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.
I realized that day there would always be obstacles to what we want, and in the past, I'd strived to break through those hurdles or circumvent them—to make people realize the mundane nature of their lives, to find something special in a world that wouldn't look for it—but my younger, middle-school self understood what I'd forgotten: there's nothing to be gained by making the hurdle disappear and dashing right through the space where it would've been.
In that sense, understanding the signs of a storm on the horizon was more important than witnessing the storm's coming itself.
Kyon and I returned to the present, and all the problems I'd worried about over the past week I put aside. I went home. I had dinner with my parents. Father went on and on about a new graphical interface some company was making, and Mother tried to get me to proofread a new chapter of her story. They knew I wouldn't scoff or laugh at them for talking about such things. My parents understood before I ever did that I'd accepted the world the way it was.
At school the next day, I was still distracted. That much I won't deny, but I ate lunch and hung around the classroom during midday recess, walking Kyon and Kunikida through a nagging problem on modular arithmetic they both wanted figured out before afternoon session.
And, as a matter of fact, someone arrived late to school over lunch that day, too. Taniguchi shuffled his feet as he entered the classroom, earning some warm remarks from the rest of our class as they congratulated him on his recovery and return. As he put down his bag near Kyon's desk to sit, he met my gaze and simply nodded. "Yo, Suzumiya."
Hey, Taniguchi. You're feeling better?
"I remember," he said. "And that's a start, right?"
That it is, Taniguchi. That it is. Thanks to memory, I could make a decision long overdue.
After lunch, I spent the rest of the day preparing a speech, the expression of what I wanted, and at the meeting of the brigade that afternoon, I addressed the room—not from the seat with the computer, the brigade chief's chair, but by the doorway. The game of Go halted; Mikuru-chan set down the teapot, and Yuki, too, closed her book—a new, red paperback—to watch me as I spoke.
"Guys," I said, "I won't spend too long saying what I have to say. I know, for various reasons, you all were drawn here—drawn to me—without wanting it, that you may have stayed here, in the brigade, more or less to keep things the way they were and make me happy. Well, that won't make me happy anymore, and I don't need any of you to do that. To me, the SOS Brigade has done all it can under my leadership. That's why…"
I undid the pin on my red armband and tossed the piece of cloth gently on the table.
"If the brigade wants to continue under someone else, I won't oppose it, but I'll leave my continued membership here to the new chief, if I'm welcome."
There was a stunned silence. The others looked to one another, like they couldn't believe their ears.
"Haruhi," Kyon said at last, "what is this? How can you even think of leaving this brigade you created?"
"That's right!" cried Mikuru-chan. "I can't imagine what it'd be like without Suzumiya-san in charge."
"Well, let's not fret for too long," said Koizumi-kun, picking up the armband with a pencil. "If the SOS Brigade no longer has a leader, then it seems appropriate to nominate a candidate, yes? In that case, I think the choice is natural."
He slung the armband forward, propelling it into Kyon's lap.
"Oh no," said Kyon. "No way. Absolutely not. I won't—"
"But I think we'd all support it," said Koizumi-kun. "Even Nagato-san, yes?"
"No objection," she said.
"And," Koizumi-kun went on, "our new brigade chief permit Suzumiya-san's continued presence in the brigade, wouldn't he?"
Kyon cracked a wry smile. "I suppose I would."
I bowed. "I'm at your disposal, then, Brigade Chief."
He made a face. "I'm not wearing an armband."
I'm not telling how, but we got him to wear the armband, at least part of the time, as the brigade's first activity under the Kyon Administration came with his explicit approval. We made flyers, you see. Not for the brigade, mind you, but for a little independent theater in Ashiya that was performing a Western play. We ran off a stack of flyers and plastered them all around the school. That way, all our classmates would see the photo of Mori-san in her Pilgrim's bonnet and costume, and maybe some of them would journey out there to see her perform. No powers necessary—we would give Mori-san's a career a boost with just the sweat of our brows.
A job well done, we adjourned, but though Yuki was first to leave as usual, when I locked up the clubroom for the day, she was still outside, waiting for me.
"I am sorry," she said.
Nothing to be sorry about, as far as I was concerned. You were honest about how you felt; I can't begrudge you for that. "You were right," I told her. "We haven't really been friends the way I wanted. Maybe we can start getting to know each other for real from now on?"
She nodded. "Acceptable."
I smiled. It was a bit early to show her affection more strongly than that, but with time, we'd learn. "Well," I said, "have a good afternoon, Yuki."
"A request," she said.
"I am alone."
Alone, the only one of her kind left. I fished through my pocket, finding the blue marble. "Yuki," I said, "are you sure?"
She nodded earnestly, and it was a request I couldn't ignore. I stared into the shimmering azure sphere, and the glow of it, the energy inside, began to leak out. It spread and spread, flowing through the ceiling, the floor, the sides of the hallway.
And a cluster of blue data stuff coalesced before us, taking on a familiar form.
"Well, this is unexpected," said Asakura. "I thought you would truly leave us there forever, Suzumiya-san. Why the change of heart?"
"I'm not eager to be your jailer for all eternity," I said. "Listen carefully and take this to your boss: the lot of you can go off and do whatever it is you people do, but I'll always be watching you. If I find out you've done something wrong, if Yuki tells me you've been hurting people or messing with the cosmic order for your silly games, you know where you'll end up, and I won't be so inclined to change my mind again. As for Yuki, she gets to stay here on Earth as long as she likes. The rest of you I expect to leave as soon as possible. You're no longer welcome here."
Asakura shook her head. "As long as we're free, we'll be looking at you, Suzumiya-san. You must know this. Even if we're not on Earth, we'll be watching."
I scoffed. Did she really think I hadn't thought of that? "You can watch me from afar all you like," I said. "You're totally free to fixate on the one thing you think will justify your existence and give you satisfaction. Whatever. I know what that will do to you. If it takes you another fourteen billion years to figure out that will lead nowhere, so be it. I hope you find something else, though—some other purpose that will make you realize how foolish this obsession with me has been, and not just for my sake, either."
"Then why?" she asked.
So you don't make the same mistakes I made, looking for the fantastic to the exclusion of everything else.
Puzzled by my silence, Asakura clapped her hands together. "Well, I suppose it's time to go. See you soon, Suzumiya-san, Nagato-san?"
Yuki shook her head gently. "Goodbye."
Asakura's expression changed—was that a flash of regret? —but before I could look more closely, she was gone.
"Thank you," said Yuki, and she walked off with silent footsteps, but I could tell she was relieved. Maybe, in that respect, I'd started learning from Kyon.
The rest of the week was largely uneventful, save for a quiet conversation I had with the new brigade chief after activities had finished on Thursday. It involved the prospect of a quick cup of coffee Saturday afternoon and, maybe, a two-person citywide search if we didn't want to bother the others. In fact, when I brought that last part up, Kyon insisted on it.
"The only question, then," he went on, "is whether we're calling it a date."
Oh, so there's no question of what we're doing after?
"After? What—" He looked away for a moment, and I could practically see through his eyes exactly what he was imagining. "Wait, wait a minute, why are we talking about after? !"
We decided on two things after that: it was a date, and there needn't be any particular happenings after the date was finished.
At least, not for a while.
Of course, word of our plans somehow got out among the rest of the class, and it was interesting—if also a bit embarrassing—to hear how many people referred to me as Kyon's girlfriend versus him as my boyfriend (the official SOS Brigade poll put that at a one-to-two ratio, by the way, which on the whole I was very satisfied with). By Saturday afternoon, though, I had to face the two people most interested in my love life of all.
"No, no, Haruhi, I don't think that outfit will do," said Mother as I was walking out the door. "Please, come back, I think I can add something to it. You want to stand out for him, don't you? Your outfit needs some white; it needs balance. I have just the thing."
Father hardly looked up from his position in front of the television, typing away at his laptop. "You want to sew wings on her back, don't you."
"Of course not!" Mother tilted her head. "Actually…"
Mother, I am not wearing a magical girl outfit on a date.
"And just who is it you're seeing again, Kitten?" asked Father. "It's not that friend of yours from your club, is it?"
"Aha!" he cried. "I knew it. Well, not to worry, Kitten. I had a full background check pulled on him, and the only issue of note seems to be the origin of that bizarre nickname of his."
"Dear, you did not!" exclaimed Mother.
"I didn't find out your name because your roommate told me," he said.
He shook his head.
"That's frightfully romantic of you," she said. "It's too bad the obsessive, stalker overtones really undercut the sentiment, though."
"Anyway," I cut in, "Father, please don't go to Kyon's again to grill him. I promise I'll be back in a timely manner, all right?"
He chuckled. "Have a good time, Kitten."
"Don't forget, Haruhi," said Mother, "the Person Just For You doesn't ask to press your special button on the first date."
Are you serious, Mother? I'm not Kyon's magical robot girlfriend!
…though it's a bit scary to realize only one of those words doesn't fit.
Really, I don't know how I've survived these parents as well as I have. I bolted out the door before I could hear more about protecting my "magic place" with "special incantations" or whatever, and I made it to the café with time to spare. We'd both agreed on a meeting time of three o'clock, which meant Kyon would arrive at two…
And I got there at one-thirty.
Well, in fairness, he was the brigade chief, so he could easily impose a penalty for being too early instead, though I knew that wasn't his way. Even if there were no penalties on the line, I felt like this was a little game we could play, something with no rhyme or reason behind it. It would mean something to us always, long after the real point had been forgotten.
That's why I waited patiently at the corner of the triangular island, watching the big clock in the middle tick away, when suddenly, there was tug on the fabric of my skirt.
"Excuse me," said a quiet, high-pitched voice. "Are you waiting for someone, Sister?"
It was a little girl with dark hair, braided in pigtails. Her tiny hand was engulfed by her mother's. The woman quickly chided her daughter, pulling her aside.
"Megumi, what have I told you about bothering strangers?" She looked to me apologetically. "I'm sorry, Young Lady. She's just so inquisitive. She'll point to the stars and ask me or my husband if there are aliens up there, if they're looking back at us. Quite silly, isn't it?"
I smiled to myself. "Not at all. Megumi-chan, is it?" I crouched down, catching her eye. "You're a sharp little girl, I think, but you should listen to your mother, all right?"
She nodded dutifully, her pigtails flopping about behind her.
"Just between you and me, though," I whispered, "it's good to keep asking questions and looking for secret things around you. In fact, can you keep a secret?"
"Good," I said. "Here, show me your hand."
She opened her palm, and in the center, I placed the hundred-yen coin. Already, the girl's were fixed on that object with curiosity. I could've told her a tall tale about aliens, time-travelers, and espers and how that coin was a part of their story. I could've made that coin change before her eyes, but I decided on something simple. It's too easy to convince people of amazing things when you can show them infinite power, and a little girl's mind won't dismiss something contrary to the reality she's taught, not the way an adult would.
"This coin is magical," I told her. "If you concentrate really hard, you can make it change into a fifty-yen coin and back again."
"Why would you want to change a hundred-yen coin into a fifty?" asked the mother.
"Because it's cool!" cried little Megumi.
"Because it's cool," I answered back.
The mother looked at us both like we were lizard people in human form. "Come along, Megumi," she said, pulling at her daughter's hand, but I caught the little girl holding the coin to her eye, studying it, gazing at it intently. She wouldn't soon forget the story of the coin and what it could do.
And I no longer needed such a thing to remind myself how amazing the world could be.
"She's going to be a pioneer," said a voice. "A forerunner in the science of mental manipulation of the physical world. Telekinesis, you might call it. There will be monuments to her."
I turned to the source, and sure enough, there she was—the woman in the red yukata, the old Mikuru-chan.
"I think now," she went on, "I realize anyone can be manipulated by others with foreknowledge of time. The key is in making a genuine, honest choice whenever you can. After that, history will care for itself." She simpered. "Then again, it's very different, being on this side of things again after so long. I'd almost forgotten what it's like to have others keep secrets from you."
"What do you mean?" I asked her. "I made the right choice, didn't I? I did what I felt in my heart, and everything's still here. Is there something else I should've done?"
"Oh no, no," she said. "It's just—I realize now even my actions were manipulated, albeit with the best of intentions."
Mikuru-chan raised an eyebrow. "Strange. I thought you would've figured that out by now. Well, let's just call it classified information and leave it at that. What do you think you'll do now, Suzumiya-san?"
I took the empty blue marble from my pocket, and it hovered over my open hand. It's fun having powers when you're not worried about trying to fix things with them, but just because the brigade's going to be okay doesn't mean everything else is settled and done. There are still espers who might not want to stay that way. People were hurt or died at the stadium thanks to Asakura—Rooter, too. Do I bring them back just because I was involved? There are bad things happening to people all the time. Really, these are questions of such weight and gravity that trying to answer them all at once would be crazy!
And I'm still young. I have time to think deeply and try to do the best I can.
"Truer words have never been said," Mikuru-chan observed. "I know you'll apply yourself to these concerns with confidence and enthusiasm."
"Because you're from the future and know what I'll do?"
She chuckled. "Even I can't know everything you'll ever do, Suzumiya-san."
She looked over her shoulder, and I followed her gaze to a woman sitting with her back to us—a woman in a red top, wearing a baseball cap.
"Because the story of Suzumiya Haruhi isn't yet finished," said Mikuru-chan. "Even for me. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think you have a date?"
How do you know that?
She smiled. "If nothing else, I am from the future, right?"
With a spring in her step, Mikuru-chan headed to the crosswalk, and the woman in the red top followed. She had long, dark hair, and as they waited for a gap in the traffic, she took off the cap, placing it on Mikuru-chan's head.
"What's that for?" asked Mikuru-chan.
"I'm returning something lent to me." The woman in the red top glanced back, winking. That's why Mikuru-chan couldn't know everything I'd ever do.
I was still with her. Maybe I'd endured the centuries to find her again, or maybe I just took a shortcut after university to see what the future really was like. The details didn't matter; I'd decide how I wanted to do it soon enough.
And for the moment, there was one thing I had in mind to do.
"You're early, Haruhi."
In the corner of my eye, I spotted a guy in a green, collared shirt and light khaki pants with brown shoes. Not bad, Kyon. You look sharp.
"The new brigade chief has to dress to impress his predecessor, right?"
Color me impressed, then. In fact, you'll make the perfect conspirator for my new plan.
He huffed. "And I thought I was the brigade chief."
This isn't for the brigade. This is for all the people of the world. Let's show humanity how big and amazing the universe is—just you and me, Kyon.
"No powers?" he asked.
Wouldn't be any fun if I just twitched my nose and made it happen, now would it?
He stifled a laugh. "Somehow, I'm not surprised this is your idea of a date."
You wouldn't have it any other way.
"True that," he said. "Well, shall we figure out how to open the minds of a few billion people over a cup or two from the café?"
I could think of no better way to start. We headed inside and spoke about many things. We discussed Mikuru-chan's costumes and the theories of Professor Freud. We talked about where the brigade was headed under his leadership. We speculated on the future of time-travelers, aliens, and espers—or rather, how to tell the world about them and when.
We were in no hurry to reveal those truths, for the world would be just as spectacular all the same, and though we'd planned to see a movie later that day, we just kept chatting at the café until well after dark.
In the course of eleven books about the adventures of the SOS Brigade, Haruhi Suzumiya has come out of the spotlight a bit, apparently having come to terms with the nature of the world and the people in it. I admit, when I began this story, I started with the premise that that wasn't the case, that Haruhi might've believed it but nothing could really quell that spirit for adventure and the extraordinary. Hence, this piece was always meant to have Haruhi reexamine her priorities and explicitly set about a new direction—something I feel she has indeed done.
Nevertheless, I can't say this story has turned out exactly the way I envisioned it, but for that, I have only the honest and careful feedback of other writers and readers to thank. My sincerest gratitude to Brian Randall, Arakawa Seijio, and others still who've given me insights big and small into the interpretation of this story.
Finally, I can't say when I will be back in the world of Haruhi Suzumiya. Identity is the Ranma 1/2 epic I've been working on, and that's the project I'll be continuing. If that's not your cup of tea, I have an Evangelion novel planned—The Coming of the First Ones—as well as two other Haruhi novels—Unhandled Exception and The Other Face—but I can't say when I'll be writing them. I hope, if you've read this story, you'll try some of my other work, but I'm thankful enough if you've read this far. The world of Haruhi Suzumiya is infinite in possibilities, and so is the capacity to tell stories in it. For this reason, I'm confident we will meet again.
Until next time,
December 29, 2011