Parallel Running
A Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya fanfiction
MrCJ/Guessmyname

Many thanks to Dracobolt, my Beta Reader

Please don't sue


Chapter One
Of Cheats and Liars


It's Saturday, and that means another meeting. We do it once a week, as may be obvious, all of us arriving one hour before the agreed time, which is less obvious - and purposefully so. We meet outside, which makes it harder for our enemies to listen in and makes us look to the outside world like a bunch of teenagers meeting on a corner. That might be a problem if it rains, but after several months of this, such an event has yet to occur. Such are the advantages of having a quasi-deity on your side.

Nagato arrived first as might be expected, and was standing still and stoic beneath a telephone pole as always when I arrived some time later, glasses shining against the sun. She nodded - not at lot, given that we were outside, but enough to show she'd seen me. I took my place by her side and leant again the pole to watch the world walk by around me. It was a beautiful weekend day, so naturally everyone was out in force to enjoy it. It's a small wonder that no-one's noticed these Saturdays all seem to be the same. We may have to do something about that soon too; a new person is joining the meeting from now on, someone very good at noticing such things when we'd really rather he wouldn't...

Despite standing alone with a girl in the middle of a commercial district, I didn't get that much attention. Nagato never looks particularly romantic at... well, ever, and the two of us stood apart rather than together. I imagine we probably looked more like brother and sister. The height differences helped.

Third to arrive was Asahina Mikuru. She smiled and waved to us energetically beneath a blue cardigan and white sundress, getting a pleasant smile from me and another mini-nod from Nagato. Out of all of us, I'd say Mikuru is the most genuine. She really is that cheerful and happy, no lie or acting required. At least until you consider that her mind was deliberately rewired that way by whoever sent her, at which point the earlier definition blurs. I've no idea what the real her is like. Maybe that makes her the best actor out of all of us. Who can say; she certainly can't.

She ran up cheerfully and nipped in between myself and Nagato, smiling heartily to the both of us. Now I got odd looks. Whether this was because I had a girl to die for right next to me and I was just leaning on a telephone post or because we looked like a couple is something you can decide for yourself.

We stood there for a few minutes, which Asahina spent futilely trying to coax a response out of Yuki. Then the last member of our little acting troupe arrived. Haruhi Suzumiya, helpfully pointed out by Nagato the moment she entered the street, looked as she normally did. Big white coat, short hair, yellow ribbons, you know who I'm talking about. She smiled when she saw us, not one of those of 'gonna eat the world now' smiles (as she calls them) that she does on the job or one of those 'facial twitch' style things from Nagato, just an honestly warm smile. One worth getting up early for. We waved, she walked over, and so assembled, the meeting began.

As always, an update from all of us was in order. Mikuru started the ball rolling with her usual perkiness, cheerfully reporting that her group had made no progress whatsoever. Haruhi gave a good account of His mental state; nothing had really changed, but in this case it's to be expected. Changing people is a gradual process after all. She gave us a few ideas to try in the future, and I agreed to pass them on to the Organisation's group of psychologists for evaluation. My turn rolled around, not that I had much to say that they didn't know already, and finally we turned to Nagato.

She pushed her glasses up her nose a bit. Always an important sign.

"The Integrated Sentient Data Entity has decided on a new course of action. To prevent a case of Miss Suzumiya appearing the villain and sole cause of problems, we suggest introducing an opposing element."

Haruhi raised an eyebrow. "I didn't ask him for these powers you know."

Nagato nodded. "We are aware and mean no disrespect. We are merely considering events from the Subject's perspective. Through his eyes, you are annoyance. You are responsible for all reality distortions and breakings of normalcy."

The demi-god just groaned and put a hand to her head. "Not my fault..."

Another nod. "We are aware. To eclipse this, we need to present an opposing force whose threat level greatly outclasses that of Miss Suzumiya."

I smiled, catching on to the idea. "You think we need a villain."

Mikuru didn't. "B-But we can't reveal the existence of the Canopy Domain! That would just-"

"We are aware."

Mikuru shut up.

Nagato turned back to me and Haruhi and continued her outline. In situations like these, she's directly linked to the Data Thought Entity. They are called Interfaces for a reason, after all. At these times, she's more like a living mouthpiece, though Yuki is still present in the conversation and occasionally provides input of her own; it's not possession exactly, just her taking the mental backseat and letting her bosses do the talking. It's like two people speaking through the same mouth, and can take some getting used to. I know Mikuru hasn't.

"To provide a villain, but not reveal the Canopy Domain, we propose introducing a split in our own."

I raised an eyebrow. "You mean one of us here?"

Nagato shook her head. "Negative. We refer to ourselves. We will split the Interfaces into factions. These factions will not be united; some may be violent. In doing so, elements of tension will be introduced, causing a more clearer danger to distract from Miss Suzumiya."

Haruhi nodded in understanding. "Any volunteers?"

Nagato shook her head, the gesture identical to the one before. "We have assigned Asakura Ryoko for this mission. As a class member, it will introduce a further element of shock, increasing the distraction. An assassination attempt will be staged, with myself victor. This will also further the Subject's connection to me, increasing bonds of camaraderie and trust."

"And Asakura?" I asked: I wouldn't put it past the Data Entity to simply take Asakura and hit their equivalent of the delete key.

"She will be relocated." Nagato assured.

"To where?"

"Canada."

"Canada?"

"Yes. Canada."

"E-Erm..." Added Mikuru, clearly lost, the perpetual sympathy machine firing on all cylinders.

"Asakura Ryoko has already accepted the mission. As long as no actual murder occurs, she has no issue with the operation."

Haruhi and I raised an eyebrows at that one. I didn't know the Interfaces could have 'issues' with direct orders or decline assigned tasks. Haruhi said as such, causing Nagato - actual Nagato, not the IDTE using her as a puppet - to cock her head to one side. "It's... complicated. Direct orders cannot be disobeyed, but conflicting orders are to be avoided. Personality errors due to conflicting moral protocols are a non-desirable outcome."

Then her head snapped back into it's usual emotionless pose like a juttery video recording and the Thought Entity took over again. "The operation will be initiated by the end of the following week. If there are any complications or issues with the plan, please make us aware of them before this time."

And, like a flickering light, Nagato returned to being Nagato again. She blinked once, then looked at me as if to confirm where she was before nodding and taking a step back, indicating that the Data Entity had said all it wanted to say.

Silence descended over our little huddle, all but one mulling over what had been said, with the one not doing the mulling being simply quiet by design. Haruhi frowned, more a sign that she was deep in thought than actually angry. Nagato was staring straight ahead blandly, whilst I rubbed my chin intellectually. The Organisation didn't really have much of a hand in this, so there was little reason for interference on our end. Mikuru was still lost, but given that she had even less to do with this than I did, we didn't pay her much attention. It's best not to, really.

Haruhi was about to say something when Nagato's bland staring abruptly broke, her head whipping around to focus on something in the distance. "Subject approaching, 12.613 degrees North, 76.921 metres, 0.96 miles per hour (average)."

Haruhi swallowed in irritation and swivelled around on the spot in perfect pirouette while I slipped back into my relaxed smile, with Nagato and Mikuru adjusting themselves accordingly: Nagato went up a level in stoicness, while Mikuru simply tried to calm down. I wonder if they can be called lucky; neither of them really have to put an act like myself, or Suzumiya but then they pay for this advantage in other ways. At least I can be sure I have my own free will and my brain intact.

Haruhi was still frowning.

"Get in role!" I hissed, my eyes still on the crowds and my smile not missing a beat.

"I am in role!" Haruhi hissed back.

At that moment, He chose to exit the crowds, brown hair fluttering in the wind slightly and the usual expression of disbelief printed on His face seguing into a frown when he saw us standing there, already waiting.

With an animalistic grin, Haruhi adopted the most arrogant-defiant pose she could and raised the pointy finger. "You're late! You've got to be fined!"

Under the Brigade Chief's deathly glare, Subject Kyon panicked.


"Now, let's draw lots!"

*

A boy and a girl / time-travelling brain-fried maid sat nervously under scrutiny at a café table.

"Kyon, you listen, this is not a date! Be serious, you understand?"

"OK already!"


Asahina and her Target had left a while ago, leaving us standing listlessly on the curbside. This was the first time we'd done something like this; no-one was entirely sure what to do when the object of our attentions was no longer around.

"Well..." I asked to no-one in particular, "now what?"

Haruhi shrugged, Nagato did nothing at all. Such enthusiastic comrades...

"Wander?" Haruhi suggested.

"Library." Nagato intoned calmly.

"Well, we should get back here for lunch." I said, checking my watch. Haruhi nodded and Nagato simply blinked. I wondered if she understood the concept of 'lunchtime'.

"Well," said Haruhi, giving the blank Nagato a nervous look. "I'm off."

"Don't buy anything large." I advised. "It would look odd if we came back with shopping bags."

Haruhi nodded and waved goodbye, leaving me standing with Nagato.

Nagato stood blankly.

I stood watching Nagato standing blankly.

This continued long enough for my legs to tire.

"...lunch?" Nagato asked, almost inaudibly over the noise of commuters and weekend traffic.

"Yes," I replied with my trademark smile, "lunch."

Nagato went back to looking blank. I suddenly realised the Interface was using all of its processing power trying to understand the concept of 'lunch' and tried not to laugh.

"What's wrong?" I asked at length.

"Lunch." Nagato intoned. "Shortened form of luncheon. Noun/Verb, meaning 'midday meal'." She paused. "Not a statement or measurement of time."

Ah, I see what's wrong. I smiled again. "Don't worry about it. Just be back here by 12."

Nagato nodded in understanding, before disappearing entirely in the blink of an eye.

I suppose it's a bit absurd for a human to be ordering around an Interface for the data-equivalent of God, but that's the kind of world we live in. Alone again, I simply shrugged and walked off myself, leaving our spot in front of the station behind.


I didn't really have anywhere to go. I don't think Haruhi had anything in mind either; she was just wandering idly for the hell of it. I felt mildly miffed I hadn't been invited too until realised she'd probably be window-shopping, at which point I was quite glad not to be tagging along.

Still, wandering aimlessly is rather boring.

I passed shops, karaoke stalls, all that stuff, stopping off at a café to get a cup of liquid gold (coffee) to help keep me awake for longer. It was in one of those cheap paper cup things and piping hot; I was testing the temperature when I walked right into someone completely by accident.

Two things tipped me off that this wasn't a normal person. Firstly: I didn't see her. Even if she is a head shorter than I am, I'm a trained observer: I don't walk into people, period. Secondly: I just tipped boiling hot coffee all over her head and she doesn't seem to have noticed.

Kuyoh Suou looked up at me with glass-like eyes.

"Shit!"

I jumped back, coffee cup falling to the floor with an ignored splash. Suou simply observed, boiling steam rising out of her mass of hair with an ignored hiss, scalding drops of black liquid draining off strands of black hair and dribbling down her white skin like fake tears.

"______" said Kuyoh.

I don't go out armed. Sure, I know how to use a firearm, but I don't carry one except on the odd mission, never on my own time or around Kyon. It probably wouldn't have done anything against Suou anyway. Just as the Integrated Data Entity has its Interfaces, the Sky Canopy Domain has its own. I've only seen one before, namely the one standing before me now, but I've heard of others. They all look alike, down to the individual hairs on their heads. For all it's lack of understanding of human culture, the Canopy seems to have understood the teachings of one Henry Ford just fine.

They're also impossibly dangerous.

"please..." Kuyoh began, her lips not quite in synch with her voice. "do not___ undertake______ outside__ contact."

The people around me began to fizzle out like dying candles as the colour of the world around me faded away like a dying picture. The brown-black coffee at my feet turned a dull grey right before my eyes.

"___lockdown initiated________ this space is Closed."

I backed up. Kuyoh followed.

"please..." she repeated, like a voice synthesiser with only one intonation. "listen."

"Listen?"

"yes. listen."

Kuyoh took another step forward. I tried to step back but found myself blocked by a brick wall that hadn't been there before.

"i bring__________________ news." Kuyoh said tonelessly.

Before I'd even noticed, brick walls had appeared around us, blocking us in entirely. I hadn't any space to move to either side or back: they were behind me and brushing up against my shoulders. I couldn't feel a thing: no rough feeling of cold mortar or stone beneath my hands, just a flat, texture-less plane. The only reason I could tell they were there was because I couldn't move past them. The corridor ended with me and extended past Kuyoh into infinity. The sky had a turned a flat grey; just pure monochrome, and even the floor had the same non-existent quality underfoot.

"we need________ download?"

I was trapped in this endless corridor that ended with me. The only conceivable way out was past Kuyoh. Like hell that would work.

"no... we need______ "

The ghostly doll took another step forward. I couldn't exactly stop her.

"____________information."

Kuyoh didn't even raise a hand to my head. She didn't seem to do anything at all, but even so, the world dissolved into black anyway.


I woke up because Haruhi was nudging me with her foot.

"Koizumi! What's wrong with you? It's noon already!"

"Mmm?"

My head didn't hurt. I just felt a bit... cold?

"Of course you're cold, you're sleeping on a bench!"

Huh?

I lifted myself up into a sitting position. The wooden bench felt rough and hard beneath my hands. Haruhi was watching me irritably, her golden yellow ribbons dangling loosely in front of her face.

Funny, I don't feel tired...

"Come on!" Haruhi said, grabbing my arm and hauling me off the bench despite my protests. "It's noon already! Nagato's waiting for us!"

When did I fall asleep? I have no memory of this...

"Come on! Koziumi! This isn't like you at all!"

I let Haruhi drag me off to the station, feeling strangely empty for some reason.

Did I miss something?


"What about you, Kyon-kun?"

"Sadly, mine is marked."

A frown of undue fury at an innocent toothpick.

"We'll meet in front of the station by four. Be sure to find something by then!"


"Urgh..."

"You okay? Need to rest a while?"

"No, I'm good... gonna need a loo soon though."

I helped Suzumiya stay upright, keeping her arm over my shoulder before she could double over on her knees and vomit in the middle of the street.

"Do I really have to keep up this whole 'genki' thing?" she pleaded, gripping her stomach in obvious pain. "Urp!"

"Careful! And yes, I'm afraid you do." I replied as gently as I could whilst rubbing her back. She swallowed again, taking deep, panting breaths before trying to wave me off again.

"...I'm okay, I'm okay. Ergh, drinking an entire pop cup was a bad idea..."

"You held your character, you did well!"

"Tell that to my bladder..."

"A-ano..." Mikuru hovered behind us, useless as ever. I decided to reverse this for once and waved her over.

"Here!" I said, hoisting the limp Haruhi over to her. Asahina rushed forwards instantly, catching the ill girl as though I was going to let her fall. "Get her to a bathroom, clean her up."

The time-traveller nodded and supported Haruhi's limp to freedom, a walking testament to the dangers of taking fast food too fast.

With Nagato off escorting Kyon and Mikuru hauling Haruhi off to pay her respects to the porcelain god, I didn't have much to do besides lean back against the wall and wait. I rested my head against the cool brick and closed my eyes, letting my mind retire for a while...

..."Koizumi-kun?"

I awoke with a jerk.

"Kimidori-san?" I replied, blinking a few times at the green-haired girl to clear my eyes and running a quick hand through my hair to try and smooth it out a bit. I have appearances and standards to keep up to after all.

Emiri smiled sweetly with calm eyes, holding a plain white shopping bag with both hands. "Pleased to meet you again."

I nodded. "Likewise."

"Yuki-san reports the Subject is asleep in the Seaside Library. Suzumiya-san and Miss Asahina are currently in a Pharmaceuticals store purchasing stomach medicine. They shall return shortly."

"I, er... Thank you!"

Kimidori just smiled again and gave a polite bow before continuing on her way and disappearing around a corner. I blinked again, scratching the back of my head to try and wake up a bit more and looked around. It was a good thing Kyon wasn't here. The street was just as busy as before, I don't think I was out that long. Soon enough, I spotted Haruhi and Mikuru walking side by side in my general direction. Mikuru waved happily as usual whilst Haruhi looked vaguely stiff. I pushed off the wall and walked over.

"Hi!" Mikuru announced with a joyful smile. I smiled back politely.

"Was that Kimidori-san just now?" Haruhi asked, looking deflated and tired.

I nodded. "He's in the Seaside Library with Nagato. They'll be there a while."

"Oh good." Haruhi said weakly with a tired smile. "Time for me to rest then."


We let Haruhi sleep soundly on a bench, with Asahina sitting at one end and using her own lap as a cushion. As this took up the entire bench, I had to adopt my usual pose with a lamp post. My legs are getting tired from all this standing around...

"How is she?" I asked, looking down at the bench-bound couple.

"She should be fine." Asahina replied, stroking the ill girl's hair and beaming. "The pills have a slight sedative effect, that's why she's so sleepy."

She stroked a lock of hair away from Haruhi's eyes with a loving gesture. "She's so brave, doing all of this for us."

I grimaced. It was a good thing our Organisation had contacted her as soon as we'd found out what had happened. The tantrums stopped after a while, and with a good three years training we'd created the person you see now, temporarily unconscious from the wonders of modern medicine. Miss Asahina seemed to be treating her like a natural saint. I wondered how the real Mikuru would respond.

She looked up when I stifled a yawn. "Tired?"

I nodded. "Briefings and debriefings with the higher ups. Took all night by teleconference."

Asahina pouted in sympathy, before shuffling up on the bench, Haruhi retracting into a foetal position with a slight groan. She patted the now free space by her side motherly.

"Here, rest. I'll keep an eye out."

"You're sure?"

She nodded, beaming away cutely again. "Yes!"

I smiled gratefully, being careful to lean away from the girls before succumbing to blissful sleep myself. I felt Mikuru pat my head affectionately as I went out.


I'll go on record here and state that almost all dreams are nonsense.

Mine was no exception.


"Koizumi-kun?"

I jerked awake and nearly sent the sleeping Mikuru on my shoulder slumping off the bench.

I blinked a few times to clear my eyes.

"Kimidori-san...?"

"It is half past four. Yuki-san is requesting an update. The Subject is not awake."

I jerked into action all over again, pulling my hand out of my pocket to reveal my watch. Just as Emiri said, it was 4:30. Half an hour after we said to meet. "He's still asleep?" I asked.

Kimidori nodded patiently. I sighed wearily, thanking the heavens for that piece of fortune. Perhaps in response, Asahina chose this moment to wake up with a start.

"Eeh?"

Emiri's pleasant smile switched targets and doubled in intensity.

"Eeeeh?"

"Greetings, Miss Asahina."

"E-Emiri-san..."

Kimidori turned back to me, bowed, "May we meet again soon." and disappeared again. Mikuru fidgeted in confusion. Then she noticed who she was leaning on.

"EEEEEEEEH?"

"Mrrh? Whazzgoinon..."

With a groan to wake the dead, Haruhi rose to a sitting position like a mummy rising from a crypt.

"Urgh... ow, my head..."

I got up and rounded the bench as she raised a tender arm to her even more tender forehead. I crouched down to meet her eye level and gave a pleasant smile. Everyone should have a pleasant smile when they wake up with a hangover in the middle of the street at dusk.

"What happened, I get a head injury or something?" She asked, trying to focus on me blearily as I rummaged a hand through her bag.

I smiled back pleasantly. "No, just some medication that knocked you out for a while."

Haruhi grunted and went back to rubbing her forehead, eyes closed against the evils of bright afternoon sunlight.

"Haruhi."

An eye creaked open. "What?"

I produced her cellphone, holding it out like a mother offering candy to a child. She produced another groan.

"It's 4:30. We need you to contact him."

Suzumiya snapped awake to full alert status with an icy glare and snatched the phone out of my hand. A flick of a wrist flipped it open, ringing twice before being picked up.

"You idiot!" She shouted down the line, without so much as breaking eye contact with me. I winced in response. "What have you been doing!? What time do you think it is now? ...What!? You dumbass! Get your asses over here at once! I give you thirty seconds!"

My my, she doesn't even have to feign her irritation. How lucky.

She set the phone to automatically redial him every few seconds (yes, it can do that) and handed it back, where it returned to the dark depths of Haruhi's handbag.

"That should bring him running..." she stifled a yawn and dragged herself up to her feet. "Right, we need to get back to the station... Come on Mikuru!"

We walked back to station as fast as we could, with me taking a position just behind Haruhi in case she lost her balance again. Mikuru, still a bit befuddled as normal, walked alongside us pleasantly. The station wasn't that far away from the burger shop, and we made it in good time. Haruhi leaned against the wall and slipped a caffeine pill, Mikuru sort of just stood there (cheerfully), whilst I kept a lookout for our wayward charges.

They arrived shortly, her deftly weaving through the press of people like a skier slaloming through trees while he did his best to follow in her silent wake. Haruhi straightened up a bit upon seeing their approach, whilst Asahnia gave an exhausted but oddly relieved smile. "You're late; pay the fine!"


"That was fun today! How should I say this? Suzumiya-san really is an interesting person. It's a pity I couldn't be with you today, perhaps next time."

I patted him on the shoulder and walked away, losing them in the crowd. I wandered the town for a while, simply walking and drinking in the sights, taking the change to relax without having to sleep. Watched all the ordinary people meander through ordinary lives, wondering whether I felt superiority or envy. Asahina had disappeared off somewhere, but Nagato was apparently waiting in front of the Seaside Library, looking up at the sign as if in trance.

"If I didn't know you better, I would say that look was wistfulness." I called out, smiling platonically. Nagato rolled her head around to face me, the light of the falling sun glinting orange on her glasses.

"We are aware." She replied. I frowned.

"Something wrong?" The Integrated Sentient Data Entity only takes control it when it has something important to say – usually, Nagato is just left to be Nagato.

A shake of a head. "Not in the scheme of things. Merely a distraction. The operation timetable has been advanced. Asakura Ryoko will initiate her mission tomorrow."

"That fast?"

"Miss Suzumiya has made us aware of a complication. The Subject's mental state is merely conditional at current, with signs of potential decline in this future. We are advancing the mission to prevent this being an issue."

I raised an eyebrow. "You think we must introduce the villain as soon as possible."

"Yes. To prevent further complications, the Subject must be made aware of the gravity of this scenario. There is too much reasonable doubt."

"Then do you think we should reveal our natures as well?"

A nod. "That would be advantageous."

I frowned. "You know a demonstration on behalf of the Organisation is subject to random chance?"

"We are aware. If trouble arises, Miss Suzumiya can always be provoked into producing a suitable example."

Provoke Haruhi into materialising Closed Space? My gaze narrowed. "That's not advisable."

"You find such an act distasteful?"

"You don't?" That and it's too hard to control. She can't do it at will, she has to be genuinely annoyed or frustrated. I'd rather not have a demi-god mad at me, thanks.

Nagato pondered. Or looked like she was pondering. Whether this was her or the Data Entity was, as always, impossible to tell. "Personality errors due to conflicting moral protocols are a non-desirable outcome. We will leave your operations to you."

"Thank you." I replied, unsure if I should be. If I understood the technobabble properly, it sounded like the Data Entity didn't want an angry demi-god either. None of us are immortal.

I wonder what would happen if the Data Entity and their precious 'Subject' ever went to war...

"What about Miss Asahina? Can her group organise their own reveal?" Revealing time travel without actually performing it struck me as somewhat hard.

"A non-issue." Nagato replied, looking back to me. "They have been contacted."

"Good."

Silence descended between us, and Nagato turned her attentions back to the sign. I wondered why the Data Entity found it so interesting. A logo of a wave delivering a large book to a beach, done in blues, browns and gold with "Seaside Library" slotted around it. Aiming for modern and falling short at ordinary.

"And the Canopy Domain?" I asked at length.

"Neutralised for now. There should be no interferences for a consequential period."

"Well that's good news." I replied, now honestly thankful.

Nagato nodded with a chilling smile. "We are aware."

A buzz of static, a flicker of visual distortion and Nagato was Nagato again, the Data Entity withdrawing away to do whatever dirty work it needed to do for this farcical 'scenario' of its'. "We will meet again in 33 hours." She stated simply, turning to leave.


Sunday was dull, passing by in a flutter of paperwork, housework, homework and snoring on the couch. The higher-ups were resolving things at their end without me, and I was glad for the chance to catch up on such merciful things as sleep and schoolwork. Staying in the upper grade boundaries takes effort and time, and most of mine is spent on my job.

Monday started the day warm, hovered indecisively around cool and then finally decided to stick with stiflingly hot by the time I sauntered off down to the clubroom. Nagato was there, as always, whilst Haruhi had cleaning duty and Mikuru was... somewhere else. I don't know. Does it really matter?

Nagato, sticking to role as we were in school, didn't acknowledge my entry. I gave her a nod anyway.

With little else to do, I dumped my bag in a corner and took a seat, head on hands, elbows on table. I waited.

And waited.

Just for the hell of it, I waited some more.

God, in-role Nagato can be boring. You almost wish the Data Entity would suddenly pop up just to break the monotony.

Finally, Kyon opened the door. He looked at Nagato, dropped his bag on the table and looked at me.

"Don't tell me you too have something to say to me about Suzumiya?"

What? No 'hello, nice to see you' too?. I smiled back politely. "Ah, judging by your reaction, I guess the other two girls have approached you already."

I glanced over at Nagato. It was a fair bet the Data Entity was listening in. This would be a good time to introduce the Organisation, even if a practical demonstration is impossible to timetable. My superiors haven't suggested anything yet, but... this is a good opportunity.

"Let's find another place to talk. It would be troublesome if Suzumiya-san hears us." I lied smoothly, gesturing him out the door.


It's about high time I explained my Esper abilities. In truth, they really are that limited; my explanation to Kyon was no lie. Of course, it's more him we're concerned of than Haruhi when it comes to the destruction of worlds, but she does have that ability - it's only with the help of the Integrated Sentient Data Entity that we've been able to largely suppress it. Rather than destroying and reforming worlds, she materialises the Shinjin as a vent for her frustrations - we couldn't stop the world alterations completely, we just managed to... divert it. Now her subconscious has an empty world, the Data Entity's 'Closed Space', to vent it's frustrations upon, rather than this one. It was Haruhi's idea. I think the power to destroy this world scares her. It's understandable; it scares us, too.

Though that bit about me being low-ranked was a lie. Sort of. I'm effectively our main diplomatic link between the Organisation and the Integrated Sentient Data Entity via Nagato, I'm Haruhi's minder and I'm the man-on-the-spot should anything happen to Kyon, seeing as I'm the only Esper within the right age-bracket and with the correct nationality to be around him nearly 24-7. Of course I have a high rank. Having said that, it's almost entirely ceremonial filibuster on my handlers' parts; the rank is merely for show, trying to make it look like they're not using me as much as they're using Haruhi, and even then I still don't get paid much, period. I don't why, it's not like they're open to public inquiry or subject to any laws. In any case, while my position may be one of critical importance to the Organisation, I am nevertheless not one of those who pulls the strings.

Anyway, I should probably get back to the clubroom.


When I arrived after-school the next day, Kyon was gone, as was Nagato. Asahina was fretting over the kettle whilst Haruhi was inexplicably spinning gleefully in her Commander's chair.

"You look refreshed." I said with a smile as I came in. It's so rare to see her actually being herself, just a slightly eccentric 16 year old girl not involved in risky plots to deceive gods or given a free hand over reality itself whether she wanted it or not, that I honestly couldn't help it.

"Spent the entire day catching up on sleep in class!" She said with an energetic grin, pumping both hands into the air at once and pushing off the desk extra hard in an exemplary display of boundless teenage energy. "Man, it's awesome when all the teachers are Organisation members!"

I frowned, but still couldn't keep myself from smiling. A pleasant smile's a dime a dozen in this business, but a genuine one's worth its weight in gold. "You shouldn't sleep through lessons Haruhi." I chided, feeling vaguely parental for some reason.

Haruhi snorted and rolled her eyes. "Yes, yes, Onii-chan, whatever you say!"

I couldn't help it, I laughed back at that one. Not loudly, just a reserved chuckle, but even so the mirth was there. Compared to Suzumiya and Nagato, my ability to hide my emotions and present others as real leaves much to be desired. For her part, Haruhi's smile only grew wider as the computer chair rocked her back and forth.

"Subject inbound. Appropriate positions required." stated Miss Nagato Yuki from her chair.

Both myself and Haruhi froze. Asahina nearly knocked over her kettle. When did she...

In unison, three heads, mine included, turned to face the door. It looked completely innocuous. Had Nagato simply walked in and taken her seat without any of us noticing? When did that happen!

"I repeat: Subject inbound. Appropriate positions required."

Haruhi choked in her seat. "Oh hell, he still thinks I'm sick! I said I was leaving early! Shit!" With quick, darting movements, she shot out her seat and started viciously cramming her school books into her bag before heading for the exit. "I need to get out here!"

I pulled out my cellphone. "Need a lift?"

"Yes, please."

"A-Ano..." stuttered Miss Asahina, shaking by the window and freezing us just at the door.

"WHAT?" shouted myself and Haruhi in unison, making the queen of tea leaves wilt further.

"T-the courtyard... you can see it from here... if you try to leave, he'll..."

Haruhi ran over to the window and blanched. From that, I guessed that Mikuru was probably right. The former grasped the latter firmly by the shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes. "Mikuru, Itsuki and I need to leave, right now, unnoticed. When Kyon comes in, just... delay him. Keep him out of the club room for a short while, I don't care how. Can you do that for me, Mikuru?"

"E-Eh? But... how?"

Haruhi's arms shot right up into the air.

"How? Does it matter HOW? Just... just use you magnificent feminine wiles or something! I don't care!" She snatched up her bag and made a beeline for the door, latching onto my tie along the way and dragging me along like an unwilling ragdoll out into the corridor.

"Ow! Haruhi, let go!"

She didn't slow down, but at least she did oblige. I loosened my tie gratefully.

"Come on!" she urged. "He doesn't come up this route, he uses the stairs closest to the classroom. We can get out using the service door they use to deliver the art room's supplies!"

Trust Haruhi to have the building layout memorised...

I flicked open my cellphone and hit one of the speed-dial buttons.

"Mori-san!" I gasped into the phone, pushing the device close to my ear whilst trying to keep up with the fastest runner in the school.

"Koizumi-kun?" came my commanding officer's – currently somewhat surprised – voice. "Is there an emergency?"

"We need an exit! Haruhi needs to get home before we blow our cover!"

Muffled cursing ensued on the other side of the line. Had the situation been less hectic, I might have been able to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime spectacle of Sonou Mori sounding slightly ruffled. "How did- oh, never mind, I'll find out later. Arakawa's on his way, usual cab, usual place!"

"Thanks! Sorry for the short notice!"

I flipped the phone shut again and stuffed it back into one of my pockets, didn't really pay attention to which. Like Olympic runners, we smashed through the art-room doors, darted through the room like school-coloured blurs and pushed our way into the storage room. The storage room was basically a really long, thin room with a door at each end; one to the art room, one to the car park; and a maze of boxes in between. We slalomed and vaulted over and around crates of paint tubs and easels and hauled the door open into the fresh, outdoor air.

Just to ruin the dramatic flow, we discovered our erstwhile driver hadn't arrived yet. Much panting, breath catching, and embarrassed explanations to shell-shocked art students ensued.

I looked up and picked the clubroom window out from the multitude of others patterned on the walls. Mikuru, bless her, had been right. We were right out in the open. I hoped the time-traveller hadn't just locked the door; that would just take even more explaining.

Oh well, no time to dawdle.

We nipped across the carpark as naturally as we could as a taxi cab trundled up. In we went, me in the passenger seat next to Arakawa, Haruhi in the armoured rear compartment, and the car drove off as normal as you please. Haruhi watched the school recede through the tinted bullet-proof glass, clearly watching out in case we were being followed.

This may seem a completely overblown song and dance for something so apparently trivial, but we can't afford any suspicion. We're dealing with a full-blown god here, even if he is unaware of his own nature. There's enough unknown floating around at the best of times; we cant' afford to take chances. And if dear Kyon discovered we'd pretty much been lying to him the entirety of his time here? The results probably wouldn't be pretty. Even so, this charade is better than letting him fall into the hands of the Canopy Domain.

The car left the road and parked in front of a completely ordinary looking single-storey flat just under twice the size of my classroom. Haruhi breathed a sigh of relief when we finally came to a stop, chuckling as I got out and opened the door for her like a chauffeur.

"Ladies first." I said with a killer smile.

Haruhi smirked, not falling for it for a second, and slid out of the car. I shut the as door after her and moved up one to talk to Arakawa as she walked down to the house, rummaging in her pockets for the keys.

"Thanks for the help." I said gratefully.

"Don't mention it." The old man said back. He was still in his business suit; he didn't even have time to change, poor guy. I hope no-one looked too closely at our taxi. "I'm needed back at the mansion. Can you make it back on your own?"

"There's nothing wrong with actual public transport, Arakawa-san." I replied with a smile. Arakawa chuckled and revved the engine, ending the conversation. I stepped back and let him drive off back onto the street. As he speeds away, I wonder what his real name is.

With Haruhi inside and the crisis averted, I was left feeling somewhat silly. I was not needed here; Haruhi was the one in danger of breaking cover, not me – I didn't need to trundle around half the city in a mad panic. If anything, my being missing from the clubroom could raise even more questions. Oops.

"You gonna stand outside there until people start pointing cameras at you?"

Hmm? Oh, it's Haruhi.

"Get inside already." She commanded, leaning against the open doorframe looking a mixture of amused and annoyed. She stepped back, disappearing into the depths of the little flat, which I took as my cue to follow, switching my shoes at the door and following her into the kitchen/dining area.

Before you misinterpret this, I should probably say this here and now; this is not the first time I've been in Haruhi's flat. Point in fact, I'm the one who actually picked out the thing, as Haruhi likes to constantly remind me when the water cuts out every few months. I'm quite familiar with this place, so there's no inherent awkwardness or embarrassment that stereotypically comes with entering a girl's house. Our relationship is quite professional, thank you very much.

Haruhi took off her sailor top, leaving just her shirt and tossed it onto the table, where it landed between a bowl and a box of cereal that had clearly been there since morning. Whilst the floor looked reasonably clean, little piles of dirt could be seen collecting in corners where the broom had missed it, and there was an odd stain on the kitchen side that had always been there as far as I could remember. I couldn't exactly comment myself; as a result of our work with the Organisation, Haruhi spent years being tutored and taught to create the perfect actress or superspy with very little focus on things like keeping clean or Home Economics, while I spent most of my time flitting around between the mansion and Haruhi's flat with precious few moments to spare on things like sleep or keeping my tiny apartment in order. I nearly dropped out of school during that period, that's why they've ordered me to keep my grades up as high as possible from now on. Whilst I no longer have to oversee Haruhi's training, I still have very little free time.

A kettle hissed and steamed, and before long I had a polystyrene cup of coffee handed to me. It was just instant; cheap, pre-ground granules with hot water mixed in, but I drank it anyway. It scalded a bit, but didn't do much else. We never really taught Haruhi to brew coffee either.

An awkward silence hung in the air. It's mostly my fault; I don't actually need to be here. If anything, I could have stayed behind and bought Haruhi time for her example rather than leaving it to the slightly less than reliable Mikuru and Nagato. Whilst Nagato probably would divert Kyon's attention, she probably wouldn't be very subtle about it and I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Mikuru either forgot or just did her usual stellar attempt at failing miserably. I also wouldn't have to explain why I wasn't in the clubroom tomorrow morning. Nor would I have to fork out cash for a cab back...

Oh well. Too late to return to the clubroom now. Can't say I'm sorry, to be honest.

We sipped our coffees silently, each looking at nothing in particular and lost in thought. I finished mine first and tossed the cup into a bin, shortly followed by Haruhi.

More solemn silence. We're good at that.

"Want to go into the lounge?" Haruhi asked finally, gesturing down the hall. I nodded with a pleasant smile (another thing we're good at) and followed her lead.

The lounge was in a worse state than the kitchen, as it didn't have to be kept marginally clean for eating in. A couch, one of those stuffed bean-bag seat things, and a table with a TV set on it took up most of the room, along with a few discarded coats and scarves. Most of the trash was actually discarded paperwork that she didn't need any more but had never gotten around to binning. At first glance, it would like some student bachelor's pad, if it weren't for the expensive wireless phone sets in every room and the telegram machine in a corner.

Haruhi dive-bombed onto the couch, landing sideways in front of the TV with practised ease. I just flopped into the beanbag with a pleasant *flumpf*, pushing an old coat out of the way. Haruhi sighed contently. I have to admit, for all the clutter that couch did look comfortable. She noticed that look with a grin, bunching up and patting the newly made gap with one hand.

"Come on, don't be a stranger!"

"No thanks."

"Hmph."

We slipped back into silence again. Haruhi picked at bits of loose stuffing, whilst I plucked out some of the crushed sea of paperwork milling around me. They were telegrams (harder to trace than emails or text messages), saying things like:

--DETAILED PSYCHOGRAPH REQUIRED BY NEXT MONTH.--

--CONTACT AGENT GLASGOW (That's Mori-san, by the way) 3RD MONDAY.--

--BRING 2ND GOD SAT MEETING.--

That last one was referring to the Saturday meeting earlier in the week. We normally hold them every week, but that was the first time we invited the '2nd God' (Organisation slang for Kyon) to come. Haruhi'd sprung that one on us Sunday - I knew that wasn't her idea.

"How have the acting courses with Kanzaki-sensei been going?" I asked idly.

Haruhi nodded. "Pretty good. Got tsunderes down pat."

"Damn straight." I replied seriously.

I dodged the polystyrene cup sent at my head with practised ease.

The conversation, now that it was born, meandered easily into a minor rant about Mori's deadlines from Haruhi with a few comments of my own tossed in for the hell of it. We talked for several hours, each taking a break from our daily lives, but it was always work. I guess it should be somewhat depressing that that's only thing we can talk about, but then it's always been like that. I guess that's all we really are any more. Ah well, it stopped bothering me years ago.


The following morning was innocuous. Apparently Kyon had suggested Haruhi should try and have a normal life; it took me five minutes to stop her from spontaneously laughing when we met in the clubroom at lunch. Nothing against Kyon, but is it his fault we're in this situation, even if it's his subconscious that keeps giving reality wedgies. For him to tell us to settle down and life normal lives is amusing, in a darkly ironic 'why are we even here?' sort of way. I was walking back to my classroom, taking the outdoor route for a change of scenery and a bit of fresh air, when I was intercepted by Emiri Kimidori and her pleasant smile.

"Kimidori-san, we meet again!" I greeted cheerfully.

She smiled. "You have introduced your side?"

"Yes, yesterday afternoon."

"Good. The time-travellers have introduced theirs. The letter has been placed. We are preparing to introduce the opposition. All Interfaces are in position; we will begin at 1530 hours. Please refrain from entering the 1-5 classroom until the operation is complete."

I nodded. "Understood."

She bowed. "Then I really must be going."


End of day. Normal life over, Work begins. School and the façade of a normal life had been pretty boring, to be blunt, but now that was about to change. As soon as the bell went, to two of us headed straight for the roof and the open air. We had the best seats in the house, even if we had to wait for a few hours before the show began.

This is big enough to count as a mission. As such, I'm carrying. I hope that gives an adequate idea of how serious this is.

The tension on the roof was palpable. Even nature was adding to the scene, supplying us with plenty of freezing winds and setting our hair fluttering dramatically. Beneath the orangey-reds of a setting sun, Haruhi and I stood huddled in our coats, standing behind Emiri Kimidori standing in front of a jigsaw puzzle of broken glass frames, each one displaying the 1-5 classroom from every angle in what looked like a reflection but really wasn't. The classroom was deserted save for one pupil standing patiently by the blackboard. That wouldn't last long.

The door opened. 9 screens watched Subject Kyon enter with a look of surprise.

We watched as Emiri and Asakura smiled at exactly the same time. "Operation commenced."


Kyon seemed to be taking it rather well, all things concerned. There's a difference between telling and showing, after all. Tell someone something absurd like "I'm an alien!" or "Gods exist! (And you're one of them!)" and the most they can ever do is nod their head and believe you. Such beliefs are, naturally, open to doubt; after all, it is nonsense from a logical point of view, and Kyon is a very logical person. So we have to show him. Prove it, beyond a measure of a doubt that we really aren't screwing around here.

Except, of course, we really are. With any luck though, the events will seem so out-there and beyond his carefully structured sense of reality (which his subconscious is secretly trying to break down... guess he's not that logical a person) he won't look any further. Won't try to peer through the cracks. Especially if Asakura does her job correctly and makes pulling the strings to unravel the threads look a very dangerous prospect indeed.

Speaking of Asakura, she's doing a stellar job. I suppose it's to be expected from their kind; no human weaknesses like myself or Asahina. For all her objections, she's playing her role perfectly, just the right amount of dramatic tension, just creating the appearance of danger; not actually steamrolling him in milliseconds like she's capable of, but not making it look like she's playing with him at the same time. The IDSE's precious 'Subject' has taken it hook, line and sinker. Which is good.

If he didn't we'd be in serious trouble right about now.

Speaking of which, isn't violently provoking a subconscious god a really bad idea?!

And... yep, here's Nagato, charging in like a miniature Knight in shining school-uniform armour that's just missing a horse to complete the look. Words are said, mostly technobabble, stuff Kyon won't understand... which is good, because she's just getting Asakura to give her an update on the situation. Then, they're back into role. I wonder if Nagato or the Data Entity understands the concept of Badass.

Haruhi was nodding. "He's fallen for it. I think you can consider your operation a success, Emiri-san."

This better be worth the risk...

Emiri smiled her perfect smile. On the glass shards floating around as our multi-faceted television screen the two actors danced their pre-choreographed dance with precision. It was hard not to get drawn in and start silently cheering for Nagato and she caught knives and took multiple spears of iron to the chest without so much as a stumble. Kyon, the one person who didn't have a clue what was going on, looked terrified enough for both their lives. Let it not be said reality TV is boring.

Then the screens cut out suddenly. I took that as a cue that Something Went Wrong.

Emiri actually blinked. Then her hands started moving at inhuman speeds, a forest of holographic keyboards being conjured around her. I was about to ask what was wrong when my cellphone went off, shortly followed by Haruhi's. We fumbled around for them for several seconds in a panic as streams of data began to swirl around the green-haired Interface in front of us.

"Koizumi-kun?!"

"Mori-san?"

"Emergency!"

Sonou Mori was panicking.


We rushed down the stairs as fast as we could, taking them four of five at a time and leaving Kimidori doing whatever she was doing on the roof. When we tried to move her, she just muttered some gibberish about 'Established Ports' and 'Static Co-ordinators'. I guessed that meant whatever she was doing wasn't something mobile. Meanwhile, I was getting the decidedly unpleasant once-in-a-lifetime experience of Sonou Mori starting to panic. Fortunately, she was a professional first and foremost and she was keeping it under control, but I could tell from the waver in her voice that she was far from calm.

"What's going on?" I asked hurriedly.

"We're not sure. We just lost contact with all our sentries on the East wing!"

"All of them?"

"Yes! All of them! Simultaneously! Gods, I was talking to one of them when-"

"Mori-san!"

"...sorry. Look, we have no idea what's going on. Get Suzumiya out of there. Now."

I looked over at Haruhi, whispering into her own phone and growing gradually paler with every passing second. She looked up for a second and our eyes connected.

"No need to tell me twice." I told Mori grimly.


"Is Arakawa on his way?"

"Yes. ETA ten minutes. Watch over her until then."

"Understood."

Mori hung up before I did. I imagine she had plenty to deal with besides me. I slid the phone back in my pocket and caught up with Haruhi at the base of the stairs. We were on the first floor of the art building, and the East Wing was on the other side of the school. Arakawa wouldn't be arriving for some time; we'd need to hide somewhere. Specifically, we needed somewhere to hide her.

And where was the most secure room in this entire building? Why, the SOS clubroom, of course.

"Follow me!" I gestured to Haruhi. She did shakily. Empty schools are creepy little things. When a place you spend most of your life in goes from bright, well-lit and sunny, filled with people, noise, chatter and the smell of cooking from the kitchens all the way to a fiery sunset orange lighting, empty, lights off, smelling of the sterile cleaning fluids from the caretakers and also haunted by something capable of taking out an entire squad of Organisation sentries, with all their sensory equipment and automatic weapons, it can come across as a little creepy.

I slid out my handgun, a British-made Welrod silenced, basically an ugly long tube with a grip and trigger at one end, and lead the way with it outstretched in a two-handed stance, covering corners and sweeping corridors just like Arakawa taught me, whilst Haruhi stayed at my back and watched the rear, just like Arakawa had taught her. We never bothered giving Haruhi a gun. She's a demigod; we figured she wouldn't need one.

The silenced pistol probably wouldn't do any good at all if our attackers were who I suspected they were, but it made me feel better, so I guess it's useful for that at least. Our only bit of luck is that this is after school. There shouldn't be anyone around that's not part of the Organisation. In other words, if someone sees us like this, there won't be any awkward questions. Or at least none we can't answer, at any rate.

We reached the clubroom in good time (it wasn't far), the corridors empty and deserted along the route, an eerie silence hanging on the air. I felt that even with my silencer, I'd be heard a mile off if I fired. Luckily, the rest of the Organisation had the same idea we did; when we got there, the clubroom was already secured. Haruhi's homeroom teacher ran over, huffing with a Minebea PM-9 clutched to his chest.

"Suzumiya-san! Koizumi-kun! In here, quickly!"

We nodded collectively and Haruhi darted through the door without a word. Positioned both inside and around the room almost the entire faculty of North High lay in wait, armed with anything and everything we had, from the fairly common Minebeas and SIG-P220s all the way to a Type 89 and even a LAM. None of these people were trained military specialists, just the original teachers of the school the Organisation had, like almost all of its personnel, co-opted and pressed into service as its needs required. The thought was so thick in the air I didn't even have to say it: the SOS clubroom was our Alamo. Never before had the Brigade's initials seemed more appropriate. We pressed Haruhi down beneath the Commander's desk and covered all the entrances with all the guns we could muster.

One of the secretaries handed me a hands-free set, and I slid into my ear. It was connected to the Organisation's Ground Defence Forces' command net, and that was going haywire, a multitude of conflicted voices and callings overlapping and trying to report in, but the most disturbing part was easily the static. One by one, the voices were dropping out into noisy silence.

"We've got hostiles in room 2-fzzzzzzzt!"

"Incoming in th-ffzzzzzzzzzzt!"

"It's the Sk-fwheaeeeeeeeee!"

After a few seconds, the headset fell silent.

"Who's guarding Second?" I asked into the oppressive silence.

"He's got two Interfaces with him." Someone whispered back. "He'll be fine." And we won't. I thought back to Emiri on the roof, and wondered how or what she was doing. Surely the Data Entity couldn't be sitting around doing nothing at a time like this!

At this point, a shard of glass dropped through the ceiling. None of saw it appear, it just fell down to hang in mid-air all of a sudden. Specifically, in front of me. The rest of the team gasped and readied their weapons, but Haruhi and I managed to stop them before the fragile fragment was blasted into smithereens.

Emiri's angelic face appeared in the glass and gave us a brief nod of thanks, the most emotion I've ever seen from her besides pleasant smiling, before the view switched to the shoe lockers in the foyer. A boy with dark green-gray hair was switching his shoes and humming a stupid song.

Haruhi blinked. "Taniguchi?!"

I was more professional. I just swore instead.

"What's that idiot doing here!?"

"He must have forgotten something..." Haruhi whispered with mounting dread.

"I can get him." Suzumiya's homeroom teacher said, fingering the Minebea nervously.

I shook my head. "An authority figure would arouse suspicion."

Given that this entire room is full of what the unlucky first year would consider 'Authority Figures', that left two people here who could go and divert him, and only one expendable enough to do so during a crisis like this. "I'll go." I stated simply. Haruhi gave me a pleading look and shook her head; I just smiled my trademark smile.

It'll be nice to be a hero for once.


I moved down the maze of corridors and quickly and quietly as I could. I couldn't even have the Welrod out; I was going to find an innocent classmate, who wasn't up in his neck in this insanity and would be be more scared of me if he saw me waving a gun around than we would about the things he should be afraid of. The whole point was to keep him from discovering the truth of this world, to keep him in his shell of innocence, and ensure he stayed good and (comparatively) pure.

No, wait, that's the official mission statement: the one we're feeding Haruhi so she doesn't think we're too heartless. What Mori was whispering into my ear was quite different.

"Koizumi-kun, understand?" She said, voice distorted slightly from the hands-free set in my ear.

"Yes Ma'am." I replied crisply, squirrelling away the Welrod back into its hidden holster in the back of my blazer as I ran.

"We can't afford any losses, and that's one of Second's classmates. If a second one goes missing, hell, if anyone here goes missing along with the Ryouko Interface, we're screwed."

"Yes Ma'am."

"So get him out of there. Try to avoid breaking his little world, but feel free to render him unconscious and dump in the toilets if you have to."

"Yes Ma'am..."

"We have to make sure the Second suspects nothing. Saving this idiot's life isn't even an objective. Damn it, if we still had the sentries..."

The was some muttered fumblings through the earpiece, then Mori switched channels to talk to everyone.

"Listen up! I'm issuing a hold fire order!"

An understandable outcry of protests came from Haruhi's motley band of defenders.

"Look, I don't care!" Mori shouted back. "All guns are to be saftied and muzzled, especially that damn LAM! They'll be able to them hear them from bloody everywhere! This is a public school in the middle of a public town, if the locals hear gunfire, it's not the sort of thing we can easily explain away! If it's silenced, fine, fire away, but if not, we're operating as weapons closed. If one of those bastards reach you, delay it however you can and get Suzumiya out of there!"

I thought of the Welrod at my back. One of the few people lucky enough to have a chance of defending themselves and I can't even use the damn thing. Talk about ironic.

"Oh, and those who work with the Second's class, if you could also avoid dying, that would be helpful." Mori added. I couldn't be certain, but I could swear she sounded bitter. "If you die, we can't cover it up as easily."


I'll say this now before it leads to misunderstandings late: Sonou Mori isn't a bad person. She's just a bit new, that's all. It doesn't matter how tough you are, how many bodies you've stepped over or how many people you've had to sent to their deaths, the first encounter with them will always screw you up. She actually reacts to pressure quite well; this is just a lot more than usual, by several magnitudes, and with a cosmic horror tossed in as well. It's enough to make anyone unbalanced. I still have nightmares about mine. It wasn't even doing anything threatening or violent, just turned and looked at me in the middle of a crowd, but those eyes will haunt me everywhere.

Figured out what I'm talking about yet? If not, don't worry. You'll find out soon.


Somewhere during the hunt, one of Emiri's shards appeared. It was a thin, dagger-like sliver, probably unusable as a screen, but it darted around through the air and led the way as I chased after it. I found our errant schoolboy quickly after that. The shard flew straight into my pocket next to the Welrod the instant I turned the corner. The kid looked up at me with surprise, before breaking into a cheerful smile.

"Yo! You're that... erm, what'shisnameagain... Koizuki! You're that Koizuki guy who hung out with Suzumiya!"

"Er, yes. I am. Can't say I'm familiar with your name though?"

"Ah, me? I'm Taniguchi! Pleased to meetcha!"

Hands were outstretched, hands were shook. Hands were returned to their sides and smiles exchanged.

"Yo, you missin' somethin' too?"

"Hmm?"

"I left my bag in the classroom by accident. Can't believe it, just left it there like some dumbass... you?"

"Afterschool activities." I replied neutrally.

"Ah, don't let me keep ya then!"

I cursed under my breath as the grey-haired boy turned to leave.

"I think I'll go with you, Taniguchi-san."

"Eh? But you said-"

I smiled my trademark smile. "Afterschool activities halted some time ago. I too need to recover my 'stuff'."

"Aaah!" The boy beamed with growing understanding. Walking alongside him with the orange sunset shining in through the windows felt so unreal I was expecting something violent to come in and smash through the illusion at any moment. I had to stuff my hands into my pockets to keep him from noticing.

The corridors were walking down seemed familiar for some reason.

"Taniguchi-san?"

"Yeah?"

"Where are we going?"

The kid laughed. "To my classroom of course!"

"Your classroom being?"

"1-5."

"Hmm. I see."

...

"...What? Hey, what's so funny?"

"Nothing Taniguchi-san, nothing at all."


"Hey, 's that..."

"Is that what?"

"A hands-free!?"

"...Yes."

"Wow! Where'd you get that! I heard they cost a ton!"

"...I was given it."

"Oh man, you're so lucky! You gotta tell me how you got hold of that!"

"Maybe later."


"...so then Kyon says, 'Hey, don't say things that'll create a misunderstanding!', and me and Kuni are all like, 'Yeah, right!' Hahaha! You know what I mean, don'tcha?"

"Crystal."

"What? Where?"

"No, I meant... oh never mind."

"...huh. So, anyway, after that it's gym, and gym is like, AWESOME. All the girls are in those tiny short-things, and they've all got such big breasts! Gym is the best!"

"I'm happy for you."

"Haha! Cheers, man!"


"Hey, 's that-"

"Probably not."

"-a girl?"

"...huh?"

I turned to where Taniguchi was looking and froze.

Taniguchi meanwhile, had lowered down to crouch at eye level with the glassy-eyed girl standing before us in the middle of the corridor. "Hey there chibi!"

"_____"

"Hey, you ain't lost, are ya?"

"Taniguchi..." I warned, reaching around my back like a man edging away from a landmine.

"Huh? Isn't that a Youkoen uniform? What're ya doin' in a dump like this?"

"_____"

"Taniguchi!" I repeated.

"Huh? Koizuki?"

"She's probably lost and scared and wandered in here by mistake." I explained gently, smiling all the while. "You go and see if her parents are around here or something. I can lead her out."

"You sure, dude?"

The glassy eyes stared into mine. I nodded, praying she wouldn't start talking. "Quite sure."

"Hmph. Well, okay. See ya later!"

"I'll look forward to it!"

"Haha! Bye!"

Taniguchi disappeared around a corner. The next moment, I'd jumped back several feet and had my Welrod out and aimed directly at Kuyoh's forehead. Because it was Kuyoh, standing there with her massive mop of hair and disconnected eyes. I looked down gunsights that looked down at her diminutive face that looked blankly back at mine. I began to wonder if she'd even heard of a gun before. As far as pistols go, the Welrod doesn't particularly look like one. Trigger-on-stick and all.

"_____"

"You took out the sentries, didn't you?"

"___that was___ another________________me." Kuyoh replied, lips moving erratically out of tune with her dead voice.

"...there's more than one?"

"__we are________one."

"...why are you doing this?"

"____i ask___the______same of___________you."

"What?"

Canopy Interfaces never make any damn sense.

I shook my head. This was getting nowhere. I tensed my finger on the trigger. If I had any chance at all, it would be with this.

"that won't work." Kuyoh stated confidently.

Huh, that was odd, it was almost coherent.

...why do I get the feeling she's said those words a thousand times before?

Suddenly I was airborne. One second, standing firm and secure, the next, not standing on anything at all, propelled backwards through the air by incredible force. Shards of glass dug into my back and arms, and the Welrod flew out of my grip, now just a crumpled hunk of metal before I landed on something hard and gravelly, tumbling and rolling, the rough stones tearing and ripping skin and fabric before I finally slammed into a post. The whole world was a dark, painful blur. The skin on my exposed arms and knees felt raw and bloody and my back was in agony.

Through all this, I could still see Kuyoh, standing at the window with that same glassy stare. She hadn't so much as blinked.

She didn't climb through the window. She didn't just break the wall down to get through, or even just walk straight through it ghost-style. She was simply behind it one second, in front of it the next, suspended by invisible doll strings in mid air. I have no idea if she teleported or passed through faster than the eye could see, but there she was.

She dropped down to earth without a sound.

Kuyoh watched me. If I had to guess, I'd say she was curious. Not that she ever shows any emotion at all. She started to walk towards me; I was too injured to back away. She approached, those empty glass eyes digging into mine.

In my peripheral vision, the sea of broken glass twitched.

Kuyoh had enough time to look up before being speared by a thousand shards of glass. There were so many, one of her arms fell off, dropping limply to the floor silently. A torrent of sliced hair turned the ground into a miniature carpet.

In the shadow of the building, it was too dark to see if Kuyoh could bleed. She certainly didn't as much as blink. If anything, she looked confused. Her head rolled down to look at her severed stump of an arm, and I realised that five pane-sized pieces had also cut into her head like a bloody pincushion. One of her glassy eyes was dissected neatly in two, the two halves sliding in opposite directions, and still she didn't register any emotion at all.

I never really doubted it before after all my contact with Nagato and the other Interfaces, but it was this moment, when Kuyoh stood there impaled in a thousand ways that would have pulverised organs, torn skin and ripped out eyes and limbs and the only notice she took of it was mild curiosity, that really hit it home for me.

These things are in no way human. They may look human, and some of them may even act human, but they are in no way related to us. Ever. Period. In any sense of the word.

Another glass shard slid out from behind my back. It was small and thin, like a dagger and far too small to act as a screen. It drifted serenely into the full of my vision, eclipsing the gory sight of Kuyoh Suou, catching my attention as surely as a fish in a net before pointing away and raising itself into the air.

I followed, raising to my feet with my attention focused purely on the floating shard, watching as the lights of the setting sun played along its length, the light playing, reflecting and refracting off along all the cracks and roughs. It drifted away, and I followed. I don't know why, but for those precious seconds, the only things that existed was myself and that shard. My only thought was to follow. In hindsight, my previous injuries should have made that impossible; I can only surmise that that was Emiri's doing. It's probably a good thing I was so focused on the shard - if I wasn't, I might have heard the sounds of Kuyoh Suou being torn apart from the head down by the green haired Interface's glass army. I found out about that afterwards, watching the feed of a CCTV camera mounted on the corner of the gym storage building. It was grainy and distance blurred the details, but the sight still haunts me. At least it didn't have sound. I don't even want to imagine what that must have sounded like.

Anyway, I'm getting distracted. After a few minutes, the magic that kept my attention away from my wounds and stopped me collapsing into an undignified heap gave way, and my attention snapped right back to a world of pain as a I collapsed into an undignified heap.

Haruhi screamed, and my homeroom teacher and a secretary dragged me back into the clubroom. I was laid on a table, face down, a laptop and a black triangle swept aside to make room as the school nurse hurried over. The glass shard settled comfortably on the wooden surface next to me, and the impression of a pleasant smile pressed into my thought processes.

That's as far as my memory goes; after that I passed out completely and lost track of everything that happened next. Sorry.


End of Chapter One