Trust in God,
The Riddle of Kyon
The characters and the universe are the property of Tanigawa Nagaru,
and I made an attempt to borrow his writing style as well.
I believe I ended this story in an appropriate place,
but I would hardly object if you choose to continue it,
since all this is done in the first place without permission.
With a troubled sigh, I collapsed into my chair in the club room. Across from me, Koizumi did the same without the sigh. Koizumi looked frazzled, like a rag that had been used to mop up one spilled tea after another.
There was no mystery about the cause of this phenomenon: winter was near, the winter of our third year and final year in North High, and the feared university entrance exams - on which a student's whole future life hinges - were approaching at speeds like a magnetically levitated train falling out of the sky.
Of course Koizumi wasn't worried about passing his exams. Unlike myself, Koizumi excels at every area of intellectual endeavor - with the exception of board games, at which he loses to six-year-old children and intelligent cats.
Still, it wouldn't take a great detective to understand the sequence of cause and effect. Koizumi was worn from lack of sleep. This in turn had eventuated from his being woken up in the middle of the night to deal with the Sealed Realities that had been forming. The Sealed Realities had been forming because the great leader of the S.O.S. Brigade, Suzumiya Haruhi, was under stress herself.
Not that Haruhi would be afraid of the entrance exams either. She too excelled over me at academic arts, and someone with even a day's knowledge of Haruhi would realize that she was far too confident to be afraid of a test. If Haruhi were confronted with the final exam to be a space astronaut, she would charge in ahead like the Light Brigade.
It followed with the inexorability of mathematical proof that Haruhi was worried about something else, and it was not difficult for me to understand what.
Endings. Beginnings. In a word, changes. These are the sources of fear.
All of us in the S.O.S. Brigade would have to select which entrance exams to take, which meant selecting our universities, which meant choosing our futures.
And Haruhi, who wouldn't show regret or hesitation in steering her own life, would still be worried about whether the others of the S.O.S. Brigade... no, I have come to acknowledge it. I am past the point where Koizumi has to patiently explain it to me yet again. I will say it clearly: Haruhi is concerned about myself. She does not want to be separated from me.
If the world kept on turning at its normal pace, with 24 hours in every day, the chance for me to be accepted by the same university as Haruhi would take a quantum miracle like electron tunnelling. Of course such rules don't apply to a poor soul like me who has been ripped from the flow of ordinary time. Itsuki Koizumi's Organization could certainly arrange for a university to take me, though I'd rather not know how. The Data Integration Thought Entity that stands behind Nagato Yuki could rearrange the data of the exam results. As for Asahina Mikiru, I don't know what a time-traveling girl could do about university entrances. But Asahina-san, who was formerly a year ahead of us, last year became sick on test day and failed that year's entrance exams and became a ronin. Just so that she could keep coming to this clubhouse after school. It never pays to underestimate the power of a cute maiden.
And if Haruhi truly desired me to be in the same university as her, there can be no possible doubt that it would happen. Even if she had to recreate the whole universe.
The problem being that Haruhi doesn't know about any of this.
So there was a troubled look in Haruhi's eyes, even as she kept up her usual harassment of the rest of us. Today Haruhi had chosen to make the innocent Asahina-san a participant in her own execution - that is, Haruhi had been browsing online to find new costumes for the poor girl, and she had been forcing Asahina-san to watch and "give her opinions", which consisted mostly of small, cute screams. I wished for Haruhi's sake that she were consciously sadistic rather than just oblivious; it seemed a shame for Asahina-san to be tormented so beautifully without Haruhi even enjoying it properly. Two years ago, I would have watched the whole scene without my eyes leaving for an instant, claiming to myself that what I felt inside was pity. But even the charms of Asahina-san's suffering had become somewhat routine after two years, and it was Haruhi's face that I found myself glancing at instead, when I looked up from the Go board on which I was crushing Koizumi.
Finally the costume-shopping expedition ended with a satisfied click from Haruhi and a wail of absolute despair from Asahina-san. I would look forward to seeing that one. Haruhi stood up from the computer and plopped herself down at the table, next to Koizumi and myself, a meter distant from where Nagato was reading yet another book.
Haruhi tapped the table impatiently, giving Asahina-san a stern glance. "Tea," Haruhi said abruptly, and Asahina-san scurried off in her Haruhi-mandated maid costume to obey, still sniffling.
I don't understand how Haruhi executes this sort of behavior without creating an atmosphere of sexual dominance.
Then Haruhi turned her fearsome gaze on Koizumi and myself.
If there's one universal law that holds even in a world containing Haruhi, it's that, no matter how bad a situation looks at the time, you can't guess in advance how Haruhi will make it worse.
Haruhi's eyes moved to me directly.
She gave me a searching look.
Then she turned away and looked out the window, staying silent.
I went back to playing Go with Koizumi.
It wasn't until minutes later, after sipping some of the tea poured by the obedient Asahina-san, that Haruhi turned back to Koizumi and I. She set down her teacup on the table and asked:
"Do you believe in God?"
What the hell kind of question is that for God to ask you?
If I had been drinking tea myself I would have spit it all over the Go board. At this point in my disastrous high school education, I didn't need anyone to explain the terrifying possibilities if Haruhi got religion.
Haruhi created the S.O.S. Brigade out of her desperate boredom with the tedium of a lawful universe and press-ganged us to search for espers, aliens, and time-travellers. We're pretty sure that she was the one who created the espers, aliens, and time-travellers as well. While making a ridiculously low-quality movie, Haruhi became so involved in her imagination that Asahina-san developed dangerous laser vision, trees bloomed out of season and a cat started talking. For two years we've run ourselves ragged trying to hide Haruhi's powers from Haruhi, so that she goes on trusting her invincible common sense. Our school life is unstable enough because of Haruhi's wistful desires. If Haruhi began to believe that impossible things are possible, the laws might change all over the universe.
But if there's one terrifying factor that could destroy Haruhi's common sense even with all the evidence carefully hidden away from her, that factor would have to be religion. When you put it that way, it's such an awful threat that... that it's surprising we never had to deal with it before now.
I couldn't even speak, I was so horrified by the thought of what might happen if God became a devout believer in Scientology.
Thankfully, even in his sleep-deprived state, Koizumi grabbed up the thread of the conversation and the burden of saving the universe.
"Which God?" asked Koizumi. "There are infinitely many possibilities, whether Brahma, Jehovah, or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Or I should say, what do you mean by God?"
Haruhi made an annoyed gesture. "You know what the word God means!"
Sadly, we do.
"How can I know what you would consider to be God?" countered Koizumi. "If a force is present throughout the world of nature, from a falling leaf to a doe giving birth, and yet has no body itself, and if that force is the creator of human beings but not created itself, is that God?"
Haruhi furrowed her eyebrows briefly, and gave a puzzled nod.
"Because," Koizumi continued, "that is just a way of describing what conventional science says about natural selection. And yet someone who hears about evolution doesn't look at the result and say that science has discovered God. So people do have something specific in mind when they talk about God, a requirement that excludes many possibilities. But then most of the possibilities would be outside their expectations."
Haruhi looked dissatisfied at this, as though suspicious that Koizumi was trying to give her the runaround, which he was. "But what do you believe?"
A slight smile appeared on Koizumi's lips. "I believe that the reality is probably strange enough that no one would ever hit on the truth just by trying to imagine one thing after another."
Koizumi, you are an amazing person. No one could deny that your reply was truthful. If you asked a person on the street to enumerate all the possibilities, they would die of old age before they got to "God is Suzumiya Haruhi, a third-year student at North High."
"That's a boring answer," pronounced God in her usual tones of discontent. I have never understood why God would create a universe that annoyed her so much, though it's the one aspect of theology that conventional religions guess correctly.
The gaze of the yellow-ribboned deity turned to rest upon my own quivering soul. "What about you, Kyon?"
If I had been at all intelligent, I would have answered "I agree with Koizumi". Instead, I foolishly picked that time to try to show off my cleverness.
"For myself," I said, "I would have to ask about the riddle of Epicurus -"
"It's not Epicurus's riddle," Koizumi interrupted.
And he shot me the most alarmed look he could manage with Haruhi watching.
I was confused.
Koizumi continued. "Epicurus lived before the invention of monotheism, so he wouldn't have thought to say anything about God. It must be a misattribution."
"But what's the riddle?" Haruhi asked.
Koizumi made a careless gesture. "Oh, just something along the lines of, why does God allow evil? Of course there are many possible answers to that."
"I was asking Kyon, though," Haruhi said. She gave Koizumi a hard look, then turned to me.
Koizumi nudged my ankle under the table.
"Ah," I said through my bewilderment, "that was pretty much it, really. Just that -"
Well, come to think, I couldn't honestly say that for this reason I didn't believe in God. It would have been my answer a few years ago, but it didn't work anymore.
At this point my thoughts collided in on themselves like a hundred-car pileup on the highway, and I couldn't think of a single word to say next.
The uncomfortable pause stretched.
"- well, I don't believe in any stories told by conventional religions," I finally finished, striving to make my voice sound ordinary. "Anything which needs that many excuses is probably a lie."
Koizumi seemed satisfied with this, or at least he didn't kick me again.
"Mm." Haruhi mulled this over. She gave a careless look over in Asahina-san's direction. "What about you, Mikuru-chan?"
"Eh," Asahina-san stuttered, a cute look of sudden panic crossing her face, "I, I would just go with what Koizumi-kun said."
Bah. Showing off her superior intelligence like that.
Nagato Yuki seemed as always to be entirely absorbed in her book, and Haruhi didn't even bother asking. With a few more remarks, Haruhi left the room to go home for the day, freeing the rest of us.
My own thoughts were still scattered. I looked at Koizumi. What was that about?
The tired esper seemed to slump further in his chair. "The Riddle of Epicurus is an argument for disbelief in God, not just agnosticism."
So? It could be disastrous if Haruhi converted to any religion. Shouldn't we be trying to make her more skeptical?
Koizumi shook his head. "That is just going from one danger to another. Suppose Suzumiya-san became a fanatic atheist and went about denouncing the foolishness of the concept of God. What would happen given that she disbelieved in herself?"
My thoughts collided with themselves further, like a car wreck spreading into a nearby train system. I got up from my chair and went to stand by the window, staring out at the blue sky and the few buildings that could be seen from here. What would happen?
Koizumi shrugged wearily. "I don't know either, but I think we should be aiming to create a state of suspended judgment. We can't afford for her to believe any falsehoods, or the truth either."
I nodded, not trusting my voice.
"But that girl certainly has changed," said Asahina-san in her soft tones, as she put away Haruhi's teacup. "Two years ago, she wouldn't have thought to ask our opinions, only told us what they should be."
I made my excuses then and left. I had something to think about.
It was the next day at lunchtime when I saw Haruhi taking out that book to read. In that low-class school cafeteria where there are too few chairs, Haruhi and myself had somehow managed to grab a matched pair. I was behind on studying and planned to read through lunch, and so Haruhi took a book out of her own backpack.
I glanced at the cover, interested in what Haruhi might be reading these days.
It was The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.
I choked and coughed on my sandwich as if I had been eating a giant bug. I couldn't even imagine how ironic it would be if an atheist professor persuaded God that she didn't exist and caused her to blink out of reality followed by our whole universe, but I knew that it wasn't what I had in mind for today's lunch.
It was at this point - I found myself explaining to Koizumi and Nagato and Asahina-san a few hours later, after Haruhi had left for the day - it was at this point that I had panicked.
"Tomorrow," echoed Koizumi. "You asked her to meet you there tomorrow morning?"
"Tomorrow is Saturday," I pointed out.
They just stared at me. Even Nagato stared at me.
Sweat was forming on my forehead. "In any case, can you do it?"
Koizumi looked a little worried. "You don't seem to understand how conspiracies work. You can't just order anyone to do anything. You have to find a pressure point. If the pressure you can apply is weak, you have to do other things to create excuses. Even if I can find out who can allow you and Suzumiya-san into a sealed-off area, how can I get them to do it? A monetary bribe would create great suspicion, if there's no clear reason why you would consider it worth the money. It may be that we're lucky and that the owner of the building is a member of the Organization, but things usually aren't that convenient."
"With respect to explaining the purpose of the bribe," I said, "you could simply tell them that I wanted to take her there on a date."
Asahina-san laughed softly.
Nagato had gone over to the computer and begun typing. With everyone present already knowing her nature, her fingers moved so fast that the sound of her typing was like thunder. After a ridiculously short time as always, Nagato looked up and said, "I believe I comprehend the building's security systems."
That wasn't the ideal solution I was hoping for, but with luck it would work. Thank you, Nagato.
"However," Nagato added after a moment, "I do not understand why this undertaking is necessary."
How could I explain my extraordinary request? "That girl is the one who said, 'love is a mental illness'. This rules out certain strategies. I can't take her to a fancy restaurant because she has no interest in something as ordinary as that." She would stab me with the butter knife, to put it frankly. "I also estimate that Haruhi would not react well to flowery professions that another girl might consider 'romantic' -" Again, the butter knife came to mind. "- but she still desires romance in her heart. Thus the place itself has to speak for me." I waved my hands helplessly. "But it can't be an ordinary romantic place, because that girl would never even go there. So I thought I should take her somewhere strange - though not too strange -" I shut my mouth, aware that I was babbling out too many excuses.
"I believe Nagato is asking," said Koizumi, "why it is necessary for you to confess to Suzumiya-san at all. This seems like a serious overreaction to the matter of distracting Suzumiya-san from a book. Shouldn't we keep this card in reserve for a more critical occasion?"
Asahina-san gave a small, wistful smile. "Sometimes I remember that you really are a male, Koizumi-kun. This is a matter of the heart - no matter how unbelievable that seems with those two -"
Sometimes I wonder if Asahina-san resents losing me to Haruhi.
"- and when it's time, it's time."
I cleared my throat. "Besides, the real problem at hand, the cause of all these Sealed Realities, is that Haruhi is uncertain about our future. I can't just say to her 'Tell me your choices for university so that I can apply there as well.' That itself is tantamount to a confession. Therefore I do feel that this may be the correct time. It must happen eventually, at any rate, and putting it off is also a risk."
Asahina-san shook her head in amazement. "It seems that Kyon-kun is also quite male. But considering the female of the pair, I think that in the end those two are well-fitted to one another."
I walked over to the club window and stared out. I think that in the end those two are well-fitted to one another... The terrible weight of what I planned to accomplish tomorrow was beginning to sink into me.
"Is Kyon-kun nervous?" Asahina-san said softly.
Of course I'm nervous! Gah!
"Kyon-kun, I... I wish there were magic words I could say to reassure you, but in the end nervousness is only natural for a boy confessing to a girl." She smiled a sudden, bright smile, every bit as cute as the day I first saw her two years ago. "It's happened many other times over the course of history."
I swallowed an agonized laugh that was trying to claw its way up my throat. Of course. I'm sure many other high school boys have been in this situation.
"Koizumi," I said abruptly. My voice was jerky as I spoke. "If a Sealed Reality forms while I am speaking to Haruhi, send text messages to my cellphone. I don't think that interrupting the conversation will be a good idea, so I will set it to vibrate. One vibration for a small Sealed Reality, two for a large one, three for one that is extremely huge, and four vibrations if it seems that Haruhi is about to erase this world. I will do my best to recover the situation."
There was black silence in the club room.
I stared out the window at the sky and ground and the buildings full of people.
Two years ago.
That was the last time Haruhi got fed up with this reality.
I woke up one night, dressed in my uniform, finding myself inside this very school, in a grey world without stars or clouds. A Sealed Reality, huger than anything seen before. And the terrible blue giants, the Avatars, destroying the buildings. Ordinarily I wouldn't see a Sealed Reality; that was the job of Koizumi, and his fellow espers, to fight the Avatars. But that one time two years ago, they were locked out. In that whole world there was only myself and Haruhi. And soon that world would replace the formerly 'real' one.
I tried to persuade Haruhi that going back to the ordinary world was desirable, but she was finally seeing something interesting happen. She had a good feeling about the new world, she said. I even told her that in the 'ordinary' world she was a special person, that the world revolved around her. And she only looked back out at the blue giants destroying everything, with a strange happy look in her eyes.
Snow White, the future Asahina had told me. The one hint she was allowed to give.
So at the end, I told Haruhi that I had really liked seeing her in a ponytail, and closed my eyes, and kissed her... and then I woke up on the floor of my bedroom. The next day in school, Haruhi said that she'd had a nightmare last night, and she was wearing a ponytail.
Two years ago. That was the night I wouldn't forget if I outlived the universe, the night of my first kiss.
Sometimes, even my sense of normality shatters, and I start to think about things that you shouldn't think about. It doesn't help, but sometimes you think about these things anyway.
I stared out the window at the fragile sky and delicate ground and flimsy buildings full of irreplaceable people, and in my imagination, there was a grey curtain sweeping across the world. People saw it coming, and screamed; mothers clutched their children and children clutched at their mothers; and then the grey washed across them and they just weren't there any more. The grey curtain swept over my house, my mother and my father and my little sister -
Koizumi's hand rested on my shoulder and I jerked. Sweat had soaked the back of my shirt.
"Kyon," he said firmly. "Trying to visualize the full reality of the situation is not a good technique when dealing with Suzumiya-san."
How do you handle it, Koizumi!
"I'm not sure I can put it in words," said Koizumi. "From the first day I understood my situation, I instinctively knew that to think 'I am responsible for the whole world' is only self-indulgence even if it's true. Trying to self-consciously maintain an air of abnormality will only reduce my mind's ability to cope."
"It's not a good weight to put on your first confession," said Asahina-san. "You're only a boy and a girl together. Just do your best, Kyon-kun!"
Even Nagato spoke, in that toneless, utterly calm voice. "Unromantic thoughts have no utility to you in the present situation."
Why must I think about it?
All these endless days of trying to keep Haruhi under control, I had managed not to dwell on the stakes at risk.
Why have I suddenly lost that ability?
But I knew the answer to my rhetorical question. A certain thought had caused me, just a short while ago, to realize that my brain had avoided thinking about some matters. Once you come to that sort of realization, you can also see other things you haven't been thinking.
The fact remains that Haruhi's attachment to me was the only lynchpin that held this universe together. Even though Haruhi might have changed over time, there is no guarantee that this aspect has become any different. If I told Haruhi that I never wanted to see her again, or let her discover me in the arms of another woman, there is a high probability that the sun would not rise the next morning. If I didn't look both ways before crossing the road and was hit by a passing truck, then Haruhi might remake the universe to bring me back to life, or reality might just not be there anymore.
Isn't that a ridiculous burden to bear while crossing the street? How can it possibly be that one person has to take responsibility for the world like that? If billions of lives hung on it, wouldn't there be ten crack military units to watch me cross the street, with all trucks cordoned off for a hundred-mile radius? Wouldn't there be government ministers and CEOs convening to decide what to do about Suzumiya Haruhi, so that the matter would long since have been taken out of the hands of this high school student? This outlandish degree of personal responsibility makes me want to say, "But that sort of thing couldn't possibly happen in real life."
I looked over at Nagato. In theory, she represented a whole interstellar network of beings who existed in pure 'data', a society so strange that it seemed futile to try to think about any part of it except the organic interface Nagato Yuki. And yet there could be a billion times as many worlds out there as Earth, just because Haruhi conceived a desire for the existence of 'aliens'.
I refused to think about that part, however. That was where I drew the line. It's one thing to take care of your own personal planet, but worrying about a billion other solar systems would indicate incipient megalomania. It would take a genuine weirdo to accept responsibility for a whole intergalactic civilization.
"Nagato," I said, "I want to talk with Haruhi about personal things, and I might be embarrassed if I thought the Data Integration Thought Entity was listening to our conversation. Is there any way you can assure me that we have some privacy?"
"I cannot stop the Data Integration Thought Entity from listening," Nagato said in her colorless voice, "but I should be able to detect if they do. If so, I will cause your cellphone to emit a small chirp. In the absence of this evidence, you can infer that no one is listening."
I couldn't even look at her, thinking about our strange friendship and how much I was presuming on it. And my trusting relationship with Koizumi, and Asahina-san...
"Kyon certainly has changed," observed Koizumi.
A chill ran down my spine. What does Koizumi mean by that?
"Storming in here with a completely insane plan he made up all on his own, and expecting the rest of us to go along. Does it remind you of anyone else you know?"
"Yes," said the lovely Asahina-san, her voice soft and sweet. "I also think that Kyon-kun has grown closer to his promised bride."
If you're done speaking horrible words that shouldn't be considered even in the silence of one's private mind, I think I'll go now.