The Coin, by Muphrid. All her life, Haruhi's been searching–not just for espers or aliens but for others who want to find them, too. Now, she realizes her power to reshape the world…and that the people around her have never believed in something they didn't know to be true.
Note: may contain minor spoilers for The Dissociation and The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya.
It used to be, when I was younger, my mother would would see me off to school from our doorstep. She'd look to the sky and smile if it were sunny, as if those golden rays empowered her to get through the day, but if it were cloudy, if a storm gathered in the distance, she'd tell me to be careful, to stay safe. "Looks like we'll just have to ride this one out," she'd said once. She knew it was necessary, but she didn't care for rain. I guess most people don't.
I realized pretty quickly that set me apart from other people. When there's bad weather on the horizon, people are always waiting for the next sunny day, to the calm that comes after the storm. Most people, but not me. If there were raindrops falling or trees swaying in the wind, you couldn't pry me away from the window. I'd sit for hours, watching until the first patch of sunlight broke through. It wasn't just the thrill of the storm. I looked forward to clouds and thunderbolts in a gray sky because the first sign of a tempest changes people. It makes them prepare or panic. They make runs on the grocers' and stockpile bottled water or canned corn. The birds and the dogs in our neighborhood grew restless long before my mother and father would. I welcomed those storms—the chaotic days and restless nights. Each squall and wind gust was an expression of Mother Nature. She was dissatisfied with the routines and rhythms of humanity. She sent rain and lightning to rouse us from our stupor, to make us wake up.
That all changed, of course. By the time I was in middle school, I had other things on my mind, and if I wanted to go outside and look at the stars or just breathe in the wind, a storm could be really inconvenient. All the same, I can still recognize the signs when a storm front is near—or I could, if I tried. What I realized in June my second year was that a good storm didn't excite me anymore. I'd stopped paying attention to the old man at the market, rubbing his joints to relieve the pressure, the pain. I forgot to listen for the calls of birds or their silence when a violent squall was about to hit. To me, a clear, cloudless day, with but a light breeze to blow the humidity away, was just as well. In fact, if Mother Nature had sent a storm over North High School while we were on lunch break that day, I think I'd have had a harsh word or two for her.
To the sound of coffee cans clunking against the bottom of a chute, I took the time to digest what'd happened in morning classes. Of late, the teachers are really starting to drill us for entrance exams, and that's fine. That's expected, even, but it feels like it's not enough. I don't want to keep a list of the top ten facts about the Meiji Restoration on the back of my hand. Tell me that it was something big and important—that when Tokugawa stepped down and ended the shogunate for good, it was a sign. Japan would never be the same again. Japan would never be able to keep to itself again. It changed the way we live, and you can see that every day. Whenever you buy a pair of headphones that say Sony on the side or a car with a three-diamond ornament on the front, you see something that goes back to that time, that wouldn't exist without that change in how we live our lives.
I've watched all our classmates scribble down notes furiously. I wonder sometimes if they ever thought to do more than just copy, copy, and copy some more.
That's something I used to think about a lot—that too many people are caught up in routine. They wake up, they go to school or work, they come home, they touch another person or touch themselves, and they sleep. Then they do it all over again the next day. Even Mother and Father were like that, and for a while, I thought it didn't matter if I loved them because they were mindless automatons like the rest of humanity. I think I've realized, over this past year, that that's not true, either. It's not that other people don't have the same thoughts I do. It's not that they don't have the vision to look to the stars and see aliens, to look in a mirror and see through into their own souls or others'. They just don't have the time, or they gave up on it long before. They made peace with the world and accepted it, whether there were greater things out there to look for…
I sat at the base of a tree in the center courtyard, watching my schoolmates pass by. A half-dozen or so had formed a queue for the vending machines, and I watched them. They talked about things—different things. What were the chances North would make it to Summer Kōshien? When would that voice actress get surgery for her brain tumor, and would it change her voice forever? Pretty ordinary things, if you ask me, but I felt like I understood it. If you're not looking for time-travelers in your midst, chatting about baseball tournaments or anime doesn't sound too bad.
But at that moment, I wasn't concerned with distant things like what was on television or who scored a ninth-inning run. The sun was shining on me. Its midday light cast too narrow a shadow to get away from and still be in the open. I was getting thirsty, and I had just enough, after buying my lunch, to join the line for drinks and get over it before class.
"Oh," said a girl. "Oh no…"
In the line for soda, the little dark-haired girl—a first-year, I guessed—shook an empty coin purse in vain.
"You don't have enough?" said her friend.
"It can't be," said the first girl. "I had a thousand yen in here!"
"You don't think your sister took it? For her date last night?"
"She wouldn't!" But the first girl closed the coin purse with a snap. "She must've. How much do you have?"
The second girl held up a single coin. "Just a hundred."
And that was a pity. See, I had three fifty-yen coins in my hand, and I needed them. I mean, if I happened to flip one of them idly, if it flew out of my reach and roll at those first-years' feet, well…
Well, you'd think they'd be smart enough to pick it up and not question things.
"Um, sempai…" The first girl bent at her waist, fingering the rim of the silver, hollow coin. "Did you drop this?" she asked.
"Not me," I said.
The second girl blinked. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, pretty sure. Must be your lucky day, finding the change you needed."
"Thank you so much!" said the first girl, bowing. "We won't forget this, will we, Yuka?"
"Of course," said the second. "Thank you!"
" 'Thanks'?" I echoed. "I didn't do anything. Get your drink and move on, won't you?"
The first-years looked at each other, and I guess they finally got it. They bought a soda and trotted off, but they called back as they rounded a corner, smiling. "Thanks again!"
I said it, didn't I? I had no hand in it, and even if I did, so what? If someone does you a good deed, let them be. The real, genuine people don't need to be thanked for it. They don't need your gratitude. If they say otherwise, then they're not doing it for you. They're doing it for themselves, and they shouldn't be thanked anyway. I hate that feeling—that something you did, which should be for someone else actually serves you instead. I've felt that once. I'll never forget it.
And I wouldn't forget that, now that those two girls had gone, I was the one who ended up fifty yen short.
I stepped aside and punched a sequence of buttons on my phone. If nothing else, I had a batch of three other visionaries, seekers of the extraordinary and unusual like I was, and with their unquestioned loyalty, they'd answer my call, but they weren't the ones I sent that message to.
"Oi." The recipient of my text walked up to me, a phone in his hand. "Is this your idea of a summons?"
Yeah, actually, though it'd have been more timely and effective if it hadn't taken you ten minutes to respond.
"Don't just tell me you're somewhere 'outside' next time, and I'll find you faster," he said. "And don't start your message with 'I need you' and expect not to be misunderstood."
"Misunderstood how?" I asked.
He scowled but looked away. "Well? What is it now? Energy beings hiding in the sun's rays? Sliders making portals in the walls?"
Why do you even bother coming if you're not going to be serious when you get here?
"Because I know the dungeon master who's in charge around here," he said, "and she would definitely have smitten me by my next turn if I didn't answer."
Jerk. I ignored his remarks, though, and put my first two coins—fifty yen each—down the slot of a soda machine. "I need to borrow something from you," I told him. "Consider it forgiveness of penalties in advance."
"I'm supposed to pay you tardy penalties for events that haven't even happened yet?" He scratched his head, pondering. "Actually, that'd be about the nature of things around here, wouldn't it."
"Just hurry and lend me another fifty, will you? I'm thirsty."
Why am I thirsty? Well, I guess it all goes back to when the first six-celled organism withered and died because it didn't know it needed water, leaving the rest of the evolutionary chain to—
"I mean, why do you need my money?" He pointed to the seven-segment display on the machine. "Looks like you're fine to me."
I'd put in two fifty-yen coins, but that's not what it read.
I pushed the white plunger next to the display, and at the bottom of the machine, two coins rattled in the return slot. One was smaller and had a hole in the center, with chrysanthemums raised from the metal on either side of the gap. The other was larger and solid, with cherry blossoms taking up the center instead. A fifty-yen coin, a one-hundred-yen coin. Any child could tell the difference. Any moron would know, by feel or by sight, what value of coinage she had.
"Wait a minute. You dragged me out here. Aren't you at least going to buy a drink?"
I could've. You might say I should've, but thirst is a temporary thing. It comes from our flawed human bodies, which hold our minds but don't command them. I understood what'd been happening when I held those coins between my fingers. That other person there might tell me to ignore it, to let it go and get on with my life like any normal human being would. What could I learn about the world from two round pieces of copper and nickel? Maybe nothing, I could admit, but maybe something.
Maybe, I thought to myself, it was time to look to the sky again and be excited when I saw a dark cloud there.
The boy beside me checked his phone and sighed. "Well, stay if you like, Haruhi," he said. "I'm not going to be late."
I've thought for some time it'd be a good change of pace to write a Haruhi story from her perspective instead of Kyon's. In a lot of ways, it's a challenging task—how do you get across the conflicts and intrigues when Haruhi is largely outside those discussions? I hope to depict those plots well in this story, for Haruhi learning and understanding her own abilities is nothing short of a game-changer for all the players—Koizumi, Asahina, Nagato, and Kyon—but most of all, this is a way for me to explore the character of Haruhi. What's to stop a person with godlike powers from remaking the world as they please? What would stop her, if anything at all? Would that power make her truly happy?
Those are a subset of the questions I hope to tackle. It's my hope that this story—which I envision being roughly the length of a Haruhi novel—answers them adequately, at least for one writer's interpretation, one writer's vision of what could be.
In truth, I've had the idea for this story rumbling around in my head for some time. I was actually a little off-put when I heard that The Surprise wouldn't be the last novels in the series, as it makes things more problematic in terms of establishing where these characters would be and what issues they'd face. Nevertheless, I feel this is a story worth telling. It's my hope that further novels don't entirely obviate what I'm trying to do with this tale, but I accept the risk that that may happen.
This is the second version of the prologue; the first, I think, painted Haruhi in an improper light. I'm very grateful to Brian Randall and Henry Cobb for pointing out the problems with that first version.
For more in-depth notes on the writing of this prologue and the future of this story, check out my blog at westofarcturus [dot] blogspot [dot] com.