And now, a ridiculously late update from the author: Greetings, friends! I know it's taken a really damn long time (nearly a whole year!), but I've finally got around to finishing the next chapter! I should probably write up most of my next story before I start uploading bits of it. I am terrible with keeping up an update schedule. I'll see if I can get any more chapters done without forcing you to wait several months for them, but I make no promises. Uni studies are pretty demanding, and video games are distracting as hell. So if you're still reading even after my long hiatus, thanks for your patience! And sorry it took so damn long.

Disclaimer: You know the drill. Haruhi Suzumiya is the creation of Nagaru Tanigawa. Gurren Lagann, on the other hand, is the creation of Gainax. Why am I mentioning that here? Read on and find out.

Chapter 22: Planning, planning and more planning

Once again, after club activities had ended for the day, the SOS Brigade (minus its leader) gathered at Nagato's apartment for an important gathering. The only difference this time really was Ryoko's presence. Otherwise, it fit the criteria-everyone who isn't Haruhi gathered in the same place to discuss slider related business. I'm hoping this doesn't become too frequent an occurrence with my new line of work.

Sitting around the lone table, I took a sip of the tea that Nagato (with Ryoko and Mikuru's help) had prepared. Ryoko sat beside me, with Nagato to her left on one side of the table and Mikuru to the right of me on the other side. Directly across us was Koizumi. We were all getting comfortable, reciting what needed to be discussed in our heads and formulating the words we'd need to express these matters.

I decided it was time to start things and cleared my throat. "Alright, before we get into any deep detail, tell me: has anyone noticed anything unusual happening recently? Well, more unusual than normal anyway." Ha. Normal…

"None of this is actually confirmed, but there have been sightings of strange animals," answered Koizumi. "Nothing majorly large, though, they're all relatively small and no larger than the average human adult." Oh good, so we don't have to worry about the world plunging into panic about giant monsters then.

"We've been receiving strange transmissions," added Mikuru. "We're still trying to decipher the source, but Nagato-san says it's encrypted in a similar manner to the data emitted by Suzumiya-san."

"So we have potentially alien creatures running around and Haruhi broadcasting into space." Never thought I'd hear myself say that-especially so nonchalantly. I'm really becoming desensitised to this bullshit, aren't I? "Anything else?"

"Well…" Ryoko started. "There have been strange lights in the sky." She looked worried. That's not good. That's the look of a person who's seen this before and it has not ended happily. "I saw similar things happen when our dimension got compromised. Fortunately, here, it doesn't seem to be progressing as rapidly, but if we don't act soon, this dimension could suffer a similar fate…"

Wonderful. So in other words, all this is the sign of the apocalypse. I sigh, take a sip of tea and prepare to address everyone again.

"How do we fix this?" It's a simple question. You'd think it would have a simple answer. Yet the moment the last word left my mouth, I knew the answer would be anything but.

Everyone shot a nervous look to one another. Yep, called it-no simple solution. Go ahead guys, lay it on me.

"Ideally, the way to halt the dimensional destabilising is to resolve all dimensional discrepancies," spoke Koizumi. "The problem is the number and frequency of them: they're too many for you to clear and appearing too rapidly to attend to them all." Yeah, that sounds about right.

"However," Mikuru chimed in. "This frequency is abnormal to the normal rate of dimensional decay." This shit happens normally over time? I hate my job. "There's something-or someone-responsible for these increased incidents." More likely than not the thieving slider bastard who took the fragment from my room.

"Do we have any leads?" I ask. Nagato chooses this moment to break her silence.

"Several," she states. "I've analysed the data traces from three of these worlds and produced images. Here." She places three images onto the table. Should I really be surprised I recognise them? I've been seeing glimpses of them for a while now.

The first one features a large, bipedal machine, not really humanoid in design and fitted with powerful looking weapons. I've seen this world. This is a world where mechs rule, where the future of warfare is now. And I'm not going to lie: I would LOVE to get into the cockpit of one of those bad boys and take it for a spin.

The second image appears to be within a missile silo. Inside: one large missile. Not surprised. On the side, though, is the defining feature of it: a red star emblem with a yellow hammer and sickle within it and the letters 'CCCP' beneath it. The USSR-the Soviet Union. I'm not entirely sure of this world's properties, but I have a feeling it'll be a Cold War world. I just hope that extremely-likely-to-be-nuclear missile never leaves the silo.

The last one is…dark. It's hard to make things out. All that can be seen is the blurry image of what appears to be a shadowy, monstrous face with big gaping jaws and eyes shining white, like those of a cat when viewed in night vision. It looks like something that somebody photoshopped for a creepypasta. Well, it worked-it's creeping me the hell out alright.

"So…where do I go first?"

"I'm afraid there's little input we can give on that," replied Koizumi. "You'll have to make that decision yourself." So no matter what choice I make, I'll be going in blind. Great…

"Suzumiya may be able to guide you to the correct dimension," stated Yuki. "Spend some time in proximity to her and analyse for the subtlest indication of which dimension will yield significant results."

That…actually sounded like excellent advice to be honest. If the fragment is still infused with Haruhi's power, then she should have an idea of where it may be. But I can't just flat out ask her where the hell it is without potentially revealing this crazy side of the world to her. Keep an eye out for subtle hints? That's the key.

It seems everyone else was in favour of Nagato's advice as well. The following day after classes had ended, they all excused themselves from club activities, leaving only Haruhi and I as the only available members. Not to say they were trying to make a situation where we could be alone-but they totally did. And I don't really see why we have to be alone for me to find these subtle hints. Wouldn't it be more effective if we all watched for them?

We sat awkwardly for a while, Haruhi using the computer, and me just waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more. After a good solid five minutes of waiting, I realised none of the 'hints' I was looking for weren't going to come naturally. As with everything in the SOS Brigade, I had to look for them. Brilliant.

I turned my head to where Haruhi was. She hadn't said a whole lot. Is she bored? I bloody well hope not…I know what happens when she's bored. It'd probably be a good idea to engage her in conversation or something. Maybe even take her somewhere? I mean, we did have that date, so…I suppose, technically, that means we're going out. I've no idea, to be honest. Her concept of 'love' and relationships is pretty hard to follow. Then again, I have no idea if she even has a concept of love. Didn't she call it a mental illness?

No more stalling. I take a breath and ask the question.

"What are you looking at?"

Haruhi seems to snap out of whatever computer-induced trance she was in and looks toward me. "Oh, just some robot stuff," she answers. "If we're going to put one together, it'll help if we know what we'll need." Huh…she's really on the ball about this robot thing. Maybe we'll make one after all. I get up from my seat and walk over to have a look at the scre-

THAT'S A GIANT ROBOT FROM AN ANIME. What exactly did you mean when you said we'd 'start out small'? How small were you talking? 25 metres? 50 metres? Or are you basing this on Gurren Lagann standards of size with the end result being one as big as the bloody galaxy?

Wait a minute…giant robots? Like Mecha? One of the three key dimensions I reviewed with the rest contained such machines. This could be one of the hints I was looking for! But there was still one thing that bothered me…


"Yes, Kyon?"

"You said we're going to start off with a small robot, right?" I ask, pointing to the screen. "Why in the hell are we looking at a giant robot?"

"Inspiration!" beamed Haruhi. "It'll be small, but I still want it to look cool!"

After perusing a few more robot designs and discussing plausible design features (as well as dismissing some ridiculously implausible ones), Haruhi and I called it a day and set off for home. As per our usual departure time, the sun was beginning to dip below the horizon, casting everything in an amber-orange light. I'm not one to wax poetry and go in depth about the beauty of things, but this kind of lighting always gave me the effect of tranquillity.

But there was a small problem: things were a bit too tranquil, and I owed that to my travelling companion. Normally, there were two kinds of home trips with Haruhi-the kind where little to nothing was said until we part ways (like in the Brigade's earlier days) or filled with constant discussion about whatever topic Haruhi brought up. This time, though, while not much was being said, it didn't fit the former criteria. Glancing over at Haruhi showed her to be contemplating something deeply, with a look of...awkwardness that I've never seen on her before.

Well, that's a lie actually. I have seen that look before-she had it when she first asked me out on a date. So obviously she must be ready to ask for a round two. Obviously she's still unfamiliar with this 'relationship' concept. I'm still not quite adjusted to it myself. Am I ready for a second date? I mean, sure, I've been gradually leaning more and more in favour of being with Haruhi over time, but this is still Haruhi we're talking about. Who knows what kind of expectations she'll have? Or what bizarre forms of affection she'll display? The little man in my head is starting to panic now, so I better stop thinking about this.

However, now we find ourselves at the diverging point to our respective homes. If Haruhi wants to say anything, now's the time. She takes a deep breath…calming herself. I almost do the same, as if to brace myself. Haruhi turns toward me, a red stain apparent across her face as she tries to keep herself composed. Opening her mouth, she confirms what I thought she'd want to say.

"Kyon," she speaks, clear and without falter in spite of her nervousness. Haruhi glances down for a second then locks eyes with me again. I nearly glance away myself, but keep my gaze. "After school tomorrow…would you like to go out somewhere? Just the two of us…like last time."

I briefly entertained the thought of what would happen if I said 'no', but that was quickly crushed because of several factors. First and foremost, I know what happens when she gets upset. Screw that. Besides, secondly: how can I say no after such a bold display? She overcame her own nervousness and presented that question in confident fashion, even if there were subtle signs of awkwardness. I don't want to crush her efforts by declining her offer after that. And thirdly…well, like I said, I'm becoming more favourable to the idea of having a relationship with Haruhi. I can't explain it, much as part of me is kicking myself as hard as it can while asking what the hell is wrong with me. That part is starting to get quieter and quieter every day. It's hard to put into words, but there's something about Haruhi that draws me to her. Hell, that's probably why I talked to her in the first place back when it all started.

With a smile, I give her a nod. "Sure," I answer. "I'll take you around town instead this time."

The moment I say that, all vestiges of nervousness leave Haruhi's body. She takes a few seconds to recover from the sudden loss of tension before giving a smile so bright, it's like a thousand suns. "Definitely!" she exclaims. Haruhi turns to head down her street, but waves a hand at me and looks back, still with that luminous grin on her face. "I'll see you tomorrow!" And then, she runs off toward home. Remember how I said I couldn't pinpoint what it was that drew me to Haruhi? I think that shining smile of hers is one thing. It looks even better in the light of this sunset…

Slowly, I make my way down the route back to my home. Along the way, I see a familiar face waiting by the side of the street. Her blue hair renders her easy to identify, even from a distance. Watching me approach, Ryoko gives me a wave which I return. She has the friendly, warm face I recall from the original Asakura. This prompt's my brain to dredge up some unpleasant when she tried to murder me in the classroom. Or when she stabbed me during that 'Disappearance' incident. Or when her Nazi German male counterpart was ready to shoot both me and Kurt. I shrug off any feelings of unease-those were all different Ryoko's...well, one of them wasn't called Ryoko. He wasn't even Japanese-or female for that matter. The dying rays of the setting sun must have reminded me of that time in the classroom.

I stop within a meter of her. Clearly she must want to talk about something if she's been waiting for me to come down this way. Or stab me. In hindsight, getting this close might not have been a good idea. Then again, I'm probably just being stupid thinking she'll try to pull that on me...right?

"Konbanwa, Kyon-kun!" she greets warmly. Her voice is sweet and she radiates a welcoming aura. Then again, so did the Ryoko who tried to kill me. Man, I'm going to have to get used to this, just like during that 'Disappearance' incident. Hopefully it won't end with her backstabbing me again. Literally.

"Hey Ryoko," I respond. "Can I help you?"

"Yes, actually," Ryoko answers. Her warm smile and kind expression morph into a more serious look. "I want to ask a favour of you."