth accompanied by a bad taste.

I woke up on the floor with my mouth open over some bitter-tasting carpet. It was still pitch black, and upon examination the clock on my phone said it was midnight. I stepped out of my room and made sure my sister's door was still closed, then made my way down the stairs and over to a small supply closet built into the underside of the staircase. There, I found and pulled out a weighty cloth bundle and carried it up to my room. I sat on my bed and set the musty bundle down on the covers beside me and just stared at it.

The difference between Haruhi's five years ago and mine is that I've outgrown mine, gotten over it. She's still trying to fulfill the promise she made back then. What a ridiculous girl. If she doesn't learn her lesson some time soon and start acting like an adult, we'll all have to pay the price. I feel a slight twinge of a special kind of anger I haven't felt in a while, and I begin unwrapping the object. From the folds of the cloth emerged a blue-bodied electric bass. It's...mine, but at the time it felt strange. I guess that happens when you haven't touched an instrument for a little over three years. I plucked the strings and they were just as out-of-tune as I was expecting.

I forgot all about trying to sleep, and went back down to the closet where an unopened package of strings sat. I spent the rest of the night restringing. Tuning, retuning.

Nothing amazing ever lasts, you know? Everything tends towards being normal again. That includes people. That's why you shouldn't go looking for amazing things, because they're never that way for long. It's better to just go along with the flow than take too many risks.

--- --- --- Episode 1 (END) --- --- ---

You'll see me again some day, I promise. Keep looking up to the stars.
__________________

Last edited by Ricky Controversy; 2009-11-02 at 03:20.
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-11-04, 13:56   Link #6
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
I will say by way of an explanation—but not an apology, that you will find something in this chapter that some people take as a critical taboo. If you read through the first episode and enjoyed it enough to continue on to this one, then I hope you can trust that I have thought this out carefully and know what I'm doing. So, when you see it, don't let it ruffle you.

Here we go.

--- --- --- Episode 2 --- --- ---

The night had gone on without my noticing, and when I looked up from the strings and looked around, everything was dark and quiet. I had some foggy idea that there was a sound that had stirred me from...whatever it was I'd stayed up so long doing. As the muffled sound forced my brain to focus, I realized it was my phone going off, still in my pocket from the day before. I set the suddenly heavy bass down on the bed and drew it out, trying to make out the number on the display with my sore eyes. Could it really be...?

“...Hello?”

“...” Silence on the other end. I checked the number again. Yeah, no question.

“Nagato?”

“Your presence is required.” What, now? I checked the display again. It read eleven past two. But it's not like I was going to get any sleep anyway.

“I'll meet you at your apartment,” I told her, hanging up. I stuffed the phone back into my pocket and drew in a deep breath to force my tired body up off the bed. As I stretched out, I looked down at the bass lying there, cleaned off, restrung, retuned. It was still a piece of junk. I'm surprised I even took the thing out. What was I thinking? I've outgrown this kid stuff, right? I walked out of my room and peered around the house; my sister's bedroom door was open, and I could hear sounds from the first floor. Sure enough, I found her sitting on the couch, wide awake and watching television. She was definitely growing up, though why someone would use their blooming independence to abandon sleep is beyond me.

“Hiiii Kyon-kun~” she greeted me in a cheery sing-song, though I don't think a letter exists in any writing system that corresponds to the key it was in. Perhaps scientists will one day find a use for such sounds, most likely military.

“What are you doing up?” I asked casually while I made for my shoes and the door. Asking such questions is the duty of an onii-chan, a duty I felt obliged to uphold since I seem to be the only one who remembers I ever was an onii-chan before all this Kyon-kun nonsense.

“Dad was here for a little. I woke up when he came up to my room to kiss me goodbye.” I stopped in my tracks for a moment. I don't know why; I wasn't really shocked. Of course he hadn't come to my room. He never would, especially not if I was awake. Well, it's not worth the effort it would take my exhausted brain to think about it. I'd done more than enough of that already.

“Where's Kyon-kun going? A secret late-night date with Haru-nyan? Oh! Or maybe Tsuru-nyan?” she asked, eyes glimmering in the pale blue light of the television. As she got older, she came to love this stuff; lately she'd taken to calling any time I spent with a girl a date. I couldn't be sure whether to feel complimented that my little sister thought so highly of my skills with girls, or to be insulted at the implication that I was a player.

“No. Nagato called me, she wants to talk about...homework.” Wait, I can't use that excuse, it's break. Quick, man, think!

“Ahh! A secret late-night date with Yukiko!? I knew Kyon-kun liked her!” Of course you did, except weren't you just going on about Haruhi and Tsuruya? Too tired and concerned to resist any longer, I opened the door and stepped out into the cool night air. As I closed the door behind me, my sister was bursting into song, doubtless about these 'secret late-night dates' she's so fond of. In retrospect, I certainly envy the exploits of the me that exists in my sister's imagination. I wonder if I could trick Haruhi into using her powers to help me switch places with him?

I took my bike and rode it down to the familiar apartment complex where Nagato lived, arguably the place where all the chaos that has filled my life since two years ago began to unfold. I remembered that as I walked home after Nagato revealed her identity to me that night, I thought it was just another case of a person wasting their life on delusions. I'd have called delusional as well anyone who'd try to tell me that she'd become the one person who could call me at this hour without hearing a complaint, but nevertheless...

After the usual intercom exchange I entered the apartment complex and took the elevator up to Nagato's floor. Maybe I've just been watching too many movies lately, but something about the stillness of the hallway gave me an uncomfortable sense of foreboding, as if at any moment the psychotic villain would appear behind me. With this sensation doing laps along my spine, I moved with hasty, shaky steps to the familiar door, behind which it seemed Nagato had been standing in wait. The door opened immediately, and with a brief glance up at me, walked back into her apartment. I closed the door behind me as I came in and removed my shoes, and was surprised to see Koizumi and Asahina-san sitting there around the table in Nagato's bare apartment. Though everyone's clothes were casual enough, the occasion had the air of an emergency business meeting.

“Kyon-kun,” Asahina-san called out to me sweetly. Oh, how my spirit soared to see her smile in relief at my arrival! Suddenly, the lack of sleep had dissipated from me.

“Thank you for coming,” Koizumi offered with his handsome smile. Sorry, Koizumi, not even your phony kindness can get under my skin now. Nagato and I sat so that each side of the short table was occupied, and I looked immediately to Koizumi. After you spend nearly every moment with people for two years, you develop a sense of group dynamics: though Nagato called me, any explanation would begin with Koizumi. This fact was reliable enough that, in my mind, I often called him Exposition-sensei. So, sensei, let's have our lesson.

“Shall I begin, then? Approximately an hour ago, Nagato-san contacted Asahina-san and I and made us aware that an object from space had landed on Earth and that this object is possessed of an unusual nature.”

An unusual object from space? So then, that feeling of impending doom I'd had in the hallway was justified, but I was thinking of the wrong genre. Tonight's fare is science-fiction horror.

“What, like a UFO?”

“Wouldn't that be excellent? After all, Suzumiya-san deeply wishes to board one. Sadly, this is not the case. The object itself can be described as being like an ordinary meteorite. There is nothing extraordinary to speak of about it, but rather, what seemed to be inside it is the issue.”

Don't just leave me hanging on that line, Koizumi, I'm already interested enough without you cultivating the suspense.

“Well, I received a call from my superiors in The Organization while I was on my way here, and they informed me that the object contained a living being.”

Of course it did. But why a meteor? Wouldn't that be another alien? Our brigade already has one that we're quite content with, perhaps we should find a way to advertise on a galactic scale that we need a slider instead. I'm surprised to notice I'm thinking like this: after a certain amount of absurdity in one's life, you learn to respond to it by just cracking some jokes.

“In fact, this is how they were aware of the object to begin with. The Organization investigated quite thoroughly and could not find any record of astronomers tracking such an object, or any indication that anyone beneath its trajectory noticed it. The only reason The Organization discovered it is due to the powerful energy it was radiating shortly after impact. It is very similar in nature to the energy from which I draw my ESP abilities, though far greater in magnitude. Due to safety concerns, I've received a direct order to avoid the object until the lifeform is located. I believe Asahina-san can continue from here.”

Yes, that sounds like a good idea. This whole thing will be substantially easier to absorb if conveyed in the honey-sweet tones of Asahina-san. She smiled at me nervously, looking at the tabletop and fiddling with her fingers before clinching her eyes shut tightly and looking at me with resolve. Though it was a look that conveyed her growing confidence, it still somehow managed to stir a protective desire in me.

“Um...I also received a transmission from my superiors in the future while on the way here...they said...they said that the object was causing a warp in the fabric of time...and that...there wasn't supposed to be any meteorite impacts at the moment this one happened.”

“What does a warp in the fabric of time mean?” I ventured to ask.

“That's classified...”

“Let me guess,” I said as I noticed Asahina-san hesitating. “You've also been forbidden to go near the thing?”

“That's right. It's very risky for someone from the future to get involved when a warp forms in the past due to [classified information] and the risk of [classified information]...”

I held up a hand to stop her before she entered into a long explanation full of classified information. However thrilling and sexy it may sound in spy movies when said once, it loses all luster when it is said ten times over, even if it is being said by the lovely Asahina-san. So, that left only Nagato. The Brigade stoic carefully set down the teacup she had been drinking from, methodically placing her hands in her lap.

“The object was not detectable by normal human methods due to advanced surface-area spatial distortion which prevented the object from reflecting light of any wavelength and from generating audible friction with the surrounding atmosphere.”

Nagato, whether you need sleep or not, do try to remember that it being before dawn means I'm already running low on mental energy.

“In short, the object was both invisible and soundless,” Koizumi interjected, for once helpfully.

“In addition, the object was surrounded by a high-density data-entropic interference field. While the activity of this field made the object more apparent to the Data Integrated Thought Entity, it also prevented exact analysis of the composition and contents of the object by scrambling inquiry data sent to the object. These features are, however, not artifacts of the object itself, as shortly after impact, these properties were lost and the object became observable as an ordinary meteorite, composed of fifty-three-percent iron, twelve-percent nickel, seven—”

“That's enough,” I said, holding up my hand. Nagato stopped immediately. “What about you, Nagato, can you go near the object?”

“The Data Integrated Thought Entity has forbidden all interfaces from approaching the object until the location of the lifeform is confirmed.”

“That may take some time, as you surely realize that with its abilities, this being can make itself very difficult to track,” Koizumi cut in, gesticulating. “Even if we do find it, we cannot be certain what action our respective groups will take. However, we have conferred and we believe that such a development could only come from Suzumiya-san and so wish to investigate.”

And that was exactly the bomb that needed to be dropped. Of course it links back to Haruhi, that girl. To think, just a little over a half day ago, she was behaving as sweetly as I'd ever seen and I even felt a measure of pride in her maturation. Perhaps this was the result of her odd mood towards the end of the day? Though why would she create an event she'd likely never be aware of?

“I'm glad you asked,” Koizumi began, and suddenly, I wasn't so glad myself. “We can all agree that in the past two years, Suzumiya-san has created many—”

Problems?

“—interesting scenarios for us. At times they have been manifestations of her wants, at others of her frustration, and at others just her undirected vitality. Here is where I begin to conjecture: while Suzumiya-san is not consciously aware of what we as the S.O.S. Brigade do to keep up the semblance of a logical world about her, her subconscious self, wielding her godlike powers, may in fact be aware. If we take this to be the case, and considering how the conscious Suzumiya-san tends to pursue goals which are meant to be achieved with a group such as ours, it seems reasonable to believe that the subconscious Suzumiya-san also wishes for events which draw the S.O.S. Brigade together. Do you still follow me?”

“Go on.”

“Very well. When considered under this light, the situation we have been presented is the ideal exercise to an extent.” I felt as if I could see where he was going in a brief moment of lucidity and interjected.

“So you're saying that this thing has some feature that challenges each of you: ESP for you, time warping for Asahina-san and some sort of data power for Nagato.” In my head, I envisioned a bizarre fusion of the various opponents we had come up against in our time together; the resulting creature that stood before us on the battlefield was a blue cricket with translucent blue legs, the face of that sneering bastard, Fujiwara, with Asakura Ryoko's combat knife gripped in his teeth.

“While that is the obvious parallel, I do not believe it is the relevant one.” Koizumi replied with a sad smile, as if embarrassed for me. “Were you envisioning some grand battle? I'm sorry to disappoint you.”

Don't you fault me for my imagination's over-activity when I'm low on sleep!

“I believe that the meaningful correlation is not with us as individuals, but with the groups we represent. In fear of this being's ESP powers, The Organization will not engage it. In fear of the difficulties of a time warp, Asahina-san's superiors want her to avoid it. Even Nagato-san's Entity does not wish to be involved with the being as of yet. This means that, effectively, all of our relevant powers and associations are meaningless in this situation. Do you see what I'm getting at?”

With your speech having drained much of what little energy my poor brain had left? No, I can hardly see your smug face.

“My suggestion is that Suzumiya-san's subconscious has undergone a change and stands at a crossroad. Certainly, if she were to consciously meet a supernatural being and be made aware of its nature she would be thrilled, but she has also grown attached to the S.O.S. Brigade for the people involved in it. So this scenario was constructed for us as a test. To succeed in understanding and solving this situation would require all of our combined efforts as people while still making sure to maintain the relatively happy balance we have struck with Suzumiya-san. However, if we fail, then she still gets the chance to consciously know of the sort of being she wishes to meet.”

I can't believe this. That ridiculous girl! If even Nagato can't handle it, this thing is a real threat, and she brought it here just to put 'the power of friendship' to the test? This is why you sociopaths should never be allowed to get their hands on youth manga.

“This is of course not a certain fact, just a theory,” Koizumi was quick to explain, “one with holes. The primary questions that linger are: what part of this situation is meant for you, and what part is meant for her? Seeing as you have no special powers, and Suzumiya-san is not aware of hers, we cannot make any accurate predictions as to what shape those challenges will take.” I sighed. Why was it that this ESPer only ever had partial answers, with the missing pieces being the most essential?

“What do you expect me to do about it?”

“The Data Integrated Thought Entity has issued a standing order for all Interfaces to avoid the object until the related lifeform has been located and identified, however, I as an individual Interface may circumvent this order in the event that doing so is necessary to preserve you,” Nagato said coolly.

“Ah, if for some reason you were to approach the object, Kyon-kun, I would be obliged to stay with you, to ensure you did not do anything that could put you in danger, as this might alter the timeline,” Asahina-san smiled knowingly at me. It should not be possible for someone to look so cute when they are being clever.

“Similarly,” our ESPer began, “my superiors would be appalled if I allowed you to enter into such a potentially dangerous circumstance without my protection. As such—”

“All right, all right,” I said, cutting him off. “I get it. You people are nothing but trouble, you know, bring me here at this hour just to break your rules for you.” I shook my head. “But are you sure it's safe with this thing's powers?”

“The transportation object itself is possessed of no special features. The safety or danger of the object is derived solely from the absence or presence of its contained lifeform. In the event that the lifeform were to return to the object, I would be able to detect its interference field before it arrived,” Nagato explained. Was that supposed to make me feel safe? If something could cancel Nagato's powers, did it really matter if we'd know it was coming or not? Asakura Ryoko's powers had been a lesser version of Nagato's own, and that was more than overwhelming enough, thanks. At that moment, Koizumi received a call on his cellphone, briefly speaking with and thanking the caller before he hung up and turned to smile at me.

“It is some distance away, so I've arranged for transportation. Our car is waiting outside. Shall we?”

I hadn't actually agreed to anything yet, but at this point there wasn't really any use in fighting it, was there? The four of us left Nagato's apartment and when we stepped out of the complex, there was a familiar car with a familiar man standing by it.

“It is good to see young people enjoy a car ride, taking the night air,” the immaculate butler said with a fatherly smile. Arakawa-san, aren't you part of the organization too? Is this really okay? I must have been looking at him with uncertainty, because he shook his head slowly. “What do I know? I'm just a driver passing through.”

With that, Koizumi got in the front with him, while I sat between Asahina-san and Nagato in the backseat. I was hoping for some sort of conversation to keep the mood up, but the others were completely silent. Asahina-san was clearly nervous, staring down at her hands as they fidgeted. I had to admit, I was too, but not because of the obvious danger. Why, as we drove through the city, did I feel some sense of familiarity?

We pulled up in front of an alley in a residential area that looked decent enough, which surprised me. I was expecting the site of a meteorite impact to look more...impacted, I guess. There was no real damage that I could see.

“We've arrived,” Koizumi confirmed, and he and the girls got out of the car. Well, they've brought me too far for it to just a prank, I think...though that 'test of friendship' theory of Koizumi's did have me wondering for a while. I stepped back out into the night and gently closed the door behind me and noticed the silence. Now I knew the answer to that famous zen riddle: if an invisible, noiseless meteor hits the ground and does no damage in a forest, does it wake anybody up? Probably not, since it didn't when it happened in the city. It's a poor sign that I'm jaded enough to be this nonchalant.

We stepped into the alleyway, navigating between the locked-up bikes and various boxes until we reached a dent in the pavement, maybe a half-meter wide. There, maybe two centimeters across, was a rock.

“This thing?” I whispered in disbelief. Koizumi looked at it with his smile only half-formed, as if he himself was not quite sure.

“The object decelerated significantly before impact, reducing its damage radius,” Nagato explained. Wonderful, but how does something just slow down while falling? Ignoring that, do you expect me to believe that something was really inside it?

“Certain lifeforms exist independent of one defined spatial representation and may alter their apparent form at will.”

Oh, so it can shapeshift now. That ought to make tracking it more fun, right? Haruhi, just what sort of new heights are you trying to take your torment of us to? Why don't you ever have to be out at odd hours of the night doing damage assessment? I would have continued my well-prepared, item-by-item accusations of Haruhi had that strange feeling of familiarity crept into my mind again.

“Well...so we're here and it's a rock...what did we come here for again?”

“Greater proximity was required to detect and analyze residual effects from the lifeform within the object,” Nagato explained. The stoic goddess knelt down and reached for the meteorite. My heart stopped for a moment...then resumed beating when nothing happened. She picked up the strange stone without anything exploding, so far so good.

“...object contains signs of dimensional folding.”

“What does that mean?”

“The lifeform is capable of collapsing four dimensional realities into finite, static spaces.”

What, like stealing space? I've heard something just like that before, oddly. But, there's no way, is there? I shook my head. This is too much for this hour of the night.

“This raises an intriguing question. What would a being like that want with Earth, and why come here in this fashion?” Koizumi wondered aloud, holding his chin. Who are you asking, especially when you probably already have an answer? “For such a being to come to this relatively undeveloped planet...it seems more and more likely that it is related to Suzumiya-san.” Just when I thought we had the girl figured out and happy. I turned to look at Nagato, who was still holding the object. It was making me uncomfortable somehow, but I was even more bothered when she turned her face to look at me and blinked twice before she closed her hand over the object. When her hand opened, there was a clear cube holding the space rock.

“Shall we entrust the object's safekeeping to Nagato-san, then?” Koizumi asked.

“If it's all right with her,” I said, increasingly eager to get away from the whole situation, climb into bed and forget about tonight.

“Yes,” the Humanoid Interface replied evenly.

Then, by some silent consensus, we all went back to the waiting car and climbed inside, driving back to Nagato's apartment complex. Arakawa-san dropped us off and drove into the night without any questions, for which my poor, tired brain was thankful. There was a time last year where I'd become so used to these strenuous adventures that I prided myself on being able to save the world on half a night's sleep, but I was running on empty and too out of practice for this.

“Well,” Koizumi chimed in after a silence, “I believe we understand a bit better what we're dealing with.” Do we really? Perhaps you'd care to explain how 'dimensional folding' clarifies anything? Perhaps it helps Nagato and you can make some guessed, but—

“Yes, I think so too.” To my surprise, even Asahina-san seems to have caught something I'd missed. Was I really just that tired?

“What are you talking about?”

“Ah, I think we've discussed enough for tonight, don't you? We'll carry on with this tomorrow. Good night.” The nerve of that guy! With those words he turned and went on his way home in the dark. I looked at Asahina-san for mercy and an explanation, but she just smiled her sweet smile.

“Classified information.” Asahina-san, you are this Brigade's sweetest member, but sometimes you're just too full of [classified information]. After an apologetic bow, she was on her way home, leaving me alone with Nagato outside her apartment. We watched both of the others disappear into the night, then I slowly turned to her. Nagato, you're the last person I have a right to ask anything of, but even the tiniest hint would do to ease my mind right now.

“...though the lifeform which was contained in this object,” she began, holding out the cube-encased meteorite, “is extra-spatial in nature, its residual energy contained traces of purely biological data, specifically brain-wave patterning.”

“Brain-waves?”

“The brain-wave patterns indicated by the available data match yours.”

Maybe in ignorance would have been a better way to end the night. Is that what those two were being evasive about?

“Do Koizumi and Asahina-san know?”

“No. These biological traits exist solely as stored data relevant to the being's fourth-dimensional expansion and are not observable by three-dimensional beings. Specifically, these brain wave patterns overlapped with the lifeform's existence five years, two months, two days, fourteen hours, six minutes and twenty-five seconds ago.”

No way.

“Nagato...I...could you keep this a secret from the others? I don't know what's going on, but, just...”

“I will not share this information with Koizumi Itsuki or Asahina Mikuru.”

“Thank you,” I said, letting out a sigh of relief. At least I'd have some time to think in private, though right now, I wanted to catch what rest I could before the day with Haruhi began. She of all people couldn't be given any clue something was off. I locked eyes with Nagato for a moment, and while her face didn't change, something in her eyes made me feel at least a little better.

“Humans require regenerative periods of homeostasis to continue functioning at biologically optimal levels,” she said flatly. Nagato, I think what you just said has something to do with me sleeping, and if that's the case, I wholeheartedly agree. She went back into her apartment complex and I groggily hopped on my bike and rode home.

When I arrived back home, it was a little past four, and my little sister was sitting on the couch watching anime, but that just seemed to be a pretext for her to wait up and assault me.

“Kyooon-kuuuun and Yukiko had a daaaaate a daaaaate~”

I grumbled and walked past her into the kitchen to answer the hunger that biking both ways with an exhausted body had called up, and saw containers of leftovers covering the counter. Definitive proof that the old man had been here. Slob.

“How did it go? Did you kiiiiiss her?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said to get her off my back while I grazed lightly from each of the containers.

“Yay! I knew it! Kyon-kun loves Yukiko! But, oh no! Haru-nyan will be mad.” Sis, you can be pretty annoying, but there are moments where you definitely understand my pain, and this makes me proud to be your brother. 'Haruhi will be mad' would be an excellent observation after any statement. Or exclamation. Or question.

After putting down a bit of food and cleaning up the mess my invisible father had made, I flung myself into the couch next to my sister and succumbed to the mind-numbing power of the late-night anime block. I'm entirely willing to accept that this may have just been my weary brain failing to piece together what I was seeing, but the show appeared to be a yaoi anime about a magical blonde fox boy who fights evil with a harem of his own clones to win the heart of an evil boy who has burst blood vessels and necrotic flesh in his irises, along with a snake fetish. I got up and retreated to bed when my sister turned to me and explained 'here comes the good part!'

Thankfully, the television had served its purpose, and my brain was too dulled to register much of anything. The sun would be up in a few hours and Haruhi would no doubt have something unusually excessive, even by S.O.S. Brigade standards planned for tomorrow. As I crawled under the covers and lay my head down, I shivered slightly when, in my mind, Haruhi announced the First Weekly S.O.S. Brigade Triathlon. Whoever gets last place has to undergo a training montage set in Philadelphia.

I fell into sleep quickly, but my dreams didn't give me much time to enjoy it. I watched a young me standing on a second-floor patio, looking up at the night sky futilely. The lights of the city around me left the sky a dimly glowing wash of off-black. All of the sudden, I was seeing a young Haruhi in a different place, lying on her back in the grass and staring up into a night brighter and clearer than any I'd ever seen. She was trying to count each and every star, moving her finger slightly as she pointed to each one. I could hear her talking, but I couldn't make out what she was saying, exactly. As for the young me, he was grumbling to himself. There was noise from back inside the house, they sounded like men's voices, one older than the other. The young me growled, clenched his hands into fists and stormed off the patio and through his room, flinging open the door.

“Hey! Could you be quiet! Why can't you two behave like adults for once?” he said, then angrily slammed the door shut again. I could remember a time like this, but only vaguely. It wasn't that long ago...I think I had just turned twelve, but...I had never wanted to remember. I felt angry. Why? Why did Haruhi's night get to be so clear while mine was so dull? How was that fair? It wasn't, and it never would be. When dealing with the childish world of extremes, fairness isn't a real thing. That's why adults are supposed to live normally; they have an obligation to preserve fairness and teach it to their kids.

Amazing things are always dangerous. The risks involved almost always outweigh any potential benefit, and even if you do gain something for a little while, it'll disappear someday, like amazing things always do. If you consider yourself grown-up, you should know this and live accordingly. I'm glad a young me already understood that so well. Obviously, Haruhi'd had every advantage and never needed to see it. That damn girl...

“You going to wake up or not?”

Hey, who's interrupting my monologue?

“I came all this way to see you, ya know,”

My eyes opened slowly to the rising sun, and there, on the floor with her back against the wall, I could make out the shape of a woman, holding my bass guitar.

“Ta-kun's waking up!” the woman said in a rough but happy voice, strumming the bass lightly. My vision was clearing...pink hair, yellow eyes, that sinister curling grin. No way.

“You...”

“Rise and shine, Naota,” she said.

Haruhara Haruko.

--- --- --- Episode 2 (END) --- --- ---
Is your swing getting better? You know you need to swing to hit.
__________________
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-11-07, 18:50   Link #7
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Thanks to those of you who have reviewed my work here, and on the other venues where I have posted it. Special thanks go out to Sudentor and Triple_R, one long-time friend and one new, who have provided me with valuable feedback and willingly served as sounding boards for my concepts. I appreciate your patience with me. And of course, thanks to all of you who have read, whether you've reviewed it or not. When you get right down to it, the core joy of writing should be found in the act itself, and the knowledge that the piece is being read and maybe even enjoyed. Anything else is just gravy.

Let's continue.


--- --- --- Episode 3 --- --- ---

“Ta-kun's waking up!” the woman said in a rough but happy voice, strumming the bass lightly. My vision was clearing...pink hair, yellow eyes, that sinister curling grin. No way.

“You...”

“Rise and shine, Naota,” she said.

Haruhara Haruko sat before me, a closed-lip grin on her face, bright yellow eyes staring straight at me. I told myself that it had to be some twisted dream, the way she looked in my half-lit room was too surreal...wait, what am I saying? That she's even here at all is definitive proof that this is a dream.

“Ta-kun, this ain't a dream.” Haruko set my bass aside as she said that and rose to her feet. As my alert status went from green to red, I became far too lucid to still be asleep. Hey, what are you doing walking over here with that weird smile? “Why don't I prove it to you?” Before I knew it, she was leaning down with her hands on my cheeks, putting her face close to mine. This shouldn't be so easy for you to do to someone you last saw when he was twelve!

“Stop!” I shouted, bringing up my knee and pushing her off before I scrambled up to my feet and put some distance between myself and the bed, where she decided to let herself flop down.

“Jeez, calm down, would you? What, did I put you off girls? What a loss...”

“What...no! That's not it, but you—”

“Kyon-kuuun~” The small voice of my little sister came from outside my bedroom door and I bit back what I was going to say, though it was a bit late to act casual. “Why are you being so loud? You woke me up...” she complained with a yawn. I'd sympathize with you, dear little sister, but my morning has already been far more unpleasant than yours.

“Go back to sleep...I had a bad dream, that's all,” I said, staring said bad dream straight in the eyes. She just smiled wider. Well, I'm glad at least someone's getting a kick out of this. My pleasure to serve. I'll be honest, I didn't expect that excuse to fend off my inquisitive little sister, but apparently waiting up to hear the non-existent but surely juicy details of my un-date with 'Yukiko' had taken her edge off, and she shuffled off to her room again and let my breath out.

“Kyon-kun?” the pink-haired woman asked, arching a brow.

“Not that I like it, but it's what everyone calls me now. It's been like that for years,” I said, and I looked down to study some particularly interesting sectors of carpet. Even as I deepened my appreciation for the world beneath my feet, I could feel her gaze boring into my skull. Or maybe that was just the piercing headache Haruko always used to give me returning as part of the deal. “Why are you here?”

“Was that your live-in girlfriend? She sounds kinda young.”

“Little sister. Why are you here?”

“I don't remember a little sister. When did that happen?”

“Thirteen years ago. She lived with my mother's mother until we moved out here. Why are you here?”

“You really want to know?” I looked up, and she had stopped smiling. She was kicking about as she lay on my bed, tracing lines in my sheets with her finger. “I'm here to see Ta-kun. What else?”

“Be serious.” Who does this woman think she's fooling? If you want to become a credible liar, you need to cultivate a certain image. You have to seem ordinary. Not too clever, but not too dumb. Not ugly, not beautiful. Pink hair and bright yellow eyes make you far too suspicious. No one would ever take you seriously, and if you had to, say, tell a story while being so obviously out there, who would believe the things you slip in and the things you leave out?

“You don't believe me? How cruel, Ta-kun! You would cast me adrift to swim the wide oceans!” she said, voice dripping with mock anguish before flailing about wildly. Don't look so disgraceful if you're going to say such things, woman. You're not some cat drowning in a puddle; swim. Swim!

“Five years is a long time to keep someone waiting.” When I said that, she stopped and lay back down, staring up at the ceiling.

“Yeah, I know.”

Is that all you have to say? You know? At that time, a thousand things I wanted to say came up in my head, most of which are too profane to record for posterity, and none of which got said anyway. I didn't really have any idea what to say except my one question.

“So why are you here, now?”

Rarely, Haruhara Haruko was dead silent, and entirely motionless. I can only remember one other time where the trademark childish horseplay and nightmare inducing grin of hers were both absent. But I don't want to remember any of this. I have too much on my mind to mess around with some woman who chooses to be a kid no matter how old she gets.

“Fine. I'm going to take a shower. Be gone before I'm done.” I turned and opened the door and took a step out, my hand pulling it shout behind me.

“Atomsk got away,” she said, before the door shut all the way. Was I really hearing that correctly? I stepped back in and closed the door. After I did, my body suddenly felt very heavy, not because I was tired, but because I realized I'd heard her correctly, and remembered exactly what that meant. So maybe this isn't a dream, but if not, it's definitely a pretty poor joke. I wouldn't put it past Koizumi to have set up yesterday and now as some sort of bizarre test which he'd then explain away with a trite philosophical blurb. But the longer I looked at this woman lying there, the more obvious it seemed.

“It's really you, huh.”

“The one and only, come back for my Ta-kun, of course,” she said. That damn smile again. And what's this 'my Ta-kun' nonsense when you just admitted your real reasons for being here? But perhaps I'm not in any position to cast stones over lies until I explain myself. Everyone calls me Kyon these days, despite my most fervent wishes, and most people have never heard my real name. It's Nandaba, by the way. Nandaba Naota. Now that we're properly introduced after all this time, it seems like an anti-climax, doesn't it? I suppose you were hoping my name would be something elaborate, but that's just how life goes.

“What was it you said about Atomsk? Weren't you out chasing him around the galaxy or something?” I said, shaking my head. Stop looking at me like that with your insane eyes, woman! Stare at me too long and I'll become just as crazy as you!

“Huh? You sound like you don't believe me, Ta-kun!”

“Stop calling me Ta-kun. It's Ky—Naota. My name's Naota.” Damn you, traitorous tongue. Even you have given in to the tyranny of my little sister's cruel nomenclature. How could you? Haruko's expression broke into a full-blown Cheshire Cat grin thanks to you!

“My, my, it seems you've taken to the name, huh? But why can't I call you Ta-kun, eh? Don't ya like your big brother still?” She said, clambering across my bed towards where I stood. You idiot, quit making a mess.

“None of your business.”

“Aha, still so stiff. Yup, you're definitely the Naota I know,” she said, getting on her feet and getting close. Too close. Why must the people in my life with no sense of personal space be the most unsettling ones as well? “I was worried,” she said as her forehead rest against mine. “Because you've grown up so much, and because your eyes and hair are different.”

“I changed after you left. You've missed a lot.” I could have said more, but I've learned the lesson time and time again with Haruhi, with some people, it's just plain not worth it. As I stood there, I was struck by the realization of just how similar the two girls were, and if you think it's as simple as the name, you've not been playing much attention to me for the past two years, have you? Allow me to summarize: no sense of propriety, invasive tendencies, obnoxiously childish sense of humor, wakes me up at unfortunate hours of the day. Oh, and some real difficulties with the notion of sympathy.

“You're still just a kid, you shouldn't be taking things like this so seriously, ya know?” she said, rapping me on the head.

“I've grown up in five years, I'm not 'just a kid' now, and I don't have time for your games.” I have enough on my plate as it is, trying to keep the games of a reality-warping teenage misanthrope in check day to day. “So, you go after Atomsk or whatever stupid thing you want to do, but leave me out of it. I'm a normal adult now.” I motioned past her to the window, and just let my face set how it would. I was surprised with myself; maybe it was just a waking haze that was keeping me calm, but I'd have thought I'd be angrier. Instead, I was just tired. I didn't feel any particular reaction when Haruko took a couple steps back from me and put on sad face: puppy dog eyes won't work with your history, you psychopath! Leave that approach to cute girls like Asahina-san, who only has to answer for things such as clumsiness.

“You know...”

Don't say anything else, Haruko. Just go. Be a grown up about this. I've watched adults deal with this sort of thing before, it's not a hard concept to grasp, right? My father and mother would get like this, and they'd leave it in silence. You should be able to manage that, right?

“I wasn't lying. I came here to lay low for a while, but...I also wanted to see Ta-kun.” Now, I should be angry at the immaturity, but I'm just feeling incredulous right now. Are you seriously trying to pull off moe, Haruko?

“How'd I do?” she asked, suddenly scooping me into a headlock and grinding her knuckles against my head. “Moe is a valuable cultural export of Japan: as transmissions from Earth reach farther out into space, it has became an interstellar trend, a big deal all around the galaxy. So, I've had to practice for social purposes.” Ah, Haruko, I don't think that's quite how it works. More importantly, why are you still here!?

“Now, don't you worry. I'll be here for a while, so we'll have plenty of time to get caught up, eh Ta-kun? I mean Kyon-kun~” Oh no. While I'm sure my little sister would appreciate your effort to continue her tradition of using my name as an invocation, but I think the rest of the world could carry on just fine without it, especially me. “But this morning, I have some things to take care of.” She walked backwards, waving her arms about randomly as she neared the window. Opening it and mounting a foot on it the exposed sill, she looked over her shoulder at me.

“By the way, I've been meaning to ask. How's your swing these days?”

My swing? Well, I've never taken formal dancing lessons, to be honest. That sort of thing never struck me as terribly interesting. Then I noticed she had her hands curled up and was imitating a familiar motion. Oh. That.

“I wouldn't know. I haven't held a bat in a while.” And the last time I did, a certain goddess had endowed it with prowess that would have given even you a run for your money, you insane woman.

“That's no good, you've got to swing if you ever want to hit something, Naota-kun.”

“Yeah, yeah. Just get out of here.” What's with the smile you? I'm sure my hair is plenty amusing after you ground up my scalp, but it can't be worth a long last look.

“Just have fun and take some swings. You're still a kid, you know?” Before I could gather my thoughts to concisely argue the point that I am, in fact, an adult, she was gone. Good riddance. In contrast to the calming presence of Nagato, which was like crisp mountain air, Haruko was like the hot, wet, windy air of a summer typhoon, sweeping through and leaving the world in disarray. I could only be grateful I'd managed to keep my sister from getting involved in this whole mess, or it would have become much more of a problem.
The sun was climbing higher into the sky, and while it was still two hours too early to worry about the S.O.S. Brigade's activities, I knew I wasn't going to get back to sleep any time soon. Or, maybe I could have, but let's not go into what sort of dreams I'd have after that strange reappearance. I still couldn't be sure he real reason for coming here. You can't trust someone like that who just goes away for five years, then expects everything to go back to the way it was when they show up. After a while, the smart thing to do is just let go and move on.

So what if she's back? It doesn't change anything. It's nothing amazing. I went and took a shower, put on a fresh change of clothes and descended the stairs to find my little sister awake and in front of the television again, ready to engage in soap operas. I went for the door and decided to just make the bike ride early, rather than risk Haruhi showing up and besieging my home like a one-girl Viking horde. The terrible keen of a banshee afflicted me with the fear status, paralyzing me just as I reached the door!

“Kyooon-kuuuuun!” my little sister shrieked. I can't explain why, but I suddenly wished that a condescending British man would appear to lecture her about her voice. No such savior came. “Are ya gonna tell Haru-nyan about you and Yukiko? About your daaaaate!?” She was smiling so innocently, and I knew my arguments would be futile. I'll play your game a little longer, then.

“Of course not. It wouldn't be secret then, would it?” She gasped, then covered her mouth, eyes wide open as she nodded understanding. Not that I believed for a second she'd keep such a secret, but at least it was one less question she could bother me with. I was out the door and on my bike, racing to the Brigade's meeting place instead of savoring the Spring morning. Frankly, I've had quite enough of Spring despite its having just begun. I would say something about wanting it to hurry up and be summer, but if I did, there's a good chance Haruhi would find a way to make me regret it.

I checked my phone after chaining up my bike and realized that my unexpected burst of youthful vitality meant I was going to be a very bored man for the next hour. Well, I suppose while sitting there in silence, I could work on my Nagato impression. After all, I have to admit that my '…' was missing a certain something. It should be—

“...” Ah, yes, exactly like that, thank you for demonstrating, Nagato. Wait, Nagato? When I had walked over to our usual meeting place, our essential silent character sat there, hands folded in her lap, staring straight ahead. The first thing I noticed as I sat down next to her on the bench was that she was wearing something other than her school uniform, which briefly made me wonder if my Nagato had been replaced with another alternate.

“...” That is very reassuring. Yes, exactly what the Nagato I know would say in a situation like this. Now I am certain. That being settled, however, I was grateful that Haruhi had likely forced her to buy and wear this outfit: a dark blue, sleeveless denim jacket was worn over a collar-cut pale blue dress-top with elbow-length sleeves, the pleated skirt reaching down to meet, after a brief gap, black leggings. The simple modesty of it was Nagato all over, and if I had to spend an hour waiting for everyone else to arrive, the sight would make it at least bearable. Furthermore, it occurred to me that Haruhi had most likely instructed Asahina-san to wear one of yesterday's purchases as well. My mind raced with possibilities! I occupied myself with this for some time before I found myself asking an obvious question.

“Ah, Nagato, how long have you been waiting here?”

“One hour, four minutes, twenty-three seconds,” she replied, continuing to look straight ahead.

“Do you always come here this early?”

“Yes.”

Though she remained blank-faced, I couldn't help but wonder why: after all, with her powers it would be trivial for her to arrive at exactly any moment she wanted. Was she restless about last night? Did Nagato get restless? I somehow doubt that. Nagato, are you possibly...eager for these meetings? I searched her face for some sign, but when she turned to look back at me, I felt as if I'd been caught off guard and looked away. Not that I'd ever think myself Nagato's equal in such a contest, but this display of nerves on my part made it apparent I wasn't suited for staring contests of any sort.

In truth, the staring was the least of my concerns. Let's recap. In the past twenty-four hours I have: A) discovered that the S.O.S. Brigade may disband after this school year, with all the unfortunate implications that carries, B) learned that a meteorite containing some sort of reality warper—now that I think about it, would that be an alien Haruhi? Please, don't answer that—has landed on Earth and C) had my home invaded by a criminal just one spot under the criminal she's chasing on the intergalactic Most Wanted list. It's safe to say that I am in despair, though which of these has left me deepest in it, I cannot say. Can one infinity truly be greater than another?

My poor mind wanted nothing more but to switch off and catch up on all its missed sleep, but somehow, I'd come to have all these expectations put off on me. Perhaps if Koizumi would explain his 'Haruhi is God' theory to others in sufficient detail, they'd start directing their hopes to her! ...Wait, on second thought, that's a horrible idea. Remind me why I didn't want to put Sasaki in charge of things again?

“Oh, my, this is unexpected, though pleasant. Good morning.” I jerked my head up at the overly smooth tones of the ESPer who now stood in front of me. He looked from me to Nagato, then put on a mask of disapproval. “Did you and Nagato-san arrive together? I do hope you did not do anything untoward after we left you two together last night. Suzumiya-san would be outraged.” I gave him a baleful frown. Koizumi, the comparison you are now drawing to my little sister is not flattering. And don't laugh, you!

“I apologize, but your arriving early is unusual, to the point that it merits investigating. Did you have difficulty sleeping last night?”

“I was woken up early by—” and there I stopped for a moment. Should I tell them about Haruko? No, why would I? We as a group already have enough to worry about, and she's just some nut. If she becomes a problem, it will just be one I'll have to deal with on my own. “—my little sister.”

“Ah, yes, that sounds right,” the ESPer said. 'Sounds right', what's with that word choice? “Well, regardless, I am greatly looking forward to today's activities, aren't you?”

“...” I was as silent as Nagato.

“I feel I should inform you, however, that The Organization cannot yet track our mysterious being, however, but its likely connection to Suzumiya-san, I do not doubt that it will be appearing soon.” Don't say such a thing so calmly, don't you know that just makes it more unsettling? Just at that moment, when I needed it the most, Asahina-san appeared, her honey-sweet smile on her face. To my pleasure, she was indeed wearing a new outfit, a red top with white polka-dots over a frilled white blouse. The red a-line skirt swept down just past her knees, tied with a dark pink sash, swaying gently back and forth as she walked. I particularly appreciated the 'v' cut in the top, where the frills of the more modest blouse spilled over. Ah, the lovely Asahina-san, teasing while retaining your innocence. Inviting, even as you beg for my protection—and you shall have it! Consequently, I also resolved to be forgiving of Haruhi today.

“Good morning, Kyon-kun,” she greeted me sweetly, inclining her head slightly, giving me a full view of the carnation headpiece in her lovely hair.

“Ah, good morning, Asahina-san,” I managed, getting up from the bench and offering her my seat. She greeted Koizumi and Nagato just as politely as she sat, the picture of gentleness. However, the revelry ended there. I could tell that we were all thinking about the events of yesterday. Asahina-san's smile grew sad, Koizumi stroked his chin too thoughtfully, and even the impassive face of Nagato betrayed, to me at least, concern. Today, it just might be a relief to see Haruhi: thought this statement would almost certainly be considered tempting fate, I have a strong feeling that the Nuisances of Suzumiya Haruhi will today be the least of evils on our minds.

After a long, strained silence, that maelstrom of a girl appeared, tearing through the mounting crowds in the area with her inexhaustible vitality. Even this early in the morning, you rampage like a herd of elephants!

“What? I'm the last one here?” she asked, disbelieving. Between her surprised face, short-sleeved black button down, forest green cadet cap—did the front patch really say 'Paranormal Investigator' on it?—and woodland camouflage cargo shorts, she was showing off her best features, if only she could keep quiet for the rest of the day.

“Kyon! What's the meaning of making the Brigade chief the last one here!?” No such luck. I could have seen it coming that she would complain about my early arrival, and a part of me was resigned to paying my 'fine' as always, but the bitter protests of my bank account prompted me to at least make a show of challenging it.

“That means you're treating us today, right?” To my surprised, her expression turned thoughtful, but not in a way that said she was considering whether or not to take responsibility. It was more the look of an executioner, sizing up the necessary force and angle of her axe to achieve the most thorough decapitation.

“Of course not, idiot Kyon! The Brigade Chief can never be the last person to arrive, and the person responsible for it has to pay!” Well, technically, that would make Asahina-san the guilty party, as she arrived last, but when she turned to me with a slightly fearful, plaintive look, I immediately redirected my betrayal.

“Then how about Koizumi, since he arrived after me?”

“It is true, Suzumiya-san. As Brigade Vice-Chief, I would be happy to pay for our outing today,” he volunteered. The way you just roll over for people in these situations drives me insane. Can't you at least resist a little?

“Your spirit is admirable as always, Koizumi-kun,” Haruhi said with a proud grin. “But you, Kyon, have always been the late one, and so your early arrival is the anomaly here that made me the last one! Therefore, you'd better take responsibility.” She put her hands on her hips and nodded, very pleased with herself for the reasoning she'd just crafted out of whole cloth. Haruhi, don't bother dressing up if the first thing you're going to do is break my illusion with your obnoxious attitude.

“What sort of stupid thing are you saying, Kyon? Come on. We're all here ahead of time, so let's seize the day!” And with that, she marched off to the cafe. Apparently, seizing the day is a process that is best begun by seizing something entirely else: my wallet. In fact, it is marked by the seizure of various other things of mine: namely patience, time and energy, and I don't doubt that one of these days will culminate in flat-out seizures, which will also be mine. We took over our usual booth, placed our orders, and Haruhi immediately slung her arms around Nagato and Asahina-san.

“So, what do you think? Cute, right? I told them yesterday to wear these.”

Haruhi, you have truly ascended to some previously unknown peak, to be so brazenly willing to tell these girls, one of them your sempai, what to wear after usurping their right to even choose the clothes.

“Bah, as if you'd know anything about fashion, Kyon. It's a vacation, so it's the best time to dress in lively clothes, but Mikuru-chan usually does cosplay and Yuki is such a proper girl that she'd always wear her school uniform if I didn't help her out! Don't you two feel pretty?”

“Y-yes,” Asahina-san, who 'usually does cosplay', agreed as Haruhi tightly shook her lightly. The nerve of that girl, to act like the outfits she forces Asahina-san into are her own choice. Not that I object to the outfits themselves, you see, but I must stand firmly against the process.

“...” Nagato, meanwhile, stayed predictably silent, and Haruhi being Haruhi, anything but a direct no was consent, and any direct 'no' would have been ignored, anyway.

“Certainly, Suzumiya-san's fashion sense is excellent,” Koizumi offered, ever the people-pleaser.

“You think so? Good,” Haruhi leaned over the table with a conspiratorial smile. “Because if we stand out more, we're more likely to draw the attention of the supernatural!” Is that what it was all about? And here I was thinking Haruhi was actually doing something realistic for once. And just how, exactly, do you arrive at that conclusion? Do sliders take more interest in fussy people?

“Do I have to explain everything to you, Kyon? The sorts of beings we're looking for are drawn to people with open minds. People who think about things, but you can't communicate that by just talking about it if they're not in front of you, so you have to show that you're paying attention with your appearance. That is how you bait them!”

I'm more than a little uncomfortable with the image of Nagato and Asahina-san being dangled out on a hook to draw in forces beyond mortal comprehension. If my father's choice of anime has taught me anything, it's that the type of strange being attractive High School girls draw the most attention from is of the cephalopod variety, usually unsavory. But you, Haruhi, can dangle out there as long as you like and your toxic personality will ward off any amorous alien molluscs.

We finished our drinks, and then came the straw draw while I handled the bill. To my pleasant surprise, I was to be partnered with the lovely Asahina-san while Haruhi was to search with the two people patient enough with her to cope given the circumstances of yesterday. I would have a much-needed reprieve in my sempai's presence. Haruhi seemed uniquely agitated by the luck of the draw today, and took off with long, stiff strides when we split up. After we had walked a short distance, I noticed Asahina-san's hands were fiddling about in front of her nervously, and her eyes were on the ground. Was she still fretting over last night? Whatever it was, no man could resist trying to ease her mind.

“We haven't been able to just go on a walk like this in a while,” I observed.

“Yes, it has been a while, hasn't it? I was so busy with exams, but everyone helping me study was fun, too. I'm going to miss high school with you and everyone else,” she said. Way to go, me. Focus her on the more defined problem so she has a more concrete sense of why she feels bad. I tried to think of something to say to divert the conversation, but she quickly cheered herself up. “But, Tsuruya-san and I are going to the same university, and who knows...maybe the rest of you will go there as well?”

Of course, this is all assuming our Brigade's three special operatives are still around by the end of the school years. Even if it's still all hypothetical, I couldn't help but feel resigned to it. People just leave without much warning all the time, and in the interests of being an adult about it, I've already started to accept the likelihood of this situation that I could not change.

“Um, Kyon-kun.”

“What is it, Asahina-san?”

“There's something I'm supposed to do today, and I'm supposed to ask you to come with me. Will you help me?” She folded her hands and looked at me pleadingly. Asahina-san, no man with a heart could refuse you when you are wearing such an expression! I will follow you to the ends of the Earth.

“Thank you...let's go,” she said softly. She lead us into a more densely built part of the city: the houses here were mostly apartments over small stores that occupied the ground levels. Narrow alleyways sat between every tenth building or so, lined with bikes, discarded boxes and trash cans: while not a bad part of town, it still rather effectively blunted the romantic edge to my time with Asahina-san.

“Um, we were supposed to come here,” she said when we stood in front of one of the alleys. “And then...we have to walk into it until something happens.”

“Something? Like what?”

“I wasn't told, just that we'd know what it was when it happened.”

That's never a good thing, but if Asahina-san's timeline requires it, I'll do it. My thoughts went to her superior, Asahina-san (big), whom the one by my side is becoming more like bit by bit. Had she arranged this somehow? I still couldn't decide whether to trust her or not, but it was too late to debate that, I had already taken the time-traveler by the hand and begun walking into the alley. We moved slowly, deliberately, half out of a need to be cautious, half because I wanted to put off the event as long as possible while the lovely Asahina-san clung closer and closer to me. We were several meters off the street when we heard a clattering from the trash cans and boxes near the innermost end of the alley, a wall formed by the back of another apartment building.

“K-Kyon-kun...” she whispered, pointing to the shaking garbage. We walked forward even slower, and as we drew closer, I saw a figure in a ratty, torn-up cloak rise from the garbage. Some sort of homeless person? So, undoubtedly, I figured, this was another mission to turn around the life of some important future figure. Feeling much more at ease, I walked up despite Asahina-san's whispers.

“Hey, are you all right over there? You shouldn't pick through the garbage, you know?” I said, feeling rather charitable after having figured it all out for myself. And that's when the figure spun around and shook off the cloak.

That is definitely not a hobo. There, amidst the garbage was a spindly-looking thing in the shape of a person, but made of metal, with a television for a head, the screen display a picture of a brain against a black background. It took a step forward, clearing away the garbage, then tensed up. I saw it splay its fingers out like claws, and it looked as vicious as Haruhi did when ready to pounce on poor...Asahina-san! I ran back to her quickly and took her wrist, preparing to run back out into the open street, but no sooner did I reach her than the robot landed in the mouth of the alley, crouching down and ready to strike.

“Aaaahh...um...ahh...Kyon-kun, I h-have fur...further instructions!” Asahina-san stammered out. No time to figure them out now, though, we have to run! I tightened my grip on her and took off as fast as I could, the robot loping after us.

“N-near the end of the alley, there's an intersection...g-go right,” she said between panicked breaths. The robot's reckless galloping made a great deal of noise as it crashed into bikes and boxes, thankfully slowing it up long enough for me to make it to the turn. If you think I should have been questioning why a robot would be clumsy under those circumstances, you are clearly not someone who has been chased by a hostile robot before. All I could think about was keeping moving and waiting for Asahina-san's next instructions.

But they didn't come. We just kept running until we reached a dead end. An apartment building wall stood high a few meters before us, and there were no fire-escape ladders lowered for a convenient escape. Back doors were locked up tight, and the robot had cleared half the distance between us and the turnoff. As it surged forward and jumped, I thought of the most amazingly cliché thing I could have, and threw Asahina-san and myself down to the ground. It actually worked. I heard the rush of air as the robot sailed over head, and the loud clatter as it smashed into the wall, head-first, falling to the ground.

“Asahina-san, are you all right?” I asked. She nodded at me, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes. I forced my sore self up off the ground and helped her get back onto her feet, both of us breathing heavily. “What is that thing?” She didn't answer, she furrowed her brow, just staring with uncertainty at the collapsed robot.

It was moving. What a Hollywood-like development! Is this thing a Terminator? It rose back to its feet shakily and turned right back around to face me. The television-screen face was cracked and covered in static as it took one slow step after another towards me, its limbs shaking as spastically as Haruko's had earlier that morning. Wait. Haruko said something that applies here. What was it? Damn it, amidst all the useless crap she said, I should remember the one—

How's your swing these days?

That was the only thing I could think of. I looked around and there it was, a steel baseball bat, discarded on the trash-can. Oh, frivolous sports fan who discarded this, I will venerate you as a divine spirit of this alleyway if this works. I picked it up, gripped it so tight I could feel my knuckles whitening...and when the robot was looming in front of me, I swing as hard as I could. I scored the first home run of my life as the robot's head flew off and smashed against the wall, bursting into a thousand twisted pieces. The body fell backwards in a limp pile. Game over.

Are you watching, Tasuku?

“Kyon-kun?” Asahina-san tugged on my sleeve, looking at me with fear and curiosity. I hadn't said that out loud, right? “Um...I don't know what that was, but I have more instructions from my superiors and...they say when we follow them...that you'll know.” I was shaking and exhausted after coming down from my adrenaline rush, but Asahina-san's soft voice gave me some measure of clarity and drive. She took my hand and lead me from the offshoot, back out the main alleyway onto the street. It was only when we got there that I finally let go of the baseball bat.

“There's a store around here...oh, that one,” she said, pointing across the street. It was an ordinary looking convenience store, signs outside its tinted windows proudly advertising the neighborhood's largest variety of soft drinks. Good, I could use a little something to drink after all that. When we reached the doorway, Asahina-san let go of my hand and stopped.

“Come on in, Asahina-san, I'll get you something too.”

“This is as far as I'm permitted to go. I have to wait for you out here.”

Will knowledge of my drink choice before I have actually bought it irreparably damage the future? I thought better of meditating any further on the rules of time travelers and went on in to the store. It proved to be an entirely ordinary convenience store, with the usual short rows of snacks, basic lunch items, candies and a wall-built refrigerator. Behind the cashier counter sat what I assumed was the store owner with his feet up on the counter, though I couldn't see his face behind the magazine he was holding up.

“We just got a shipment of some really exciting new sweet drinks, you should give them a try,” he said in a smooth baritone.

“Sweet drinks are for kids though, aren't they?” I said with a laugh. Finally, some simple idle talk, something I can have now and brush off in a few minutes. Man behind the counter, you, too, shall be venerated along with the bat-discarder as a sacred guardian of this area.

“If you're not into sweet things, we've also got some exotic sour drinks.”

“I've never liked the sour stuff, personally.” I rummaged through the refrigerator and settled on a tall black can, walking over and setting it down on the counter.

“Let me guess, a bitter drink?” he asked without looking from his magazine. What was it he was reading? The cover looked familiar.

“Of course. An adult's drink, right?”

“But you're still young, you should enjoy that while you can. Drink something sickeningly sweet, right?” Wait, did that say 'Kamon Mabase' on the cover? That's the tawdry old rag my father used to publish back when we—

“Or are you still the kind who prefers older women, too, Naota?” he lowered the magazine, and there with a broad smile and devastatingly large eyebrows sat one more unwelcome figure from my past. Amarao, Commander of The Department of Interstellar Immigration.

“Former Commander, actually, thanks to you,” he stood up abruptly, trying to look impressive in spite of his Hawaiian print shirt.. “It's been five years, but I remember pretty well the mess you got us in, so I've been watching you since that incident with...Haruhara,” he sighed, flinging himself back into his chair.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“Come on, be a little surprised. I know at your age, I would have been. You're trying to hard to be an adult,” he said, rummaging around in a box behind his counter and withdrawing a lollipop which he unwrapped and put in his mouth. “How's your old man? Haven't hit him over the head with anything heavy lately, have you?”

“I asked you what you want.” How dare you shatter my one last shriveled hope for some normalcy today and then confront me with those obnoxious billboards you call eyebrows. Those damn...

“...eyebrows...” They twitched. By themselves! They really are alive, I kid you not.

“What about eyebrows?”

“N-nothing...hey, answer me!” Don't just sit there looking all smug, you're like an older version of Koizumi right now, which is the last thing I need.

“Well, like I said, I've been following you for a while now, but I had to resign from the Department after I let that mess with Haruhara and Atomsk get out of hand.” As if anything involving Haruko would ever be a matter of 'letting' her do it. “So I've been, consulting, I guess you could call it, for other interested parties.”

“Like?”

“Your psychic friend's Organization, for one. Oh, and that girlfriend of yours outside? Her higher-ups in the future.” How could either of those groups trust a man who wears fake eyebrows to convince others he's grown-up? Well, I suppose it's not much of a stretch for Koizumi's group, but wouldn't Asahina-san (big) know better? And what's this about following me? What's so interesting that makes me worth watching?

“Now, now, don't get so big-headed. It stopped being purely about you four years ago after you became an ordinary kid again. You should really be grateful for that, usually once you start going down the path you were on...well...at any rate, it's about the people you seem to attract. First Haruhara, and now this girl, Suzumiya Haruhi, is it?” he said, producing a photo from his pocket. “Since I've started observing the two of you together, I've started thinking there's more to this than the others realize, even that brainy alien pal of yours and her boss.”

“Her name is Nagato Yuki.”

“Oh, do you like the quiet types too, now? She's the better choice. This girl Suzumiya? She's going to break your heart like Haruhara did, you know. They're the same type. Dangerous girls should be left alone.” This is getting more and more ridiculous, but I know you're not bluffing.

“Why don't you just tell me what you want from me instead of drawing out this game.”

“Come on, now, I'm not the bad guy.”

That remains to be seen.

He sighs at me. “Kids should enjoy games while they can.” He slid the chair back out of the way, allowing me to see a television, which he clicked on. “But, you're right, this is important.” There, on a live news feed, was a picture of a strange superstructure atop a hill just outside of town. It looked like they were going to be building a giant iron. Giant iron? I checked the headline banner at the bottom of the screen.

It read 'Medical Mechanica to build new plant'.

--- --- --- Episode 3 (END)--- --- ---

With a girl like that, you really must have missed me, Ta-kun. But I'm here now. Everyone's here for the party. Everyone's here to see you on opening night.
__________________

Last edited by Ricky Controversy; 2009-11-10 at 18:12.
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-11-11, 05:38   Link #8
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
I'm aware that some of you are a bit confused by the involvement of Haruhara Haruko and Amarao in this story. These are characters from the anime FLCL (by Studio Gainax) which makes this a crossover, but I elected not to put that out in the open because I didn't want people to judge this story by their preconceptions of crossovers. Yes, I'm aware 99% of crossover fiction is pure crack, and I've long resisted writing one—this being my first—because I believed the same. However, I see a reasonable overlap in the story that pieces together quite conveniently, actually. I hope you will stay with this story if you've enjoyed it so far. I'll be explaining the connections piece by piece, however, rather than in one big info dump.

Shall we take the next step?


--- --- --- Episode 4 --- --- ---

“They've followed you here, same as I have, kid.” Amarao drew the lollipop from his mouth and wagged it at the television for emphasis, not that the situation needed any. The news was shocking enough on its own, and my face had to have shown that, because the man with the ridiculous eyebrows nodded at me, trying to look sage. “Hard to believe?”

What kind of question is that? Of course it is! Even if the television's showing me the construction site, can it really be Medical Mechanica? Why here? Why now?

“Like I said, they've followed you. Well, not necessarily you, but your tendency to attract certain types of people. You're the only link they have to Haruhara, which is their only lead on Atomsk. They want him back badly. You didn't think they'd just forget about that whole situation, did you?” he asked coolly. Of course it's easy for you to sit there and act collected at a time like this, you're the one with enough free time on hand to stalk a teenage boy, I've had my own life here and my old one has nothing to do with it!

“Is that what you really think?” he asked, eyebrows twitching. “I guess no matter how hard you try, you still are a kid. That's a good thing.”

“What are you saying?”

“You thought forgetting the past would keep you out of harm's way. That's why you ran away, isn't it? Why you moved here?” he said, reinserting the lollipop and turning to stare at the television. “That's something a child would think.”

“Don't just assume you know the reasons! My old man got a better paying job out here, that's all.” Who does this guy think he is, trying to tell me about my life?

“Remember what I said. I've been following you, and making good use of The Organization's resources, in particular. I know your father was unemployed for three months after you moved out here, and his current job...well, he actually makes money off magazines now, but it's just some small local rag, isn't it? He makes about the same he made with that bakery back in Mabase, and he's barely able to keep up with the loans...”

That's enough. I'm convinced you've been watching carefully, now could you stop and explain to me exactly what you want? Give me that stoic look all you want. Experience with Nagato has taught me what's fake and what's authentic, and I can tell you're feeling way too proud about proving that you stalk me.

“Come on now, don't take that attitude. I'm trying to protect you, ya know?” he nodded at the television, and I snuck one more look at it. Unfortunately, the newswoman talking about the assembly plant bringing new jobs was actually less appealing to look at than the short red hair covering Amarao's head. “Anyway, I just have a few questions for you.”

This isn't going to involve another interrogation room, is it?

“Here is fine, you're not the type to get nostalgic, are you? Shame,” he said, reaching forward and clicking off the television. He turned back around and looked at me from across the counter. “You're almost as tall as me now. Not bad, kid.”

Just get to the point. The feeling of charity I had towards the world thanks to Asahina-san's presence is wearing off very quickly even though she's just outside the shop.

“I need to know if you've had any contact with Haruhara lately. We...my associates and I, we're not sure what Medical Mechanica's playing at. The people from the future knew that a robot of theirs would attack you—”

So that thing just now was one of theirs? So they're already able to operate here? But how?

“Good question, isn't it? In the past, they needed to target the right kind of brain-waves...you remember? N.O. Energy. Until now I've never seen Medical Mechanica use any other source to deploy those robots but peoples' heads...”

For those of you who are feeling a bit lost right now: don't worry about it too much. He's talking about things that I've already known about and even I'm feeling confused. Medical Mechanica is...well, I'm not really sure what they are. Publicly, they're known as an innovator in the field of medical robotics. I don't mean automated life-support. I mean robot doctors. Robot surgeons. Robot nurses. Please try not to fetishize that last one in your mind, as it's a very sensitive subject for me. You see, they also make combat robots. Five years ago, I was always afraid of those things, because, brace yourself...they came out of my head.

Beautiful time-travelers, fabulous ESPers and robot alien data goddesses...I've met them all, but the strangeness of that can't compare, at least to me, with this thing called N.O. Energy. I don't pretend to understand it too well, but it's basically a way of saying you have a strange brain and should be locked up. Somehow, Medical Mechanica can use it to pull their fighting robots from...wherever it is they hide them. Look, I don't understand it too well, which is part of why I've been ignoring it for so long.

“But, at any rate, I think they've made this first move because Haruhara's here, and they know it. That's why I need to know if you've seen her.”

“Wouldn't you know, if you've been watching me so closely? What makes you think she's here anyway? She's off chasing Atomsk around somewhere, I'll bet.” Why did I immediately start lying to protect that woman? Why do I think she needs protection anyway?

“No surveillance is perfect, kid, I can't take chances. But I think you want to do the right thing, so I thought I'd ask. As for why I think she's here? Well, I suppose you could say I have a feeling she'd come back for you. She seemed pretty fond of you, not that that's good news for you.” Where do you get off saying things like that?

“Like you said, I'm just normal now,” I lifted my hand and knocked on my forehead a bit. “No more robots are going to be popping out of my head, so she doesn't have a use for me. And no, I haven't seen her. Not since she just took off.”

“You sound bitter.”

“I don't really care.”

“Didn't you say that you l—”

“Is there anything else you needed to ask me?”

“Just one thing. If Medical Mechanica tries to do here what it tried to do back in Mabase, can I count on your help?” His expression was dead serious when he asked, as if he was totally oblivious to how angry he made me. At that moment, I couldn't think of anything I wanted to do less than join up with an adult who kept trying to be like a child. But my head was too full to focus on being mad. Between the troubles surrounding Haruhi and the troubles surrounding Haruko, I had to wonder if my pressured sanity could possibly survive.

“Count on me? And we'll save the world, a high school student and a psychotic shopkeep? Doesn't that sound too much like a shounen manga to you? I'm just a normal guy now. Nothing I can do. Besides, it's not my problem anymore.” I got away from all that as quick as I could, and haven't touched it since. It doesn't matter if it followed me here, I need to focus on the S.O.S. Brigade now. I turned and walked to the door, but he stopped me with a question.

“That girl of yours, Suzumiya? She's really interesting, isn't she.”

“...what about her?”

“No need to give me that look, Naota.” If you don't want to be glared at, don't provoke annoyed people. Besides, why do you refer to Haruhi politely but act familiar with me? That just makes it worse. “Well, The Organization has a theory that I'm quite interested in about her.”

What, that she's God? If you want to join her cult and become some sort of Haruhiist, be my guest, but let me warn you, only a total maniac would worship a god like that!

“Setting that aside, some of their leaders think that their ESP and N.O. Energy are the same, or at least similar. I think this sounds right, because it would have to be at least similar enough for Medical Mechanica to bring its robots in through that...what do they call it? Closed space, isn't it?”

Oh, now I know you have to be making this up.

“I wish, but if you were wondering how they'd send out a robot without the use of a suitable brain, that's how they brought the one that attacked you here. It seems like it's still an experimental process, since that robot was weak enough for you to handle it, and it may be why it has taken them this long to come here. Like I said, that girl's going to cause you trouble.” Amarao sat back down at his counter and kicked his feet up, resuming his casual position with that stupid magazine in front of his face. “Take some time to think about whether or not you'll help me, because they may be gunning for that Suzumiya girl too.”

Good luck to anyone who thinks they can handle that girl, though at the same time, she actually is under threat this time. Somehow, I thought I'd be happier when the day came that she'd finally be put under the same kind of duress that I've had to go through every day since knowing her, but instead I was just overwhelmed.

“Oh, and don't relay any of this to the ESPer kid, Koizumi,” he added as I reached for the door handle. “It's information well above his rank, and if it reaches his ears, he'll be pulled and replaced well before the year-end evaluation.”

I opened the door without saying anything and sighed, rubbing my forehead with my fingers. Doesn't anyone have a sense of moderation? Excitement, for instance, is something which should be rationed out in small doses every so often so that one doesn't become so saturated that they feel ready to fall over at any moment. If any one of you out there recently found themselves saying 'Wow, I wish I could have a life full of excitement!', first off: No. Secondly, I'll gladly trade with you. Thirdly: Just no.

Asahina-san's gentle greeting as I stepped back out into the light was my only succor in that moment.

“Thank you for helping me carry out my orders, Kyon-kun. That's everything we had to do for today.” I nodded in response, but just by reflex. I don't think I had the free brain space to really process what she was saying, and we started walking back the way we had come. Due to the early start Haruhi had enforced—my reward for showing up promptly for once, what a girl!—we were back in the central part of town with a while yet to spare.

“Oh, hm...well, what should we do until we meet up with Suzumiya-san again?” Had it been any other day, Asahina-san asking that question would have evoked an immediate, enthusiastic response, but as it was, I just asked with a heavy sigh if we could sit somewhere. Let me tell you, nothing has ever felt quite as relaxing as sinking into the bench Asahina-san and I found was. Though she looked calm, for the most part, her eyes made it seem like that was only because she was pushing something aside in her head, and I think I know what.

“Ah...Asahina-san.”

“Yes, Kyon-kun?”

“About that, earlier,” If you look at me like that, Asahina-san, how am I supposed to figure out a way to pass this off coolly? “It—”

“Um, Kyon-kun, before you say anything more...” she took in a deep breath. “You don't have to tell me anything...if you're not ready to. Everyone has...a little bit of classified information, don't they? I think that's okay.” The gentle, reassuring smile she offered me would have sent my spirit soaring were it not so weighted down, but as it was, it at least took some edge off.

Five years ago. I thought I had enough to deal with with that time period thanks to Haruhi, but it looks like my own past is catching up with me. Before you ask, no, I never was any sort of special being like Nagato or Koizumi. As always, I was the victim of people like that, and a number of supernatural things happened around and to me, but I never caused anything under my power. I was just an ordinary kid, like I'm an ordinary guy now. A lot has happened since then, but it's not really worth wasting time, is it? I'd never dream of stealing Koizumi's thunder, anyway. Though, I don't know how long I'll be able to sit on this if Medical Mechanica is moving in next door.

I tried to let those thoughts settle somewhere in the back of my mind when the time finally came and Asahina-san and I walked to the cafe. I could feel a great weight rolling off my shoulders when I saw Haruhi, Koizumi and Nagato seated in our usual booth, the former two chatting leisurely. Haruhi, you undoubtedly have some complaint or ridiculous idea that will distract me from the day so far, right?

“Hey Kyon, have you heard about that big building they're putting up just outside town? It's some kind of factory or something.”

Ah yes, a mysterious factory, that sounds quite interesting and exac—wait, what?

“You haven't heard? I thought for sure everyone would be talking about it all around town. We managed to catch a train far out enough to get a good view of it, but I've never heard of the company before. Medicine Machines or something? It sounds suspicious, we should check it out when it's built.”

So, this isn't really going how I'd hoped. I didn't even bother with a drink, I just sat there, exhausted and trying my hardest to seem attentive as she began to rant about the talk of the town, simply assuming that Asahina-san and I didn't accomplish anything in nearly three hours. Well, that's just fine by me. The only part worth remembering—the first home-run of my life, achieved not against a thundering fastball, but the infamous 'lurching robot' pitch that will surely set the NPB on fire—would not make any sense out of context. I can just imagine Haruhi's reaction. 'You mean you spent valuable Brigade activity time at the batting cages!? Penalty!'

“Hey, pay attention,” she barked.

“I am already.”

“Then what did I just say, huh?” she crossed her arms over her chest.

Something childish, I'm sure. “Something important?”

“Hmph,” she tilted her chin up. “Idiot.” I guess she detected my hidden meaning. Damn, and I was so sure the Allies would never crack that code. “Listen this time, or you'll get a penalty, got it?” Yeah, yeah. Get on with it, and please let it be about something other than that damn building.

“Like I was saying, the nicer clothing definitely helps attracts mysterious events!” Oh, so that's why a robot attacked Asahina-san and I? Because she was looking particularly fetching today? That makes me feel so much better. In that case, let us all wear off-white slacks and pocket t-shirts on this outings from here on out. That way I can finally get some relaxation. “What a stupid idea. No, you should dress nicely from now on, all right?”

Oh no, we're not going that route. Koizumi and I—hey, what's the meaning of that, just singling me out?

“Of course you couldn't appreciate it, Kyon, but Koizumi has good fashion sense and knows how to dress himself.” Haruhi countered snappily. I turned to look at Koizumi who flashed me the briefest helpless glance before inclining his head.

“Many thanks, Suzumiya-san.” Betrayal! Betrayal by my fellow man!

With that, the time came to draw straws. I was really hoping to draw together with Nagato, who wouldn't ask any questions, nor remind me of the events earlier in the day, but instead...Haruhi and I were together for a second day in a row. Had two years of never drawing the same straw as her caught up with me? Oh no. Please, whatever powers that be exist, don't tell me this is going to become a trend. This girl will be the death of me under these circumstances! This time, however, as the others left, Haruhi wasn't staring at her straw, she was looking hard at me.

“What?” I asked, annoyed. She didn't flinch, of course.

“You look like crap.” Gee, thanks. “I mean you look tired, idiot.”

“Yeah, well, all the more reason to get the searching over w—” She wasn't paying attention to what I was saying, at all though, and had instead walked over to the nearest waitress and, putting on her most winning, polite manner—why can't you be like that all the time, eh Haruhi?—said something to her while gesturing at me. The waitress nodded and walked off.

“What was that about?'

“I'm not going to have you falling asleep on your feet. If we find something, you need to be awake so you can be a witness and back me up in court.” In court? Just what are you planning to do in the event that we meet some unusual being? Before I could voice my concern, the waitress appeared at our table and set a cup of the darkest coffee I had ever seen, a strong-smelling pitch-black brew that was more than a little frightening. She turned and smiled at Haruhi, then walked off without a word.

“Well? Drink up.”

I don't doubt that this will perk me up for the next few hours, but what about afterward, when I'll surely plummet at relativistic speeds?

“We'll be done with our searching for the day before that happens, then you're free to do as you like.” How considerate. But something to consider: if you can appreciate that there is a distinction between my doing what I like and my being here, why insist on the S.O.S. Brigade doing this every day?

“Have you really forgotten the S.O.S. Brigade's Holy Creed, Kyon? As one of the founding members, you should have it memorized by heart!”

Holy Creed? I must have not been around when we changed from a high school after-class pseudo-club into a religious order. But if by 'Holy Creed' you mean the mission statement, I couldn't forget it no matter how hard I'd try.

“Then there's no need to explain. We're here because it's our duty!” Quiet down, you. People are looking at us strangely...again. But, even though I knew I'd be paying for it as well, I appreciated Haruhi's gesture with the coffee. The taste left a lot to be desired, but the energizing effect was nearly instantaneous, as was the sense of regret as I realized that the following crash would be so much worse than I'd predicted. Haruhi, oblivious to this deep, powerful conflict within my very soul, finished her drink at a casual pace and looked out the cafe window onto the street. She seemed absorbed in something: not necessarily bothered or interested, just wholly wrapped up in her own thoughts. Granted, that girl is usually like that, but this...almost meditative side of her is something I don't think I could ever get used too after all this time.

“I really want this year to be a success,” she said off-handedly, as if talking to the glass. I think I know where this is going.

“Well, there's always next year.” There we go. Self-assurance is the key. Deflect it casually. “It's not like the world will end if we don't find what you're looking for this year.” I hope.

She looked at me out of the corner of her eyes at first, then turned to face me with a scowl.

“You can't take everything so carelessly. If you're not willing to try to make what you want happen, it never will. It's like thinking you can get a home run without ever swinging your bat.” Now, I'd been feeling pretty good about what I'd accomplished in the morning with that baseball bat, but when Haruhi made that analogy, it stung. It wasn't in her usual casually abusive, accusatory tone. There was always a playfulness in that which made it bearable after you spent a couple years building up resistance to it, like poison in small doses. But this had a definite cutting edge, and I wasn't in the mood for it.

“Better not to swing than to throw yourself at every pitch and make yourself look like an idiot, right?” I was trying to play it off, but more of my real feeling in that moment got through than I'd intended. She looked at me with more than annoyance, but genuine frustration, maybe even anger. I know I was certainly feeling enough of my own. Where do you get off telling me to live the way you do, anyway?

“Whatever. Let's go,” she said in a cold monotone. The ice that formed along my spine sapped my own rage out of me for a moment. I decided in that moment that I was going to be the adult about it, so I turned that rage into bitterness and bottled it up tightly. The bill came, and as I was drawing out my money, Haruhi put down some cash of her own, a little bit more than enough to cover the coffee. Not that I'm objecting, but why do you only tend to make thoughtful gestures when you're mad? It's more than a little unnerving.

We left the cafe in silence and walked I can only assume aimlessly together for over the afternoon. I hung back a pace and let her lead, though her gait changed often. Sometimes she seemed to be genuinely trying to search for something, others she slowed down like she was waiting for me, and others she was walking so fast it seemed like she was trying to get away from me. I picked up on that and decided to match her pace. We were testing each other, and if she was expecting me to give in and apologize, she had another thing coming.

Though, the more I thought about it, the more it worried me, as if I needed another thing to be worried about. While Haruhi certainly hasn't lost her temperamental nature in the past two years, I can safely say that her being this angry just hasn't really happened much. In fact, the last time it was on this scale...I shuddered a bit, and remembered that endless gray world full of those monstrous blue beings, that world that almost replaced this one. I don't know what had set her on edge lately, but both times she'd fallen into her odd moods today and yesterday, she'd mentioned something about needing to try to get what you want. Was this upcoming last year of high school grating on her nerves so much? I knew better than to ask a touchy question when she's in this mood, though. She'd just blow up and insult me, and storm off even faster, and my legs were already tired.

We returned to the meeting spot in that same strained silence, and when we found the others waiting for us, she told them in clipped sentences that we hadn't seen anything, and today would be a day off. No one but Haruhi moved until she had walked off out of sight. Somehow I was expecting what happened next: Koizumi turned to me with concern and pulled out his cell phone by way of demonstration.

“I received a rather alarming call from my superiors during this afternoon activity session. A rather large closed space has been formed in the past few hours, and has gradually been expanding. Did something happen with Suzumiya-san after we left? She seemed to be faring well this morning.” That was Koizumi code for 'What did you do?' A fair question, but not one I would enjoy answering.

“I don't know what's the matter with her. She's saying weird things lately.” He kept looking at me, waiting for more. There isn't any more, at least no more than I'm telling you. Go ahead and sigh, that's how I feel right now too.

“I see. Well, while her emotional state has not yet reached critical instability, the situation demands my special attentions. Please, if you can, think of some way to renew Suzumiya-san's good mood over the next few days,” he said, and turned to walk away. After taking a few steps, he paused and looked over his shoulder. “Recent months have been very peaceful, and I would wish for us to continue on together as we have for these past two years.” Great. Get going and leave me alone. How I can solve the problem when I don't know what it is that has her on edge?

Asahina-san bowed politely to me and said her farewell, thanking me for the morning, while Nagato silently departed for her home. As each of them went off their separate ways, a part of me wanted to tell them about the other situation developing, but, no, that wouldn't be appropriate. In a year's time, they, just like the people in my old life, would be gone. Getting them involved now would just be trying too hard to keep them attached. The sort of thing Haruhi would do. That girl...ugh, the coffee's wearing off.

I unlocked my bike from the nearby rack and rode home under the weight of a caffeine crash as all the weariness returned to me. I was half-asleep by the time I got home, and I only grunted in response to my sister's overly enthusiastic greeting. I barely managed to force myself up the stairs and into my room, shutting the door behind me.

“Welcome home,” Haruko said. Yeah, yeah, very nice, thanks. I let myself fall face first onto my bed and...Haruko? While not exactly expected, I can't say I'm all that surprised. I am, however, not pleased.

“Why are you back?”

“Well, I've taken care of all of the business I can today,” she said, and I heard the low report of my bass guitar. Don't just put your hands all over someone else's stuff like that. “Actually, I was watching you earlier.” I looked up from the pillow and she flashed me a twisted grin. I just shook my head and let it fall back down.

“So, what's her name?'

“What's whose name?”

“Ribbons in her hair, kinda leggy, walks with big steps,”

“That's Suzumiya Haruhi.”

“You like her?”

“She's a pain in the ass.”

“Hehe, with a girl like that...you really must have missed me, huh Ta-kun?” Now that's hitting a bit of a sensitive spot. I hope you didn't just come here to dig at me while I'm already drained.

“It's not like that,” I said. “One day she just started dragging me around.”

“You enjoy it, admit it.” Where did the sound of the bass go? While I was wondering that, Haruko had apparently crossed from the window to my bed, because I felt and heard the mattress give under some weight near my back. A hand started stroking my hair, but I was too wiped to move, let alone fend it off.

“Your hair used to be black, Ta-kun,” she said, and for once there wasn't any edge to her words. Not playful, not sinister, not mocking.

“Yeah, and my eyes used to be blue, too...not long after you left, they started to change. I became a normal kid.”

“You'll always be special to me, that's why I came back,” she said. There was the tone I was used to. Stop stroking my ear if you're just going to make fun of me, you're creating some false expectations, you know?

“You came back because you're on the run, right?”

“Heh, that's right.”

I rolled over onto my back and looked at her, and even with her signature look of barely-contained wild energy, she seemed distant somehow. I remembered that she'd had that look, if only for a second, just before she left to chase Atomsk. A look that said 'I guess I have to start over again'. Haruko, please don't make this a deep moment when I'm about to drop out of consciousness at any moment.

“Aw, is Naota sleepy? Do you want to rest your head in my lap?”

“Shut up, quit screwing around.”

“It's like you're not even happy to see me! Ta-kun, how could you be so ruthless!?” she said, doing her best to look stricken.

“Didn't I tell you this morning not to call me Ta-kun?”

“Would you prefer Kyon-kuuuun~, maybe?”

I lay there thinking for a bit, more than I wanted to, but I couldn't help myself. Too many questions got asked today, it was time I got some answers, even if they're different questions.

“Does the meteor from last night have anything to do with you?” I asked, and she didn't reply for a long moment. Haruko, questions like that shouldn't be answered with a dramatic pause. Just give me a straight yes or no quickly so I can have some clue what to make of it.

“Yeah...it's Atomsk's shell.” Okay, that doesn't give me any clues. Let's try going deeper.

“Shell?”

“It's how he hides when he needs to.”

Hide? For those of you not familiar with the name 'Atomsk', let me clarify that he's the most feared space pirate in the whole galaxy. He's a huge bird made of energy who's powerful enough to absorb entire star systems. Haruko has spent a long time trying to capture him and take his power, and I've had...let's say a 'run in' with him before. This raises the uncomfortable question of why someone like that would need to hide, but it does clarify what Nagato, Koizumi and Asahina-san told me last night some.

“I said he got away this morning, didn't I?” Haruko asked. Uh, this morning. I can hardly remember five minutes ago right now thanks to my brain's surrender to the encroaching juggernaut of sleep, but I think that's what you said, yes.

“That wasn't really true.” Well, of course not. That'd be too simple. “Actually, Ta-kun—” There you go again! “I almost captured him. I caught up to him when he was low on energy and nearly beat him, but he managed to get away when the police caught up with me and tried to arrest me. He was too weak to do anything fancy thanks to yours truly,” and here she pointed to herself with beaming pride, “so he went physical and flung that rock here while he crawled up in it.”

“So...he's here to recover?”

“Yeah. And I'm here to find him and finish this,” she said, suddenly getting a frightening fire in her eyes. It wasn't a sweet reason to be here, but it was a reason. But then again...

“So, when you're done with that, you're just going to leave again, aren't you.”

“Doesn't matter, I'm here now, right?”

“You can't just say it doesn't matter like that,” It wasn't just her, it was the whole damn day. Almost no sleep, getting chased by a robot, Amarao, Medical Mechanica, Haruhi and the fact that it seemed like on every side someone was causing me a problem and I had no one to talk to. So I sat up and yelled at Haruko. “You can't just pop in and out of someone's life whenever you want!” I stared at her, eyes locked for a moment, waiting for a response.

“...wow, nice lungs.”

You...!

“Kyon-kun.” Oh no, my little sister's voice was just outside my door, and the handle was turning. “Why are you yelli—oh,” she had opened the door and peered inside, Shamisen strolling into the room along with her. She stood there with a quizzical look on her face, staring at Haruko and I on my bed. Now, thankfully, her flights of fancy regarding my love-life are specific enough that the ramifications others would see in this scenario simply weren't possible in her mind when they involved someone she had never seen before. “Who are you?”

“My name's Haruko, you must be Ta-kun's little sister,” she said. Now I know I'm losing my mind from sleep deprivation, because Haruko sounded genuinely sweet as she spoke to my little sister.

“Ta-kun?” My sister repeated, tilting her head. “You mean Kyon-kun? Why do you call him Ta-kun?”

“Oh, just an old nickname. Kyon-kun and I are friends from way back, isn't that right?” she said, hugging me tightly to her without warning.

“Y-yeah,” I managed to wheeze out. My little sister giggled and bent over to pick up Shamisen, who had foolishly stuck within her striking distance.

“This is Shamisen, but you can call him Shami-nyan,” she said, offering the cat to Haruko, who give him a head-scratching while my sister looked as thought she was thinking up a storm. “I can't call you Haru-nyan because Haru-nyan is already Haru-nyan but...I can call you Haru-kon, okay?” Kon? Why the sound a fox makes? Wait, better yet, why does she get any say in her nickname? Don't you want to know what I'd like to be called, little sis?

“I like it, you're good at that,” Haru-kon, er, Haruko told my sister, smiling, oddly enough, a normal smile. Seemingly satisfied, my little sister absconded with Shamisen and closed the door behind, leaving me alone with Haruko, who very quickly reverted to her usual psychotic self.

“Cute kid, I like her.”

“She's all right, I guess. Can be annoying, though.”

“Because she's still a kid?”

“Right.” Why are we having this conversation so casually again? You still haven't given me a good reason why you should even be in my bedroom in the first place, you freak! You just show up out of nowhere this morning and expect it to suddenly be okay for you to crash in whenever you please after five years? It wasn't even okay back then! And why are you giving me that strange look all of the sudden? Her eyes were set in Haruko's best approximation of softness. Not a lovely sight by any means, but...

“You and Haruhi need to grow up and stop acting so random.”

“Naota.” At least you said my name the right way. “Heh...that you found your way to a girl like that...you've really missed me haven't you?”

I didn't say anything at the time. I just leaned over, put my arms around her waist and buried my face into her leg. I didn't cry, before you go assuming that. But I held onto her as I was falling asleep, and I really hoped she'd still be there when I woke up.

--- --- --- Episode 4 (END) --- --- ---

You go all over for her on your bike, but how long has it been since you rode shotgun and let yourself just feel speed?
__________________
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-11-16, 01:31   Link #9
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
I am glad that people seem to be enjoying the story in general. Those of you who have commented here or elsewhere, and those of you who have contacted me personally, your support is appreciated, and your criticisms are even more valuable. I originally intended this story to last only about six or seven episodes, but as so often happens, it has taken on a life of its own in my head and will probably last substantially longer than that. I'm not going to confine myself to a chapter limit, I'm just going to enjoy this piece.


--- --- --- Episode 5 --- --- ---

You know that feeling you get when you sleep for far longer than you really ought to, where your body won't respond to what your brain tells it to do right away, but you feel satisfied and refreshed, and know that somehow those few extra hours set you right after all the missed months? When I came to, I had that feeling. Bit by bit, I became aware of other sensations. My head was on something soft, but it was not a pillow. One of my legs and one of my arms were both hanging off the side of the bed, and something was making repetitive motions through my hair.

“Hey, wake up,” a rough voice whispered. If it's fine with you, I'll just stay here for a bit longer. “Wake...UP!” That would have done the trick just fine as it was, but before my eyes opened fully, I felt my head lifted up and smashed into something hard as metal.

“Ow! What was that for!?” My body suddenly on full alert, I whirled up into a sitting position and saw Haruko sitting there, a red spot on the center of her forehead as she gave me a lopsided look of disdain and cleaned out an ear with her finger.

“My leg fell asleep from you sleeping on it for sixteen hours. Jeez, is this how you greet a lady the morning after?” There are a number of things wrong with what you just said, not the least of which is the entire thing. 'The morning after'? Don't make such outlandish jokes, and don't complain about getting shouted at when you've just headbutted someone! What did you expect would happen? Actually, don't answer that. A better question is why you're still here: the sun is rising and you said yourself I'd been asleep for sixteen hours.

“You wanted me to stay, right?” she asked, a smug grin plastered on her face. Well, perhaps yesterday that seemed like a good idea, though you're not doing a good job of reminding me why. “Actually,” she said, “I ain't got a place to live, so uh...”

Oh, I see where this is going. I touched a soothing palm to my face.

“Not a chance.”

“But Ta-kun,” she said in a melodramatic low voice as her eyes turned predatory. “If you let me stay here, now that you're a man, we can—”

“Like hell!” And you're really not helping your case when you look at me like a piece of steak, by the way.

“Well, I can't just hang out on the streets all night,” she insisted. But why not? Really, if you think about it, you're clearly crazier and more dangerous than anything that you'd find out there. You can't be trying to convince me now that you're some type of damsel in distress. If you want lessons in that department, however, I'm sure Asahina-san could mentor you.

“You don't need to hang around here, you won't be pulling any robots out of my brain anymore.”

“I just need to stay out of Medical Mechanica's sights for a while,” she said, turning to look out the window. “They think Atomsk is here, but if they see me, they'll know he is.” Wait, this raises a very good question.

“Why would Atomsk come to Earth?”

“Huh? Whaddya mean?” she asked, arching a brow. What!? You mean to tell me you hadn't considered this at all? Has your brain damage worsened since you've been tramping around the galaxy? Perhaps you were even considering using one of Medical Mechanica's so-called 'healing machines' to fix it, you numbskull!

“I mean why would he come here when he knows Medical Mechanica's here! You can't tell me he doesn't know they want him back.”

“Huh...that's a good point,” she muttered, trying and failing to look thoughtful. A good point? My eyes jumped to the bass where it sat against the opposite wall. My hand itched to grab onto the neck and swing it, maybe knock whatever loose wires are in this nut's head back into place. “Well, the Galactic Police won't come near this planet lately, and they're a bigger problem than Medical Mechanica right now.”

You're telling me a group that's willing to chase the likes of you down won't come to Earth? Do we have anything that could possibly be scarier than a psychopath packing your kind of power? Wait, I already know the answer to that one.

“Haruhi.”

“What did ya say, Ta-kun?” Curse my sudden but inevitable lapse from inner monologue to whispered horror. At least she didn't seem to really hear what I was saying. I'm fairly certain the only thing worse than getting the S.O.S. Brigade mixed up with Haruko would be to get Haruko mixed up with the S.O.S. Brigade.

“Forget it. You said you need a place to hide, right?”

“I knew you'd let me stay with you, Ta-kun!” She bared her teeth in what I can only assume was supposed to be a grateful expression and reached out to embrace me, but recoiled off the bed onto my feet with a superhuman grace I wish I could have exhibited in any of the sports events Haruhi had forced me into.

“Like I said, not a chance. I'll take you somewhere you can stay,” I told her confidently, hoping a definitive tone would keep her quiet, but I only had a hope, not anything definite. Now don't get me wrong, I'd feel guilty putting Haruko off on just about anyone, but if there is anyone with the generosity, patience and good humor to put up with her, it is undoubtedly a certain long-haired sempai of mine. “Where's your stuff?”

“All loaded up on my Vespa outside.” I shivered as she said that, remembering well the first time I ever met Haruko; the woman had sped out of nowhere on that damn thing, driving it directly into me. I was lucky enough to survive, but the guitar-smash to my head that immediately followed could, in retrospect, only be described as the sort of ridiculous thing I'd expect from a Studio Gainax anime. All in all, I did not have a good first experience with the vehicle.

“Well, let's go.”

“Whatcha got in mind, Ta-kun, eh?” she said, walking over to my bass and slinging the strap over her shoulder. I didn't bother to protest it; it's not like I'm going to actually be using the thing. Guitar-related antics were really more Haruko's idiom than mine.

“I've got a friend who lives in a mansion and she—” before I could explain any further, the doorbell rang. I glared at Haruko, but if she'd been expecting someone to come here, she'd have smiled idiotically. Instead, she was just smiling malevolently, as usual. I waited a beat, taking it for granted that my little sister would answer the door. But apparently, she wasn't home. The doorbell rang again. I left my room and went downstairs, walking up to the door, where a slight one-way peep hole opened onto the outside world. Usually a favorite of my father's—the rare times he was around—to check for and hide from scary men with bills in their hands, it now shows me one Suzumiya Haruhi.

Not good.

She looked rather out of her element as she stood there: I could see her eyes darting back and forth and mostly roaming about the ground, and her two hands curled and uncurled. She was dressed rather nicely and her hair was done up in a ponytail, and I had to wonder why someone who looked ready for a day in town would take a detour to my house, seemingly ready to chew me out again for the day before. I imagine that if she wasn't trying to keep her manners in order on the assumption my family might be around, that she'd be trying to smash in the door to come in and bite a nice, large chunk of my head right off. As it was, I was grateful for this rare show of self-control: she and Haruko can't be allowed to mix. I waited there at the door for a while until she bit her lip and turned to walk away. I heard her mutter 'idiot' under her breath before she turned down the sidewalk and disappeared.

It was only after I heaved my sigh of relief that I realized there was a sinister presence hovering about my shoulder, making a strange, rolling sound. When I turned around, I recoiled from a pair of yellow eyes with slit-narrow pupils. Those aren't any human eyes, what's going on here? When I had thrown myself back into the door, I realized I was looking at Shamisen, held aloft by Haruko, the cat purring away happily. Clearly, you do not appreciate the gravity of this situation, your bothersome furball. Everything that has happened lately has left my cardiac health in a rather precarious position, so I'd appreciate you not complying so wholly with someone like Haruko. Scratch her, bite her, just don't let her have her way!

“That was that Haruhi girl, yeah? Why didn't you invite her in? Could it be...” she gasped melodramatically. “Ta-kun wishes to keep our passionate tryst a secret!? Are you ashaaaamed of my love, Ta-kun?” she asked, burying her face in the cat's fur. Haruko, I'm ashamed to know you exist. That alone reduces me as a person.

“Let's wait a minute before we go, she might still be out there.”

“Oi, oi, what happened to your old cat anyway?” Haruko asked as she sat on the floor and let Shamisen walk around her lap. It always irks me just a little to see that not only does she treat every other living thing with more respect than me, but even then, she still acts like a child. She hasn't grown up one bit. Whereas, I...

“He was old already when you left, ya know. We had to put him down a couple months later.” I remember that old cat. If there was one good thing about Haruhi's choice of name for the calico padding about now, it's that it was at least better than my father's name for the previous blue-gray blob of cat: Miu-miu. That's my father for you: always putting forward a sterling effort, refined by keen wit.

“Huh,” was all Haruko said. Not that it ever really changed anything, but usually the polite response is to make some gesture of sympathy. But if I'm honestly expecting 'polite' from Haruko, I should go back to sleep, or perhaps get my brain examined. “How's your old man? Does he still miss me?” So what if the old lech does? That'd be your own fault for giving him the time of day.

“Grow up.”

“How about your brother?” Stop bringing up Tasuku.

“None of your business.”

“Is he still playing baseball over in America?”

“Quit pretending to be interested, all right?”

“Have you seen him lately?” she was raising her brows at me, looking amused. I'm sure this is terribly funny to you. I'd have outright attacked her if I wasn't convinced she'd take it as encouragement.

“Let's get going,” I turned and opened the door, pointing outside. Shamisen retreated upstairs, the wise recourse of a former street-cat grown used to house life, and Haruko and I walked out to the street, where I saw that familiar Vespa parked a few meters away. The only things strapped onto the back were a guitar case and a single small box. She took my bass off her back and slipped it into the otherwise empty guitar case—so you came all this way without one of your signature weapons. Brilliant—and got on, starting it up and putting on one of the two helmets hanging from the handles. This close to it, putting on the other helmet and throwing a leg over the seat, I remember something over than getting pulverized by it.

I remembered the first time Haruko left. Then, when she came back, we drove every highway surrounding my old hometown, eating bad ramen from cheap gas stations. Mabase wasn't that great a place, but that road trip was enough...just enough to trick me into thinking it was, for a little while. Even if the woman was as immature as they come, that memory wasn't so bad.

“Hey, Naota,” she said. Even from my spot behind her, I could see her cheeks form up in a smile. Now that we're riding on a fast-moving pile of metal and gasoline is not the time to make the kind of face I know you're making! “I've got an idea.” That seals it: this will only end in tears, especially since I've now noticed she's not taking the route I suggested at all.

“Relax, what do you think I spent all day doing yesterday?”

Wasn't it following me?

“Pff, don't flatter yourself. That was only part of it. I had to scout this place out—” I'm surprised to learn you put that much thought into something “—so I've seen all the roads. Let's take the long way, yeah?” You're still making that face, which means your asking for my opinion is entirely irrelevant anyway, doesn't it? I was already resigned to it and trying to use my recently recovered brain to think ahead about how I'd be able to keep the S.O.S Brigade and Haruko separate while dealing with the problems that have recently emerged.

“Ya know, that girl's pretty bossy,” Haruko began. Don't say that sort of thing so casually when you're every bit as cantankerous as she is! The only difference is that she makes people give her what she wants, while you just plain take it. “I bet you go all over the place for her on your bike, but how long has it been since you just let yourself feel the speed?” What's that supposed to mean? I couldn't quite see what Haruko did, but the end result was that we were suddenly blasting along the highway. I held on to Haruko, fearing for my life. Don't just double our speed without warning, you maniac. Watch out for those cars! Maybe you just came here to kill me!

...but I have to admit, it wasn't half bad. It was a lot like that last time, and she hadn't changed at all, though I had grown as much as I did in five years. We ranged far out from the city before we swing back around and approached from an entirely different direction: it was about noon when we finally pulled up to our destination, the Tsuruya family estate.

“This swanky place belongs to a friend of yours?” she asked, removing her helmet and look around with an 'I'll be damned' look, as close as the woman gets to impressed.

“Let me do all the talking.” I got off the vespa and realized my legs were still shaking a bit from having gone so damn fast. Ridiculous woman. I walked over and rang the intercom buzzer by the front gate, greeted by the voice of one of the house servants. Mere seconds after I explained I was a friend of Tsuruya's, the green-haired sempai was walking towards me, waving wildly and smiling broadly.

“Kyon-kun, megassa good to see ya! My, my, you haven't come around to see Tsuruya-san in a while. Do ya miss me all of a sudden?” she said with a good-natured chuckle, opening the gate and wrapping me up in a crushing hug. I suppose I won't need to see any chiropractors about the sore back I've been having after this, at least.

“Of course,” I replied when she released me and I could breath again. How does such a slender girl pack so much power? “But ah...I am here for a specific reason.”

“Huh? What, like a love confession?” Er...no, that's not quite— “Say no more! My parents always have the house fully stocked for an old-fashioned wedding just in case.” That's actually vaguely disturbing. You probably shouldn't just tell people that at random, Tsuruya-san. “I'll totally make you happy, nyoro~” Is it just me, or do the girl's flirtations get more disproportionate over time along some kind of exponential curve?

“Actually, I need your help with something, Tsuruya-san,” I said, playing off her enthusiasm with a nervous chuckle. She looked quizzical for a second, then seemed to notice Haruko behind me, and smiled her broad one-fanged smile.

“Hoho, I see. What do we have here, another special visitor?” she said, walking past me to greet the pink-haired alien woman. Now, certainly, it's good that you're not hung up on it, but it's not necessarily the best thing for my self-confidence if my rejecting even a joking proposal doesn't even warrant a direct reaction. But then, that's the only difficulty anyone could possibly have with Tsuruya-san: her tendency to respond to everything with the same unflappable vigor makes her even harder to read than Nagato. Haruko had a bemused expression, arms folded across her chest as she leaned back against the parked Vespa.

“The name's Tsuruya!” She said with a bow. “How do you do?” The sempai flashed her own beautiful smile, which drew from the best of both Haruhi and Asahina-san own expressions.

“Well, ain't you something? Haruhara Haruko. You got a birth name, or is it just Tsuruya?” Given that my sempai had helped me without asking any questions or expecting anything in return so many times before, I was already heavily in her debt. To judge by her words, Haruko seemed intent to make that debt accumulate interest. Perhaps I'd be best advised to write up my application for a position as Tsuruya's servant right now. But, of course, Tsuruya-san just laughed.

“Of course I do, but...it's secret! A girl's gotta have a few, nyoro~”

“Is that so?” Haruko was eying Tsuruya-san with that unnerving intensity that said whatever reaction came next would be big. Just when the silence filled me with the dread anticipation of an epic fight-team, executed by several teams of burly men tugging wires attached to the girls, they both burst into laughter, Tsuruya in her full, belly-born reports, Haruko with her rough, jagged, mocking chuckles. I took a few steps back to give me a good head start just in case: this is how murderous chase scenes get started.

Thankfully, Tsuruya was looking her usual benign self when she approached, patting my shoulder as she walked past.

“She needs a place to stay, right? C'mon in, we'll get that all set up now.” And so, at least, this part of it would be that simple. Haruko walked on ahead, one hand stuffed deep into the pocket of her jeans, the other throwing a thumb back at the Vespa.

“Go on and bring my stuff in, eh, Ta-kun?” If you insist on using that stupid nickname, you could at least have the decency not to do that while ordering me around. I'd almost prefer Haruhi's tendency to call me 'a stupid Kyon', as if that word were a catch-all. Nevertheless, unfastened the guitar case and box and carried them into the mansion. When I caught up with the girls in the mansion, they had been chatting about something, but stopped when they noticed me fall back into step with them.

“By the way, Kyon-kun, if ya change your mind, that's the room with all the wedding stuff in it!” She said, pointing to one of the sliding doors which was thankfully closed.

“Ah, maybe next time.”

“Haha, suit yourself, nyoro~”

We eventually stopped near the end of the long hallway and Tsuruya slid open one of the doors to reveal a spacious, wooden-floored room entirely bare of furnishings.

“We can get ya anything ya need to be comfortable!” the cheery sempai offered.

“Nothing fancy, I just need a place to sleep since Ta-kun here won't let me stay with him. He's so cruel!” You idiot, I told you to let me do the talking, you already slipped up calling me Ta-kun. Now—

“Hah, all right then, Kyon-kun and I will go find some bedding for ya and then we can have lunch together.” Huh? Well, maybe Tsuruya-san didn't notice. Having been volunteered to go with her, I set down the guitar case and box in the room and left Haruko to her own devices, nightmare inducing as the thought of that may be. I walked alongside Tsuruya-san in silence for a few moments before I realized that she, too, like Asahina-san, would be going off to university this fall. Though she was not an official Brigade member, she had contributed as much as any of us to our goal of protecting Haruhi in spite of her relative distance from us. Even if she rarely passed by the club-room, her presence at the school had carried its own influence, and that would be gone.

Just one more person that you can't hold on to, really.

“I like your friend, Kyon-kun, she's megassa funny! You've known each other for a while?”

“You could say that...how did you guess?”

“Well, she called ya Ta-kun, and that sounds like a little boy's nickname, but I've played with your little sister a lot and she never mentioned it, so it'd be an old one, right?” So Tsuruya-san's observant as always. Not that I have any reason to not trust her, but the less involved she is, the better it will be.

“Tsuruya-san, if it's possible...I don't want anyone to find out she's here or who she is.”

“I figured, since Haruko-chan seems like a pretty special girl,” she said as she turned to me with a reassuring smile. 'Special' is one way to put it, I guess. “You can count on me!” That was that. Like always, she chose to leave the real questions unasked and just let me do what I need to do. I felt at least a bit more relaxed for having come to this point in the process, and after Tsuruya and I found a closet and pulled out the necessary bedding, we walked back to Haruko's new room.

She was sitting on her box with her back to the wall, the guitar case open. She plucked a few strings on my bass, and lifted a hand in greeting.

“Yo,” she said with a grin. While we were laying out the bedding, Tsuruya and Haruko struck up quite the rapport, and in no time, they were talking as if they had been best friends for their whole lives. Tsuruya may be a normal human being like myself, but I think it's equally likely her friend-making abilities are some sort of superior mutation. An hour or so passed, and after a particularly long shared laugh, Haruko said something she almost never said.

“Thanks,” Did I hear that correctly? “For putting me up in your place.” When Haruko likes a person enough to thank them, that is truly something to fear. When it's someone as tireless and capable as Tsuruya-san, I think it's safe to say Haruhi's potentially world-ending mood swings are up against some real competition. Wait. Haruhi. I'd forgotten all about her visit that morning amidst everything else. If for no other reason than to get Koizumi off my back, I ought to take care of that. When Tsuruya mentioned cooking lunch and Haruko volunteered to help, I took that opportunity to step outside and make a phone call: both for privacy's sake and to be able to maximize my distance from that duo while they were wielding sharp kitchen utensils.

I called Haruhi's cell-phone and prepared myself for a tongue-lashing. Instead, it rang on until I was sent to her voicemail. I decided to give it one more try. Thirty seconds, nothing. It cut to her voicemail message again, but just before I hung up, I heard her agitated voice on the phone, much as I expected it would sound.

“What is it?” What a charming attitude. Hello to you, too, Haruhi. Nice day today. How have you been? Oh, that's good to hear. “Well? What are you calling for?” Oops, that's right. If I tell her I saw her when she was at the door, she'll wonder why I didn't answer.

“I was just...calling to see how you were doing.” Smooth, Naota. Admittedly, it'd be a great help if basic communication with this girl wasn't a trial worthy of Sisyphus.

“Is that it? What a stupid reason to call!” she barked. I'd say wistfully that this all went so much better in my head, but it's two years too late for me to be that naïve, and it's pretty much playing out like I'd expected given her mood yesterday. “Why weren't you at home this morning?”

“What? How's that your business?”

“What if I had decided the S.O.S. Brigade needed to hold another emergency session? You should check in with me first if you're not going to be available!” Well, at least she has put herself in a position where I can leverage something out of her.

“But we don't have a home phone so...you went to my house this morning?”

“...” Gotcha.

“Haruhi?”

“That's...just check in with me next time you're going to be out!” her shout was probably putting the earpiece of my phone under stress. With an attitude like that, you really did go all that way just to scold me again, didn't you? “What are you doing anyway?”

“I'm, ah...” Think, man, think!

“Kyon-kun, lunch is almost ready, nyoro~” Tsuruya's voice called from the doorway. Ah, lunch sounds wonderful right about now, but being able to keep some cover would have been just as nice. Too late for that.

“Was that Tsuruya-san?” Haruhi asked. “How could the Brigade have lunch with Tsuruya-san and not invite the Brigade Leader? That's tantamount to treason, you know!” she said, suddenly sounding sly. “I'll be right there!” Now, in this position, there were a few choices I could have made, but I only saw one in my panic to keep Haruko a secret.

“It's not a Brigade thing, Haruhi. I'm visiting Tsuruya by myself.”

“...Oh.” Don't sound so dejected, you're the one who called a Brigade off-day. Don't expect all of us to be as eager to follow in your footsteps as Koizumi when we actually have time free of your tyranny. “Well...school starts up in two days, so be ready for Brigade activities to resume in full! We can't slack off this year!” I don't really know where that sudden determination came from, but I was grateful there wasn't enough of it for her to schedule anything tomorrow.

I went back inside and enjoyed the excellent hot pot that Tsuruya and Haruko had prepared, and the three of us enjoyed our free reign of the vast mansion into the evening hours. It was, now that I think of it, the first time I'd been able to relax without a hitch or worry. Haruhi may have sounded off in that phone-call initially, but lately she always had a way of bouncing back quickly from her odd moods. No calls from Koizumi, Nagato or Asahina-san came telling me of the impending psychic/digital/temporal doom of the world. When I was preparing to leave, Tsuruya-san received a call from her parents and procured a formal invitation for me to have dinner with the family. I only needed to think of the idiotic man who probably wouldn't even be home for dinner at my own place, acting younger than my sister, and I was ready to accept.

Now, conjure in your minds for me, if you will, an image of an admirable adult. Composed, dignified, intelligent, reserved, purposeful. Tsuruya-san's parents were any and all of these things. When I first laid eyes on them passing into the mansion, I could only think two things: first, that this is how adults should be, and second, that if Haruko embarrassed me in front of them, I would ask Nagato to unmake her. I cringed as I felt Haruko's elbow in my side, my worst fears already being made into reality as the Tsuruyas made their approach down the entryway.

“Hey, sit up straighter, Ta-kun!” She was wearing a cat-like smirk. Oh, so that's how it's going to be.

“Papa, mama!” Tsuruya-san shouted with even more joy than was typical of her as she raced to meet them and embrace them. I remembered that they were often away on business, though clearly they were doing something right when they were home. Think for a second about the implications of the following statement: I had never seen Tsuruya-san so happy before. I turned to look at Haruko and saw her looking at me appraisingly. What are you expecting to find with that look? Behave yourself.

“Ah, you must be our daughter's friends,” Tsuruya's father said when he stood before us. He was tall and well built, completely in command of himself. “I am grateful that she has friends such as yourselves to keep her happy when we must be apart. I am Tsuruya Hideyoshi. It is a pleasure to meet you.” He bowed, and in that one motion, I was vindicated. I've known all along that adults should be like this, and now, I know it is an attainable ideal! Sensei, I submit myself to your teachings that I made spread The Way to the rest of the world around me that refuses to grow up.

“I am Tsuruya Junko,” said a rich, warm voice, perhaps the purest sound I have ever heard. I turned and stared at my sempai's mother, a dignified woman who defined classical beauty, especially in her floral-print yukata. I was in awe of her, and frankly wondered how such a self-contained pair could have produced a daughter as wild as my sempai. “Thank you both for being so kind to our daughter.” I will admit, given that Tsuruya has withheld her given name this whole time, I was expecting the same to apply to her parents somehow, as if I'd be in the presence of some sort of shady, impersonal Tsuruya zaibatsu...nah, that's ridiculous. I'm sure their fortune's entirely legitimate. Right?

“This is Kyon-kun,” Tsuruya-san said as she walked from her parents side and gestured to me. I bowed as best as I could, though it seems like my bowing-muscles have atrophied from not having enough occasion to use them. I'd hoped that would not be the case by this stage of my life, but sometimes life throws you curveballs. Or Haruhi. I'll let you decide which is more disorienting.

“And this is Haruko-chan,”

“Nice to meet ya,” she said, and she actually bowed. Perfectly. So that settles it, she's turned this into a game. Don't smile at me like that just because you can make a proper introduction! I know the truth of your barbarous identity, Haruko.

“Well,” Tsuruya-san's mother began, turning to her husband, “I'm going to prepare dinner. Would you like to join me, girls?” she smiled serenely at her daughter and Haruko. Well, where she got her personality may be a mystery, but I can see where Tsuruya-san's looks come from. Tsuruya-san followed after her mother eagerly, while Haruko threw me a sidelong glance and mouthed the words 'I'm gonna win', her eyes flashing. As they left for the kitchen, I heard Tsuruya-san's father chuckle lightly. Nothing near the magnitude his daughter routinely produced, of course: a proper adult's laugh.

“Don't worry, she won't,” he said calmly.

“Won't what, Tsuruya-sama?” Sama? I can't recall the last time I felt the need to address someone that way, but it seemed appropriate here.

“Hideyoshi's fine. When you're under our roof for dinner, consider yourself family. And she won't 'win'. She is trying to appear more polite than you, correct?” And that explains how Tsuruya-san became so perceptive. “This sort of thing comes up all the time in my line of work; people vying with each other for favor. But I've got her pegged for the same type as my daughter.” If you knew Haruko as well as I do, you'd realize you'd just insulted your daughter very severely, sir. “Speaking of my daughter, she talks about you a great deal, Kyon-kun. You don't mind if I call you Kyon-kun?”

Sir, you may call me whatever you like, just make me your disciple. I nodded.

“You and your friends in that school club, the S.O.S. Brigade. She is particularly enamored of you and one Suzumiya Haruhi. Now that Junko and I have been so fortunate to meet you, we hope we will get to meet her some day. What is she like?”

Well, she is mildly unhinged, has no sense of proportion or scale, exceedingly gifted in every area to the point of it being frightening, inexplicably charismatic and possessed of a sense of humor we mere mortals could not hope to fathom.

“She and your daughter get along very well.”

“Good, good. If I may be so bold?” Go right ahead! I'm reveling in the presence of a real adult, a man I can aspire to be like. Someone who— “What do you think of my daughter?” Oh.

Oh.

“Well, ah...”

And then he started laughing, after letting me hand for near a minute. A full laugh. I felt relaxed very suddenly when I realized he was kidding. But this is it, isn't it? The balance of composure and care, this is what a father's supposed to be like, right?

“Hah, we'll see when we see, right? No need to take it so seriously, Kyon-kun!” He laughed once more and placed a firm hand on my shoulder. “But my daughter is very fond of you. Please, tread lightly.” This incredible spiritual pressure! The panic that washed over me briefly was so intense I could only try to describe with feeble numbers the level of power bearing down upon me. It was easily above and beyond eight-thousand, possibly nine! It lifted as abruptly as it hit when he removed his hand and laughed again. Yes, that horrible strength in defense of one's child. This man's definitely a real father. A little frightening, but very impressive. The old man would never be someone like this.

“You look as though you're thinking of something unfortunate, Kyon-kun.” So the man is also, apparently, a telepath. “Enjoy yourself, we are all family here. As a father, I wish my son to be happy.”

As a father, huh?

So, from here on out, what should I describe? Eventually, the dinner was finished and served. It was just a meal. Sure, it was my first meal with anything like a real family in twelve years. But it was just a meal. I don't think you really need to hear about it, do you? After we'd eaten our fill and idled a while, I decided I needed to head home, but Hideyoshi-san insisted on my being driven home. While he summoned a chauffeur, I said my goodbyes.

“Thank you very much for dinner,” I said, the first four words feeling strange in my mouth. The muscles in my jaw were surely wondering who could merit these long forgotten functions. I bowed to both Tsuruya-san and her lovely mother, then looked at Haruko as both green-haired women walked back into the mansion. “Try not to do anything stupid.”

“What, don't ya trust me, Ta-kun?” she said with a smile of too-fake-to-be-called-imitation innocence.

I don't think I'll ever be able to reproduce the facial expression I gave her in return to that statement before Hideyoshi-san was at my side, gesturing to the gate where a limousine awaited. I half expected Arakawa to be the driver, but it was not to be. We climbed in, Hideyoshi-san relayed the home address I'd given him, and we were off. I was thinking of something to say to this man, but he broke the silence first.

“The drive to your home will not take long, so I shall be brief.”

This sounds potentially mood-wrecking.

“It's nothing worth being apprehensive about. I would just like to say that Haruhara Haruko is safe with us.” How much does this man know? Has Tsuruya told him about S.O.S. Brigade activity before?

“Sir, I...”

“Like I said, Hideyoshi is fine, Kyon-kun. My daughter has not shared any information with me. Rather, it is the company Medical Mechanica that has contacted me.”

“Medical Mechanica?” I asked, trying to play it cool. “The company that's building that weird factory outside of town?”

“...the same. They are requesting information on Haruko-chan as a matter of 'carrying out corporate law'.”

I was silent for a long time. Sensing my apprehension, he smiled that dignified, patron smile.

“You would be surprised, Kyon-kun, at how well you can stymy the efforts of questionable people with such a petty thing as controlling stock. Oh, we've arrived.” He nodded and gestured out the window as the driver got out and came around to open my door for me. “Come by and visit us again. Our daughter would love it, and Junko and I would be honored.” I should. This is the sort of thing I want from a day.

“I will.”

I watched as the limousine drove off into the night. So, then, even if I have to keep the S.O.S. Brigade out of this one...I still have someone at my back dealing with the mess Haruko has brought to my door. At that moment, for some reason, the fear of the two problems coming to overlap never occurred to me. I felt confident and most of all...I felt ready to get some real sleep again, content in the knowledge that I'd found a real adult, not at all like my slob of an...

I could see the old-man standing there in the open kitchen when I opened the door.

“Kyon-kun, look, daaaaad's hoooome~” my sister cheered when she noticed me. It's not worth bouncing around on the couch about. It's not worth singing about, either, little sis. I shook my head as she continued smiling at me, then looked at the old man, who smiled sheepishly and looked back down to his leftovers.

“Good of you to show up, Kamon.” I reached into the fridge, pulled out a carton of orange juice and poured a glass. I noticed the fridge was nearly empty, and he didn't seem to have brought any groceries.

“Hey, Naota, how about calling me dad?” he said with a forced laugh. I took a gulp of my juice. His half-assed smile faded. I noticed he was looking just as sleazy as usual with the same dirty, tattered jeans he probably wore every day now, with a white undershirt and orange Hawaiian print over it. He still wore sunglasses indoors, at night.

“Hey, so, I just had dinner with a friend of mine,” I offered. “You remember Tsuruya-san? Probably not, huh?”

“She sounds familiar...” he tried. That's just insulting my intelligence, old man.

“Her father's really something.”

“...hey, uh, Naota...” He sounded almost apologetic. I looked up at him. Make this well-worth hearing and quick.

“Yeah?” No sooner did I say that then he stuffed his mouth full of the last of the leftover fried rice.

“...heh...we're...out of food. I gotta go back to work.”

“...Yeah.” I didn't bother to watch him go. I finished my juice, cleaned up the kitchen counter and walked back into the living room, looking at my little sister. She was focusing on the television a lot harder than she had been when I got home.

“C'mon, let's go get some groceries,” I said.

“Ooookaaaay~” she ran upstairs to change out of her pajamas into some decent walking clothes, and we went out into the Spring night. Don't run ahead like that, crazy kid! How can you always be so hyper?

“I'm excited because Kyon-kun's gonna get me some strawberry pocky!” Only foreigners get excited about pocky like it's some sort of exotic treat these days. Furthermore, I don't know when I agreed to that. Have you been spending time with Haruhi in secret? That troublesome girl...I can't deal with her and Haruko at the same time. I'll have to find some way to alternate between them, not that Haruhi's powers ever work that regularly or conveniently.

“Hey, Kyon-kun,” my sister asked, slowing down. “Why don't you and dad like each other?” What is this, a soap opera? Give me a break, little sister. I've had a full day that I'd like to end without any more 'deep' moments. This particular episode of my life is already Emmy-winning material to begin with.

“Don't worry about it, it's not like that.” When my sister looked up at me with those pleading eyes, I suffered a critical hit for massive damage. My deflective sarcasm combo, expertly strung along throughout the day, was broken in one blow. Flawless victory; little sister. I could see the convenience store we shopped out down at the end of the street, so I turned and got on my knee, putting my hands on her shoulders. “Our dad...likes to run away from his problems. Money, being lonely, his job...”

“Tasuku Onii-chan?”

“...yeah, and Tasuku onii-chan too.”

“But why?” Now that's a good question. I'm not sure I even know, and how can I explain it to her? She's thirteen now, but she's tuned a lot out. I don't know how I can put it, but she's still staring at me like that. Damn it, you, are you really going to make me give in and have a sappy moment with you? Fine, then. Get ready kid, because you asked for it, and...I mean this when I say this.

“Sis...you don't ever have to worry about becoming a person like that, okay? Because you're strong enough to keep smiling, right? He may let everything scare him, but you're too strong,” I moved a hand to cover my heart, “in here, right? And we've got each other.” I'm not sure whether to be more appalled I'm saying this or more appalled that, yeah, that's how I feel.

“Right! I feel better now, thanks Kyon-kun!”

“Good. Let's get your pocky.”

“Yaaay~” Hey, stupid kid, don't just go running ahead. The tender moment is supposed to end with the little sister admiringly and obediently beginning to model herself on her brother's strength of character! You're the one who wanted the touching scene, don't just ruin it so thoughtlessly. I ran to catch up with her.

Maybe the way she smiled at me before she took off made it worthwhile. But don't tell her that, I'll never hear the end of it.

--- --- ---Epside 5 (END)--- --- ---

If you're so grown up, how come you need to put the past in one room, and the present in another?
__________________
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-12-04, 09:41   Link #10
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
You may have noticed that Haru has not been updated in a while, a good deal longer than the three-four day spans between updates previously. I've not abandoned the story, but I have decided on two things. First is what I already mentioned: the long break between updates. This was a conscious choice on my part to allow for more readers to catch up with the latest chapter. Second, for the sake of the story's momentum to space updates out to once every seven to ten days going forward. While I know there are readers who can and do keep up with update schedules like the two to three day schedule I was running previously, I also know that it can overwhelm many other people, especially those who have a number of large fics they like to follow regularly. Beginning with this episode, I will be posting updates within the seven to ten day time frame. It will also allow me to tweak each chapter more before 'shipping it out', as it were.


--- --- ---Episode 6--- --- ---

“Kyon, today is the day we become men.”

They say that, for those who lead interesting lives, normalcy can be the ultimate luxury. Personally, before I entered High School two years ago, I had figured I was doing a good job of staying ahead of that curve: my life was perfectly ordinary and I still savored and sought the mundane. I was perhaps the most ambitiously unambitious person in the world and very pleased with that. Looking back on it now, though, I realized my zest for the bland was but that of a novice. After two years under the iron fist of the Suzumiya Bakufu, having a friend whom I can match in conversation even with my forebrain removed is surely a divine mercy.

“Shouldn't you save that for when we graduate?”

“Eh, don't you see the possibilities, Kyon?” My friend asked, looking at me askance. Ooh, possibilities, you're really expanding your vocabulary. Did you take summer classes? Other than the ones needed to compensate for your exam scores? “Being in the middle grade last year put us in sort of an awkward spot, but now we're the senior class. Are you following me?”

No, Taniguchi. I wouldn't follow you voluntarily if the world went dark and you were the only person in it with a torch. I stared at ahead blankly as we walked up the hill.

“Jeez man, I know Suzumiya's got her claws in you, but you need to take advantage of your status before the year's out. I'm talking about a little 'sempai-kohai', Kyon. I'm talking about first-year girls.”

“Hm.” I let out a noncommittal grunt. He went on about the virtues of first-year girls the whole way to class, and as I let his words meld into the ambient noise about me, his tract took on the comforting characteristic of a humming box-fan or steadily flowing water. It's the sort of comforting monotony that lulls your brain into a resting state even as you go about your waking life.

“Oi! Are you listening?” he barked, stopping dead in his tracks. It's awfully rude of you to break the illusion so abruptly, Taniguchi. I turned to him and nodded, and he looked at me with a mixture of concern and skepticism. “This is our last year of youth!” I'll have you know I consider quite a few years past seventeen to be youthful. Besides, I thought we were already becoming men? Wouldn't that mean youth has already passed? “We need to celebrate it accordingly. Take me, for example.” I'd really rather not. “I'm gonna to have at least four girlfriends this year, and they'll all be held to high standards. Not one below an A+, got me?”

While a part of me still remembers the desire to find a nice normal girl, I simply don't have the time for such frivolity. I'm much too busy being a part of Haruhi's frivolity. Now that Haruko is back...well, I hope I get bitten by a radioactive insomniac sometime soon and mutate beyond the need for sleep, because I'll be kissing that blissful oblivion goodbye. Thankfully, Taniguchi didn't really expect much out of me and proceeded to fill the entire sky over Japan with a list of the criteria his hypothetical girlfriends would meet.

As we drew ever nearer to North High, I realized it was almost cruel just how ordinary my life might seem to be, if one examined it from the surface. Haruhi and I were once again sorted into the same class, and this year's class 3-5 would be taught by none other than Okabe-sensei, who had yet again been 'promoted' to teaching higher level students than the year before. I had learned from Taniguchi that he and Kunikida would be in that class as well. I'd be in the same club, doing the same activities as the year before. My grades would probably even be the same. Of course, all of this normalcy stands no chance against the tempest of a girl who would doubtless be sitting behind me once more. If you're asking if I'm still going to complain about it, I'll tell you yes, though only because now, I have something else to worry about: Haruhara Haruko.

I was impossibly relieved when Tsuruya-san called me yesterday to inform me that Haruko was going to be staying at home with she and her mother all day. That meant both that she would stay out of trouble, and that Tsuruya's charming, refined mother might actually rub off on her some. I promptly celebrated this by sleeping the whole day. But really, with Haruko, just like Haruhi, you can never predict when she's going to turn the world upside down. What's more, I still haven't figured out exactly how I'm going to balance managing those two and keeping them from meeting. Maybe I should just listen to Taniguchi and take my mind off—

“—and shapely legs are the most important—”

Nevermind. I brainstormed furiously until we arrived at the threshold of the school, where Kunikida was waiting to greet us with a smile.

“Kyon, Taniguchi, did you enjoy the vacation?”

As I delicately tried to phrase a half-truth that would appease Kunikida, Taniguchi grinned and took the initiative.

“Of course. See, like I was telling Kyon, we've got to make some moves on the first-year girls now that we're seniors, so I went ahead and scouted out some of the girls who would be coming here. I've already got a list coming together!” he said, looking proud. Of course he'd be the person to...wait. How could he know who the new first year students would be? I wanted to muster more disbelief, but the more I thought about it, the more I remembered who I was dealing with.

“Don't you ever worry this sort of thing will get you in jail?”

“Nah, I didn't have to do anything myself. I've got connections, my friends. It's all about who you know,” he said sagely.

“Fine, then you and the person you put up to it will share a cell,” I said. Though, on second thought, a padded room would have been more appropriate. Can we enter a new psychopathology into the records? Perniciously Erogenous Reprehensible Voracity--

“No, no, I'm too handsome for jail. The girls would riot in the streets.”

—and Egotistical Reprobate Taniguchi's Syndrome.

“But, speaking of girls, I'm going to go on ahead and make a quick pass through the halls to see if there's anyone I may have missed,” he said, perhaps believing that we urgently hoped he would be so good as to do so for the little people like us. As he ran on ahead, Kunikida laughed nervously.

“He sure is...ah...”

“Something?” I offered.

“Yes, he is...” A look of helplessness from Kunikida who is now, with my descent into madness long progressed, perhaps the only sane person I know in this entire school. Carry on, noble soul, though I know how heavy your burden can be. One day, when Haruhi and Haruko have reduced me to a mere gibbering husk of my former self, you must be there to feed me porridge. Setting aside that grim image for the moment, we walked into the school's main building along with the rest of the human tide and made our way to the strange corridors where the third-year classrooms lay in wait. I'd been here before, certainly, when visiting with Asahina-san or Tsuruya-san, but it still seemed unfamiliar somehow.

Whether it was annoyance or relief, I can't say, but the sight of Suzumiya Haruhi already seated by the window, staring out with disinterest as others socialized around her dispelled the alien feeling.

“Ah, there she is,” Kunikida said, and took a step back, gesturing slightly towards Haruhi with one hand. He smiled lightly, some kind of knowing look. I know well enough by now that nearly everyone is convinced there is some greater relationship between Haruhi and I, and denying it with all the vehemence such claims evoke only makes people accuse me of being a tsundere, as if the term isn't poorly appropriated enough as is.. I sigh at him and walk over to Haruhi. I sit myself down in front of her and turn in my newly claimed chair to face her.

“Hey,” I offer nonchalantly. To be honest, I don't know what reason I had to be so casual, our last conversation had been less than encouraging, and she was apparently upset enough to be creating some closed space, but I didn't give that much mind at the time. She didn't react for a few seconds, then turned to face me looking unimpressed.

“Hmph, so you're here. Listen, Kyon, just because I gave you the day off yesterday, don't go getting the wrong idea. This isn't a slack off year for the S.O.S. Brigade. In fact, because you got a whole day of rest to prepare for this year, I'm expecting you to work hard and accomplish more than you've ever accomplished in your life, got it!?” That sounds easy enough, I'll just—oh, that's right, there's nothing greater to accomplish than saving existence itself multiple times...except maybe convincing you to behave reasonably, but let's keep the goals realistic here.

“Yeah, yeah.” I waved her off, but in truth, I'm glad to see her like this, rather than contemplative and distant. The melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi is an unsettling thing.

The first class of the new year began with introductions, though nearly everyone knew who everyone else was. I say 'nearly everyone' because the S.O.S. Brigade has a monopoly on Nandaba Naota's time and has for two years, so most other things about my school experience, including faces and names, drift about in some obscure corner where they mix together. I gave the same stock greeting I had both years before, and was already wondering as I sat back down what would come out of Haruhi's mouth. She'd done a good enough job controlling herself last year, but who could say with this girl?

“You all know who I am. This year, this peon—” she said, pointing directly at me. Peon? Really? Even 'this guy' might have been better. “—and I will surely uncover any and all miraculous happenings, so if you've been hiding something from us, know that your days are numbered! That is all.” There was a specific sort of shock that I and the whole class had felt that first year when Haruhi introduced herself: it was the shock of the unexpected, a shock of surprise. Over two years of school with Haruhi and the Brigade's very public, very questionable activities, people learned not to be surprised by anything that girl did, but that didn't mean they weren't all shocked again this year. It was just a different kind of shock: the shock of remembrance, the shock someone might feel when they recall something that happened to them, but which for most people only ever happens in the news.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Haruhi is not just my classmate, but she is also yours.

“Ahem, uh, moving on...” Okabe-sensei prompted to break the silence. As the next student timidly began, I could hear Taniguchi's sleazy snicker, like that of a cartoon weasel. Why am I friends with that guy again? When I looked around and my eyes found Kunikida's, he was smiling sadly and gave me a 'what are you gonna do?' shrug. Mercifully, class was otherwise uneventful. The day passed quickly in its usual fashion. Haruhi flew off to the cafeteria as soon as the lunch period began and returned just as suddenly when it ended, and then disappeared again when the bell tolled out the end of classes. I left the room not long after, Taniguchi making some comment playing off my earlier awarded title of 'peon' that I'm sure was incredibly witty. Even as I stepped out into the hall, wondering what Haruko was up to over at Tsuruya's place, my feet were already carrying me to the Literature Club room. I wouldn't call anything relating to the S.O.S. Brigade 'normal' in the strictest sense, but it has at least become habitual.

When I got there, my hand immediately extended itself to knock on the door, also a habit: decency demands, despite my body's fervent wishes to the contrary, that I check to make sure Asahina-san is not changing into her costume for the day. Only, as I knocked, I realized that wasn't really necessary any more. I let my hand move down to the handle and opened the door, and sitting there in the same chair as always was the Brigade's guardian bookworm, Nagato Yuki. Her fingers precisely turned a page in the hefty tome that lay open in her lap, not shifting her attention in the slightest at my arrival. I set my stuff down near my usual seat at the table and let myself fail into the chair and enjoy the calm. The only sound in the room was the barely perceptible whisper of Nagato's fingertips smoothing out a page after turning it, a rhythm you could set your watch to.

I may well have fallen asleep counting time to it if it weren't for the nagging question in the back of my mind: should I tell Nagato about Haruko? While I'm resolved not to get the Brigade as a whole involved, that's more about Haruhi than anything else. Meanwhile, that ridiculous eyebrow fetishizer Amarao has authority to get Asahina-san and Koizumi removed if they find out about the situation. But what's to stop Nagato? She's the Brigade's heavy hitter anyway, Medical Mechanica wouldn't stand a chance against her.

“Hey, Nagato,” I try to breach the subject as casually as possible. I turn to look at her over my shoulder, trying to appear disinterested, and I'm caught off-guard by her penetrating stare. Though she is a petite girl, her focus would be enough to intimidate anyone, even if they didn't know her true power. I fumble with my words for a minute as that gaze reminds me of the gravity of what I'm about to ask of her, and all of the sudden the door handle is turning. In walks an unnecessarily handsome and cheery ESPer, his usual pleasant smile coming in right along with him.

“Ah, so you are already here. I trust that your first day of seniority was enjoyable?” As he speaks, I'm simultaneously frustrated with and grateful to him. Though he interrupted, it's probably for the best. Haruko and Medical Mechanica are my problems, not hers, not anybody else's. It's bad enough that I've had to impose upon Tsuruya-san already.

“It wasn't anything special,” I replied, trying to play it cool. Koizumi held his eyes on me for just a moment before setting his belongings down and walking over to the shelves where our various board games were stored.

“Perhaps it is for the best that that is the case. However, if it has left your bored, I know of something which might alleviate that feeling.” When he turned around, he was holding the one box on those shelves that I dread, not because I'm bad at the game within, but because the whole thing is ridiculous. Allow me to explain.

Last year, hobbyists from several clubs got together and petitioned the student council to authorize a contest, where clubs could submit concepts and rule sets for board games of their own design, and the panel of judges would make functional playing sets for the three games they liked the most. Needless to say, Haruhi had quite the tract to deliver about how mundane current board games were and how it was the S.O.S. Brigade's duty to show the world what real fun was. In a rare victory for common sense in the face of Suzumiya Haruhi, the board version of Day of Saggitarius which the Computer Club members drew up claimed first prize instead of our game—Haruhi said she didn't mind because she knew that they were being rewarded for their 'fighting spirit in the face of superior foes. But Haruhi's game still took second somehow, and so it was made into a proper playable board game.

The shameful box, complete with a design of an iron-gloved hand clutching a galaxy on the front, contained the result of that experience: Suzumiya Haruhi's Universal Domination. That's actually what it's called. It's quite literally just the American game Monopoly where the properties you acquire are more...celestial in scale. Koizumi's smile looked almost mischievous as he opened the box and began to set up the game. I shook my head and resigned myself to the lonely path of the intergalactic expansionist.

Haruhi arrived not long after I had acquired a 'Get Out of Black Hole Free' card, all smiles.

“Nobody panic, I'm here now, the S.O.S. Brigade's activities can officially resume for the school year!” Nobody was panicking, you loon. You're right to associate chaos with whether or not you are present, but you're matching it to the wrong option.

She gave a cursory glance at the square board spread out on the table and made for her seat at the computer and began clicking and typing away furiously.

“We have a lot of work to do this year...Mikuru-chan, is my tea ready yet?” she asked off-hand. “Oh...” She fell silent as she realized what she said. Yes, I know that's not her fault. It was an honest mistake, and it's not like she could change Asahina-san's absence...well, she could, but let's not get into that. Still, it irked me just a little. Her inability to pay attention to anything not right in front of her face was part of what we relied on to keep her unaware of her powers, but sometimes it led to things like this. I decided to let it go, though, it's not that big a deal, and I my recent encounter with my father had left me sapped of melodrama anyway.

“Hey, Kyon,” Haruhi asked, sounding wistful. Now that was unexpected. I jerked my head up to look at her, and saw her staring across the room at something near the wall. My eyes followed hers until they rested on the forlorn maid outfit hanging on the clothes rack.

“Yeah?” I asked, and I'll admit I was a little bit hopeful. If she could say something meaningful right now, it would speak to tremendous growth in her as a per—

“What are your measurements?” she said, still staring at the maid costume even as her listless expression turned into her more common sociopath grin.

“No way,” I replied immediately, lifting my arms up and crossing them to form an 'X' shape in front of me. She looked at me with the same look a human considers an ant crawling onto their picnic blanket, debating in her mind whether to crush me for the act of defiance. Instead, she decides it's not worth her time and leans back into her chair, folding her arms over her chest.

“Hmph. You make awful tea anyway, it tastes like vampire ichor.” You just pulled that out of thin air for the sake of having something ridiculous to say! Just then, I feel my cellphone vibrating in my pocket. I slip it out under the table and peer at the caller ID: it's Tsuruya-san, which means it probably has something to do with Haruko. My mind begins to race with the awful possibilities, but I can't exactly risk angering Haruhi and invoking all of those consequences unless I absolutely have to. I hit the 'end' button to forward the call to my voice-mail.

“Hey, put away your phone and listen!” Haruhi barks from her desk. “Your job is to find someone who can make some good tea. They don't have to be cute, though,” here, she looks up and to the side, putting a finger to her cheek. “Since we'll be seeing Mikuru-chan outside of school, she is still the Brigade mascot as far as the world is concerned.” Only Haruhi would be worried about the image a technically nonexistent High School club presents to the entire globe. That is a touching sentiment, though. I permit myself a smile at her, which she seems surprised by for just a second when she notices. “Of course, if you're by yourself you'll just probably go leering at girls, so I'll have to come with you to make sure you do it right.”

Please, please, if you must confuse me with other people, at least have the good grace not to mix me up with Taniguchi. Just as my hand has slipped back into my pocket and let the phone go, I feel it vibrate again and quickly check it. It was a text message this time: 'Haruko-chan says it is urgent, come as soon as you can.' Hard to believe that clear, formal message belonged to Tsuruya-san, but then did I really expect her verbal tics to carry over into writing? I quickly close up the phone and stuff it back into my pocket and quickly get on my feet to make for the door.

“Sorry, I've gotta go,” I say as I pull the door open.

“Hey, Kyon! Where do you think you're going? I've just given you an assignment!” Haruhi shouted. Oi, I don't have time for this, girl!

“I'd just be leering at girls anyway, right? Good luck,” I step out and am about to close the door, but in the time it took me to dismiss her, she has already cleared that whole distance. Why does a girl like her have to be so damn athletic? Her vice-grip is locked around one of my wrists and she's glaring at me with indignation.

“What could possibly be more important than S.O.S. Brigade duties?”

As she's standing there with that burning expression on her face, I realize that it is strangely persuasive. Maybe at one time, it would have been the intimidation factor, but after growing to know the girl so well, I can safely say it was the tiny glimmer of hurt in her eyes that reminds me she's a human being after all. It would be easy enough, I tell myself, to just make something up about Haruko being a friend from out of town. Haruhi can be surprisingly understanding about those things...that is, until she decides something about it being her duty as brigade leader to meet my old friends, and then Haruko does something untoward while Haruhi's watching and...yeah, no. For both their sakes and the sake of not making things any more complicated, I have to keep them separate.

I take a quick glance at Koizumi, who smiles sadly at me. He seems to understand I have something to attend to, but is wishing that weren't the case. I look at Nagato, who simply gives me one of the nigh unnoticeable centimeter nods of hers. I know I'm potentially turning a lion loose on you two, but don't think ill of me: I am doing so so that I can personally handle the shark. I shake my hand loose of Haruhi's grip abruptly.

“None of your business,” I assure her, letting some of my frustration show before I beat a hasty retreat. I booked it down the hill and was frankly quite grateful for the geography of the route for once: the best thing about inclines is that when you go the other way, they become declines. I swung by my house only to throw my belongings down inside the front door, grab my bicycle and make for Tsuruya-san's mansion. It wasn't a long ride, but going as fast as I reasonably could given the late afternoon traffic, it would still take some twenty minutes.

When I drew close enough to the Tsuruya estate that the top of its enclosing wall was visible on the horizon, something started to bother me. A familiar feeling, but an uneasy one. Something was about to happen. Not too far ahead of me, the air looked distorted, like it does in the middle of brutal summers where the heat rising off the pavement makes mirages. When I passed through it, though, I didn't feel hot, just stifled, like I was trying to breath something thick. There was a metallic taste in my mouth too. I brought myself to a stop on that lonely residential alley and turned to look at the distortion. It seemed to move, and I could make out shapes. Then, it started to become solid.

I recognize those shapes.

I didn't wait for the thing to take full form and come barreling at me, I'm not some idiot bystander in a movie after all. I did what any human would do and got back up on my bike and tore on out of there, though I decided to take a detour and try to lose the thing somehow. After all, I imagine it would be hard to explain things to Tsuruya-san and her mother if I showed up at their doorstep with something gigantic chasing me. I pedaled as hard as I could, but I could hear the rapid, heavy footfalls of the thing stomping after me. Then they stopped. That's never good. That is never, ever—

Crash.

A hulking three-legged machine lands with a ground shattering impact a few meters in front of me, the vibrations of the impact knocking me off my bike. No doubt about it, it's a Medical Mechanica robot, but how is this one so much bigger than the one before? I don't really have time to come up with any ideas about that as I scramble to my feet and turn to run...and find myself facing another robot, this one not much taller than myself and running straight at me. Just as it's about to crash into me and I brace for the hit, it leaps into the air and I hear the screeching of bending metal and the crunching of splintering electronics. When I turn around, the two robots are fighting, with the smaller one nimble dodging the wild swings of the larger robot and returning with volleys of kicks and punches.

I can't shake the feeling that I know the smaller robot somehow, but I don't get time to figure it out. As suddenly as the fight started, it was over. The tripod was now a biped and missing an arm for its trouble, and lay on the ground, smoldering. Somehow, the smaller robot had simply vanished, and after I had a moment to process that the crisis was over, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then a hand grabbed my shoulder.

“Whoa—Nagato?” When I turned to face the owner of the hand, the digital alien from on high stood there, looking like a perfect doll as she studied me. “Wh—what are you do—”

“Suzumiya Haruhi dismissed me from activities for the day, so I tracked you to this location to ensure your safety,” she explained coolly. From anyone else, it would have sounded like a stalker's behavior, but it's not really stalking if you're grateful for it. “You have not sustained any damage. However, this area must be physically and temporally reconstituted.” Before the inevitable confusion could even pass over my face, Nagato had lifted a single finger, pointing past me by way of explanation. I hadn't noticed while I'd been busily fearing for my life, but turning back around brought a distressing sight into view. Where the brief and violent battle between the robots had left damage to the street and buildings, the chunks of resultant debris were simply floating, some rotating slowly, others rapidly, but none actually moving through the air or settling to the ground.

“Nagato, what's happening?” I ask, not quite sure what to make of the bizarre image before my eyes.

“This location is contained within a three-kilometer wide temporal displacement. The events which have taken place in the displaced space will not have happened according to a three-dimensional being's perception of time until the displacement has been corrected. I will repair damage done to the physical environment before resolving the displacement.” Though she has every right to be the one asking questions, Nagato answers me patiently. As she speaks, already the damage caused by the robots is being undone by my trustworthy guardian's powers of data manipulation. But while I'm not genuinely interested or prepared for any further explanations, I want to keep focus off myself as long as I can.

“So this is like a closed space?”

“This displacement is neither a closed space nor is it of Suzumiya Haruhi's creation. There are not words to properly describe the nature of this displacement; however—” As she speaks, the sound of groaning metal pierces the air and the giant robotic body that was lying in ruin on the ground seconds before raises itself onto two wobbly legs and throws out its hand towards me. I futilely cover myself, but the blow never comes. When I open my eyes, Nagato is standing in front of me, just like that time with Ryoko, and the robot is disintegrating into nothing. “—both this machine and the machine which engaged it are somehow related.” Ah, well, I suppose that makes a kind of sense. But then it struck me.

“Somehow?” For Nagato to speak in uncertainties is always a bad sign. In the two years I have known the girl, she has been in a deficit of information fewer times than I have fingers on one hand. If she doesn't know something, that certainly explains why there wouldn't be the words to describe it to me.

“While the principles of temporal displacement are radically more complicated than either what humans refer to as 'time travel' or temporal distortion, they are clearly understood by the Data Integrated Thought Entity. However, universal observation confirms only two-hundred-and-thirty-two species have attained the ability to render temporal displacements, none of which have any contact with or awareness of Earth. Therefore, the method by which this displacement was achieved is not fully understood.” That's all well over my head, Nagato, but I get the picture, it's bad and we're in the dark about it. Speaking of being in the dark, it's night all of the sudden, and I feel very tired and stiff.

“Spatial and temporal repairs have been completed and the temporal displacement has been corrected. Your body and mind have been re-calibrated to the normal progression of events.” Again, I'm out of my depth trying to decipher that, but I can piece together between that and my body's protests that I've basically been standing here for several hours. As I sort through things that just happened and that I was just told, I reject trying to make sense of them one by one until I'm left with just one thought. Haruko is going to tear me a new one, and she won't care for the old 'I feel into a different timeline' excuse. As I'm imagining my horrible torment to come, I notice that there are a pair of eyes staring at me. She's not saying anything, but I know her well enough that her seemingly blank face is telling me something: she knows that I know more than I'm letting on. If I refuse to tell her, I know she will trust me that it's the right decision, but she at least expects to receive a clear, considered response. It's a far cry from the completely reticent, submissive person she was before, and a change I can respect. But please, stop peering into my very soul. It's messy in there.

“Come on, I'm going to Tsuruya-san's.” I'm about to hoof it, but as soon as I take my first step, my foot lands on a rubber tire. My bike, which I think my instincts had written off as trashed when that whole 'two robots fighting' thing happened, was on the ground but in perfect shape. I bent down and propped it back up, mounted the very front of the seatpad and let Nagato sit behind me, her back against mine. If nothing else, she felt soft and kept silent, in contrast to the forceful hands and backseat directing of Haruhi.

We arrived in front of the Tsuruya estate a few moments later and were received with enthusiasm and relief by Tsuruya-san. The energetic sempai smiled broadly as she opened the gate for us.

“It's so late, I was megassa worried something had happened, but I guess you were just takin' Yuki-chan out for a date, ne?” So perhaps Tsuruya-san is the one to blame for my sister's bizarre fascination with my nonexistent love-life. After all, the one-fanged girl has easily spent more time with my little sister than the Brigade members put together. She conducted Nagato and I into the mansion, where we were greeted by her mother, the lovely Junko-san, who insisted that we have dinner with them. Though Nagato said nothing, I accepted on both our behalves. I've brought her this far, but I'm still not certain what, if anything, I should tell the stoic girl, so I try to find an excuse to go talk to Haruko casually.

“So, ah, Tsuruya-san...”

“Yup! Ya know where the room is don't ya?” she said, preempting me with a smile. “Hey Yuki-chan, let's go into the kitchen and you can watch my mama cook. She's the best, nyoro!” she said, taking the gray-haired girl's hand and leading her along. Tsuruya-san, you are a lifesaver. I excused myself and went the opposite direction down the hall, periodically giving the span behind me a paranoid sweep of the eyes to make sure I was alone before I stopped in front of the far-too-quiet room and slid the door open.

A strong hand grabbed me by the collar and yanked me in while its partner slid the door shut. Before I knew anything, I was on the ground, pinned under Haruko, whose teeth were bared like an alligator's.

“You've kept me waiting, Ta-kun,” she hissed. There's a perfectly good explanation, I assure you, it's just that it's incapable of being articulated in human language, but take my word for it, it makes absolute sense. “You must be punished!” That doesn't sound good. Don't just jump from such a wicked face to an amorous one like that so suddenly and definitely do not pucker your lips at me like that. I ward her off by shoving her cheek off to one side with a free hand, and she ends up faceplanting into the floor. She recovers quickly and rolls off of me, sitting up and scratching her nose.

“Jeez, Naota, why so uptight?” she says before smiling playfully, trying and failing to look sweet. “When you were little we kissed lots of times!”

“Uh huh. Twice.”

“Three times!” she countered.

“Twice. You can't include giving me CPR...to treat a head wound...anyway, one was an accident.”

“And the other one?” she asked, looking sly. How can you go picking at stuff like this so casually anyway? Stop acting like it happened to someone else.

“Temporary insanity. Anyway, what's so urgent that I had to see it? This had better be good, because...” Ugh, I don't want to have to say it.

“You made your little Haruhi upset? You're still a heart-breaker, Ta-kun...anything ever happen with you and that spoiled girl...Ninamori, right?” By the power of Greyskull, you sure enjoy taking the cheap-shots on memory lane, woman. I decide not to humor her, since her sense of urgency is the reason I was nearly collateral damage in a robo-deathmatch today.

“Grow up and get on with it.”

She sticks her tongue out at me like a little kid, and then crawled across the room, returning with the small box from before in her hands. She flipped the top open to reveal electronics built into both faces, activating without any switches. The top half of the box featured a small display that covered half the surface, presently showing nothing but static.

“What is this thing?”

“It's an N.O. Tracker. I managed to swipe it off the police before I got here. See, I'm both pretty and clever, Ta-kun,” she said, giving me a toothy grin as she began fiddling with the controls.

“Whatever happened to your bracelet?” I remember very well the metal band that clung firmly to her wrist when she was here for the first time. A single ring hung from it, vibrating to alert her to the energy of Atomsk, the prized pirate king everyone wanted a piece of. I hadn't thought about it until just now, but she hasn't been wearing it since she returned.

“When I was fighting him, the bastard snatched it off me. But don't worry, I don't need it anymore, because...I have this!” she suddenly pointed at the screen, looking very satisfied with herself.

“Huh...” I grunted as I studied the display. I saw perfectly ordinary apartment buildings. Familiar, granted, but ordinary.

“That is where Atomsk's shell is!” she proclaimed.

They're familiar because they're the apartment complex where Nagato lives.

“If I can just get my hands on the shell he used to get here, I can figure out how he's hiding his power and start hunting him for real. Victory is so close I can almost taste it. Taste it Ta-kun! Taaaaste iiiit!” she promptly enveloped me in a suffocating hug which I did my best to wriggle out of, but to no avail. I have a new theory. Perhaps my attraction to Asahina-san's vulnerability is because I am otherwise surrounded by freakishly strong women.

“You can't...” I wheezed out as she loosened her hold on my gradually. “You can't go there.”

“Is Ta-kun worried about poor me? How chivalrous! A maiden's kiss is your reward,” she says, again making with the threatening lips. I just barely manage to escape with my soul relatively unscarred. What if I'd died, woman? Besides, I very much doubt you are a maiden.

“No, but Nagato lives there, and it's not a good idea for her to get mixed up...”

“With me?” Haruko smirks. Why do you think being seen as a seedy character is a good thing, huh?

“In this situation.”

“Shoulda thought of that before you brought her in here, huh?”

“When did you—”

“C'mon Ta-kun, you know how good I am. I see things.”

Oh yes, I'd certainly believe you do 'see things', though they are likely the sorts of things good medication would turn invisible.

“Look, Nagato fits in one part of my life, and you fit in an entirely different one. I'm just trying to handle this like an adult and keep the two from mixing and getting any more complicated. And...” Suddenly, I'm reminded of a conversation I had with my old man three years ago. It was right after things started to get worse with him, and he started moving a lot of the old family stuff out of the living room and into the unused back room, while trying to say something clever about the duties of being a grown up. I turned to him and said 'If you're so grown up, how come you need to put the past in one room and the present in another?'

Thinking about it now, maybe it's time to take my advice. Nagato will be waiting out there, looking for an answer...and while she would accept whatever I told her, it would be an insult to the girl I owe so much to tell her anything but the whole truth.

“All right. I'll ask for Nagato's help.”

“Ooh, you're so cool when you swallow your pride, Ta-kun,” Haruko said with a grin, leaning in to whisper in my ear. “It gives me shivers.” Don't be perverse at a crucial moment like this!

Hey, Tasuku...

Is this the right choice?

--- --- ---Epside 6 (END)--- --- ---

An tear, a fight, a laugh...anything but this. Anything but the neglect.
__________________
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-12-06, 18:05   Link #11
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
More Haruhi fanfiction, but this time, not a Haru update. On off days from that and my professional writing, I'll be doing one of these little pieces, focusing on specific characters or things in the SHnY universe...and all of them will be exactly 101 words. My goal is to refine my skills at concise characterization. I hope, however, that they're enjoyable to read.


Little Melancholies
Haruhi: At Dawn


Her alarm clock went off at a different time every morning to keep her on her toes: today, at six-thirty-two. She hit the ground running: showered, dressed and ate in twenty minutes, beating feet back to her room. On her desk was a single book, her place marked by two yellow ribbons. She opened to the clean, blank page under the header 'A New Day', took a pen from the nearby jar and wrote:

Today, I will find what I'm looking for.

Smiling, she tied the ribbons in her hair and was out the door.

Every page says the same thing.
__________________

Last edited by Ricky Controversy; 2009-12-07 at 14:02.
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-12-07, 14:25   Link #12
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Little Melancholies
Yuki: Waiting For Him


She doesn't read the words so much as she reads the whole page. Even the blank spaces. She turns and smooths each in the same delicate motion. Since she is outside of time, this is the only way she can count the moments until the door opens.

Until he arrives.

Then she will mark time by the meter of his dialogue with the subject. There is a definite pattern. She herself has none.

When it is time to leave that room, she shuts the book. At home, she counts to herself. Waiting requires time.

She makes time to wait for him.
__________________
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-12-08, 15:45   Link #13
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Little Melancholies
Haruhi: About God


Late at night when she watches the C-movie block, her eyes focus in but her mind turns elsewhere. She takes her wildest dreams for granted, but how high can she turn her eyes before she finds an empty space?

If there is a God, it must be tired making everything work all the time. In her head, the divine becomes a burly, overall wearing mechanic with a tool-set of gold, cranking the bolts in the sky tirelessly. He has rough hands and he tries to look tired, but he's having fun.

She imagines, smirking, that he'd get along well with Kyon.
__________________

Last edited by Ricky Controversy; 2009-12-08 at 15:57.
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-12-10, 03:38   Link #14
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Little Melancholies
Itsuki: Making Faces


His mother once said something about making faces, but he can't remember what.

Just as well, smiling all day is an easy thing. He is proficient enough to embellish: he deviates with hints of helplessness, apology, vague flirtation or enthusiasm, but never steps outside the upward curvature of his own lips.

At first, he wonders: if she is so pleased with his fake smile, how much would she like the real one? But does he even have a real one anymore? He tries to frown, but he cannot.

Then he remembers his mother's words. Don't make that face. It'll stick permanently.
__________________
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-12-11, 03:38   Link #15
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Little Melancholies
Ryoko: Error Report


She is not sure what to make of the stimulus. Every day she walks with them, speaks when spoken to, watches close, listens closer. There is some arbitrary consensus that she's perfect, which she rejects out of hand. She knows intrinsically that perfection is for the feeble minded, but they force it upon her.

She registers a concern in the daily report. Emulating emotions is one matter, feeling them is an error. She cannot seem to help it.

They call her perfect, and she feels their stagnant sickness of mind. They glorify her, and she fears her objectivity will not last.
__________________
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-12-12, 04:26   Link #16
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Little Melancholies
Kyon: Protagony


He never asked to be the hero of someone else's life. He wasn't even much of a hero in his own. He walked through life a man who would never have a date with destiny, because he couldn't be bothered to give her his number. In a polite universe, destiny would take the hint.

But destiny hands him her instead. She, marching ahead and barking orders. He sighs, watches the chaos unfold around her, a mess he'll doubtless be cleaning up shortly.

It's so absurd that he can't help wondering: if he's the hero, is she the princess or the sorceror?
__________________
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-12-13, 04:24   Link #17
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Little Melancholies
Tsuruya: Joy, Contained


It's no cover, saying she loves watching from the sides. Voyeurism, perhaps, but genuine, interested: part of her charm.

When he's around, she can detect exhausted envy in his eyes that she will pretend not to see. She assuages it with laughter, but dares not meet his eyes lest she see behind his smug mask and trigger her best instincts. She withholds herself, just watches.

The price of her freedom? Never showing her greatest strength. Nights she dreams of sharing this clean feeling in her heart, then wakes laughing in self denial. Days, she holds her joy so close, so still.
__________________
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-12-14, 03:25   Link #18
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Little Melancholies
Yuki: Language and Value


She ponders the limits of language. One idea wants for words he understands. Another is burdened by too many, without enough value.

Yet, value can change.

Values once were numbers. Now they are feelings of 'worth'. Feeling. She feels. She feels anticipation for changes yet to come. Even as she studies the key to evolution, she becomes something beautiful and as alien to her as she has been to him.

Value changes.

She watches the limits of language falling away. Soon, she will have words. They will mean what they should. She will put to voice everything passing silently between them.
__________________
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-12-15, 04:04   Link #19
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Little Melancholies
Kuyou: Catching Snow


Sharing yourself is a risky thing. She fears being understood, but knows she must to survive. She...they...have been alone for so long. She remembers having others once, but even with hands as delicate as hers, somehow she breaks everything.

Yet, there is hope now. Another who understands. If only she could take her.

So she reaches out with grasping hands to catch the snow, beautiful and cold as the dark itself. She knows that some day, it will all melt in her pale palms. But for now, she needs this.

Loneliness is too heavy a black crown to bear any longer.
__________________

Last edited by Ricky Controversy; 2010-01-26 at 03:05.
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 2009-12-16, 04:21   Link #20
Ricky Controversy
Frandle & Nightbag
 
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Little Melancholies
Mori: To Care For The Faceless


She cannot see a life other than the one she lives. Not for lack of opportunity, but for a stubborn heart.

Is that girl god? Does it matter? Only to those boys. Only because for that godhead, they forgo their selves, and live wearing masks. That is why she is here. She protects those boys whom their 'leaders' send to wrestle with gods. She sees the irony, donning masks of her own for their sake. Sees and curses the need, but persists.

If the world were in its gray death throes, she would protect them. She must.

She alone cares to.
__________________
Ricky Controversy is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 14:04.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
We use Silk.