Tsuruya was driving myself and Emiri somewhere we didn't know where, talking our ears off as we went. It was strange and unusual, but after a little while I realized we were going in circles. She wasn't taking us anywhere. After careful consideration, I determined that Tsuruya was indeed someone we could trust. I remembered her. She was never bad. If memory serves, her only interest is in making sure everyone is happy. If you can't trust someone like that, you can't trust anyone at all.
Tsuruya's keen eyes, cat-like, if you will, practically speared me from the rear-view mirror. "Crickets? Have you remembered anything yet?"
Emiri looked over to me, clearly interested as well. I shook my head. "I don't know why you keep bringing that up. I don't think about crickets. I've probably said that word more times in the past ten minutes than in the entire rest of my life."
Tsuruya grinned. "You've only said it once so far."
She caught me. I don't think I've ever legitimately said that word before in my life. Never had a reason to either. It's not relevant to my life in any way. "That should tell you something, shouldn't it? Like how much it makes sense for you to ask me to think about that."
She interrupted me, stopping the car suddenly. "Do you know where we are?" She pointed ahead of us. "That's the Autoroute de l'Est. Big wide road that goes on quite a distance and doesn't turn terribly much. Goes all the way to Strasbourg. Almost five hundred kilometers. If, for example, it were clear of cars up to the edge of the city, do you think we could hit one-forty k.p.h.?"
That's an unusual… and somewhat worrying question for her to be asking. Especially seeing as there doesn't seem to be any cars on the road ahead of us. Any way I look at it, I would advise against trying such a thing while I'm in the car. One hundred and forty kilometers per hour is definitely way over the speed limit In fact, that's just about… no, it pretty much is. That's eighty-eight miles per hour.
"No offense, but are you crazy?"
She turned to look back at us over her shoulder. "Tell me what you remember about the cricket. This is important."
Emiri squeezed my arm. "I can help you."
I looked between the two of them, back and forth a few times before Emiri's eyes caught me. She was staring right into my eyes, willing me to let her help, however it was that she planned on doing that. And I say she was staring right into my eyes, but I had to moved my head for that, because otherwise she was staring over my shoulder.
It occurred to me that I was in the back of a car with the girl I had come to love, and she was saying that she could 'help' me. More than one less than pure thought went through my head before I cleared it out. I sighed and nodded to Tsuruya.
"Alright, what is this cricket business? Let's get this over with."
Tsuruya smiled genuinely. "Close your eyes and think back to high school. Think about sand. An endless desert in every direction. Vast clear blue skies. Back then, you were in this place. Try to remember."
I had been following along while she was talking, and it was making less sense with every word. I've never been in a desert. I could, to some degree, imagine the place she was describing, but telling me that I had been there didn't help. Especially not with the notion I had been there back in high school. My high school life was almost as boring as possible, with the exception my encounters with Haruhi Suzumiya and her friends.
With my eyes closed, it was hard to see what Tsuruya and Emiri were doing. Impossible to see, actually. I could feel Emiri's weight shifting around the car slowly, so I knew she was moving, but had absolutely no hint of what she might be doing. I figured we were headed towards one of those vision-sharing moments that Emiri and her friends do, but I wanted to see what exactly she was doing before she started that up.
Tsuruya spoke. "Keep your eyes closed."
I wanted to open my eyes, and had been a moment away from doing so, but her urging kept them shut. Suddenly, I felt Emiri's weight on top of me. She was on my lap, probably straddling me of all things. Then she pressed her lips against mine. I couldn't help it anymore, and Tsuruya's laugh didn't help at all. I had to open my eyes. When I did, however, I found myself staring right into Emiri's eyes.
Those eyes were like pools of green and I was starting to sink into them, like I had been staring too hard into a vat of Kool-Aid and Tsuruya had jokingly pushed me over the safety barrier. I felt it wash over me, enveloping me. It was almost as if I was quite literally lost into her eyes. In fact, it may well have been exactly that. I don't know what all she is capable of. All I did know at that point was that Emiri was more than I understood and possibly more than I ever could.
I kept falling farther and farther into the green eyes of the woman I loved. It didn't feel toxic or poisonous, or corrosive, or anything else you expect green liquid to be. It was soothing. I was so lost that I started to feel things happening to me that I couldn't verify. It felt like Emiri was embracing me, wrapping herself around me. Her breasts pressed against my back and her arms folded over my chest. It was like she was washing me with her own body, while we both floated in the green seas of her eyes.
I sank deeper into her eyes, softly landing on the sandy beach of the shore. She was there on top of me still as the waves washed over us. Alone in the surf. I could feel the wet send on my back and the salty water running past me, but all I saw was her. The warmth of the sun and the cool of the waves gave way to the warmth of her body, and I held her close. I didn't want to let her go. Where we were and who else was truly there, those things were lost on me. In this moment there was only her. There was nowhere else to be and nothing else to care about. The world could end and I would stay here with her forever.
She pushed me down into the sand and stood up, smiling to me in a way that said she was in control now. She reached down her hand and pulled me to my feet. The beach was gone, replaced by desert. I could see distant mountains, or what I thought were mountains. That all didn't matter. We were in some mirror, within Emiri's eyes, somewhere she had seen before. She knew what it was and what it looked like, so she could take me there. It was arid and hot, and the sun scorched down on everything around us. But as for me, I was in paradise.
Emiri still held me close, and I could feel her body against me. There was nothing between us and I felt like there could have been if she wanted there to be. I won't go into detail of what she did there, but if it was a dream, it was the best dream ever. It felt like it lasted forever, but then ended too soon.
Before I knew it, it was over, and I was standing alone in the desert. I was wearing my old high school uniform somehow. I turned around to find Emiri, but she wasn't there anymore. I remembered that I had fallen into her eyes, and then… now I was two levels deep, I guess you could say. I wished she would still be here with me, but perhaps she was busy preparing what she wanted to show me in here.
I kept turning about regardless, hoping I might see Emiri somewhere. I wasn't ready for it. A shadow fell across the sand around me, so I looked up at the sun. Something was blocking out the light, and I thought it might be Emiri. I don't remember the last time I was so wrong.
The colossal form landed in front of me, sending sand flying everywhere. I was almost knocked off my feet, but instead just staggered back several steps. When the dust finally settled I looked up to see what creature I was now facing. It was the single biggest thing I've ever laid eyes on, and it was hideous. Some sort of insect… a cricket, I presume.
I wanted to leave, more than anything else. I wanted to find Emiri and escape this monstrosity. I wanted it so badly, but I couldn't turn away. Something was bothering me about this place, and this cricket. It seemed oddly familiar, like I'd been here before. It was too familiar for it to be a coincidence, or some mistake. I had to have seen this before.
"You were trapped in this world before. Back then, it happened. This world intersected with our own, and you were caught in its pull. Haruhi and her friends came to your rescue. She didn't even know she was saving you."
It was Emiri's voice, narrating like this was a movie and she was the director. The vision dissolved, and the cricket and the desert disappeared. Before I knew it, I was back in Tsuruya's car, with Emiri staring into my eyes, our lips still touching. No time had passed at all.
Emiri broke us apart, then rested her head on my chest. Her hand brushed against my cheek as she began to answer the many questions I had. "You entered another world that day. None of us could have seen it coming. I was the one who first realized you were missing, so I brought it to the attention of Haruhi's friends. Koizumi and Yuki fought the cricket that held you captive."
They did? They fought that giant thing? I… can't imagine how they would be able to do that. It was enormous. I think… well, I think… I might remember… something. "Kyon and Miss Asahina were there as well, weren't they? And… and those two fought…" I could picture it now. I could see the scene in my mind. Koizumi leaping through the air and hurling his attacks at the creature. Yuki standing strong and defending the others. They were a perfect team.
And when it was finally defeated, they returned to our world and I was set free. I don't know how I couldn't remember being there. I was trapped in another world for so long. That's really the kind of experience you would think I'd have remembered, but for some reason I was drawing a blank. I mean, I remember it now, obviously, but how had it been missing from my memory for so long?
Emiri came to my rescue with the answer again. "I couldn't just take that memory from you, you know? I couldn't just erase it. I've been carrying it for you all this time."
"Nya ha! That's right, ya cheek! You've been to another world before! Ah ha ha ha!"
I didn't need that to come from someone cackling crazily. But, at least, now I know. I've visited another world. Not like traveling through space to another planet, but like shifting into another reality. Sliding, really.
…I'm a slider? Does that count?
I remembered back to the machine in Koizumi's underground lair. Yes I'm calling it a lair. That machine detected unusual people. Aliens, espers, time travelers, whatever Haruhi is… and sliders. So it did react to me. When I stepped through, it flashed green. But then, that doesn't make sense because it did the same for… unless Tsuruya is a slider as well.
And then it occurred to me where I was sitting. In the back seat of a DeLorean, with Tsuruya in the driver's seat. She'd already made the required Back To The Future jokes and snuffed the idea that it was a time machine. Now I was starting to think I should have been more cautious around Tsuruya. She was clearly more than she'd let on.
"Tsuruya… answer me honestly. What happens when we hit eighty-eight miles per hour in this car?"
She smiled like she'd been waiting for me to ask. "Why, what else? There's a gigantic flash of light, sparks fly everywhere, and we all disappear without a trace aside from a trail of burning tire tracks!"
Thank you. What I wanted to know was what happens to us next. Please don't leave it at that or I'm going to start thinking we just vaporize, and then I'm going to be clamoring to get out of the car through any route available. Hurry up and tell me that we come out the other end in another world or something. Anything is better than vaporizing. Just give me something and for the love of all that's lovable stop just staring at me like that!
"…Okay! We're gonna go do that right now!" She turned around and slammed her foot down on the pedal.
I certainly did not scream, though. Not at all. Definitely did not. The urge to do so was extreme, considering the speed at which we accelerated down the road that was suspiciously empty of any traffic. If we did vaporize, no one would be there to see it happen. It was impossible for me to see the speedometer, so I had no way of knowing when said vaporization was about to happen. I got a sense that it was close when the sparks started to fly around the frame of the DeLorean and the metal on the outside began to glow.
Tsuruya never missed a beat, she never slowed down, and she didn't seem to think any second thoughts were worth the time. The air around the car exploded into a bright white and, before we knew it, we were right back on the same road, slowing down to normal speeds. Nothing had changed. It was as if the entire adventure was purely asthetic.
"Wow! That was quite the thrill, wasn't it? Wanna head back into town now? I'm sure everybody's waiting around for us somewhere." Tsuruya turned back to us and grinned like there was no tomorrow. I sure hope that doesn't mean there isn't going to be a tomorrow.
Emiri, who looked like she'd gotten just a little nervous at those excessive speeds, deadpanned at our driver. "Stay at the speed limit, please."
We pulled into a rest stop or something after driving a little ways further on at a reasonably decent speed. Tsuruya set about fiddling with some of the more odd controls at the front of the car. I wasn't really up to speed on what a DeLorean was normally equipped with, so none of it looked familiar, but certain switches seemed specifically out of place.
I knew something was up. Suddenly, the DeLorean was taking to the air. Tsuruya directed it further up until it was well above the tops of all the buildings in sight. I truly did not know how to react to this, flying over Paris in a DeLorean that was sure to be shining like a star for everyone to see. I really didn't want to look out the window either. And that's when Tsuruya started narrating.
"I've visited a lot of different places. At first it was just a portal device I invented in my basement, but I managed to develop a mobile version that runs in the back of the car. With this, I can travel to other worlds and explore things that you just cannot see anywhere else. There have been worlds where Earth has been consumed by war for thousands of years, worlds where dinosaurs never went extinct, and even some where the end of the world has come and gone. But this one is my favorite."
So she did do it. We have gone to another world. We are sliders right now, looking down at an alternate version of Earth where each of us has lived a different life. I have to wonder what it's like. What my life is like here.
Emiri interrupted my thoughts. "Won't we all still live back in Japan?"
"Nya ha! Don't be silly! I know better than that!" Tsuruya turned the wheel and brought the car into a nosedive. I ended up gripping the seat for dear life, and Emiri grabbed onto me, right up until Tsuruya pulled up just above an empty street. The DeLorean touched down gently and its driver flipped a few switches again. "Returning to visible…"
Why you… we were invisible that whole time too? What else does this car do?
Tsuruya pulled out onto the main streets and drove us toward the center of town. "I coordinated everything. Why do you think we're in Paris? Itsuki's entire operation moved to Paris the moment I found out where I needed to be for this, which is right here. Because in this world, right now, we're all visiting Paris together." She looked over her shoulder at us. "Do you wanna see what we all look like?"
Emiri hit her with another deadpan. "Yes, definitely. Let's take a look, shall we? I'd love to see that."
Tsuruya frowned. "Okie dokie."
The DeLorean took us through the streets of Paris on a rather scenic route beside the river and past the Eiffel Tower, which I finally got a good look at. It wasn't nearly as impressive as I had expected. After staring at it for a bit longer, I had managed to find not a single way to ascend the tower. That defied everything movies had taught me about it, and I wasn't sure how to approach life after that.
Luckily, Tsuruya must have sensed my peril and came to my rescue. "It's smaller in this world. There's nowhere to really stand up there. It's the same with the Great Wall of China. In fact, any normal person from our world who never saw either of those would never notice the difference between our worlds."
I could tell Emiri was biting back on another comment, so I spoke again. "You said we were here in Paris? Where?"
"Hold on to your pants, buddy." She sighed. "They should be around here somewhere. They weren't this hard to find last time."
What, you mean you don't actually know where we're going? You're looking for them and have no clue where to go? For real? Is it alright if I take a nap while we're waiting for you to find us? I would have taken a nap, too, except that the extra weight on my arm told me that Emiri had beat me to it. I wrapped my arm around her and held her closer.
What were we going to do when this was all over? Could we just return to Japan and start going out together, I'd propose to her and we'd get married and happily ever after? Is that what we were going to end up doing? I guess the real question was whether or not we could return to a normal life after all this. I really had no idea how to approach the future. Maybe our driver had some advice.
"Nya ha! There they are!" She pulled the car over to the curb and parked us, then pointed across to the other side of the street. "There. Take a good look. What do you see?"
What did I see?
When I looked across the street, I saw several familiar people seated at an outdoor cafe or something. They seemed to all be having a good time. There was Haruhi, but her hair was longer. She was seated beside Koizumi in a way that made them look like a couple. Kyon was with Yuki, and she looked happier than I'd ever seen her. Tsuruya was there with another guy who I vaguely remembered from high school. I think it was Kunikida or something. Kuyou was there too, smiling happily and seated with some guy I don't know. Maybe he was from high school as well.
There were four people absent from the scene. I spotted myself and Emiri not far off a moment later, enjoying a table to ourselves. It was all picture perfect, but there were still people missing. I need not have worried, though. After only a few seconds, Mikuru came out of the building and seated herself at the head of the table. Ryoko was still nowhere to be seen.
Tsuruya was there once again to put my mind at ease. "I know what you're thinking. She's not there because she's taking care of the cafe inside. We all came here to celebrate the opening of her first branch outside of Canada together. See, this is a world of happiness and success. There's nothing supernatural. There's nothing… extraordinary. Because of that, it's all just so… special."
I felt like she was having a hard time actually looking at them all. Could it be that she was jealous of this Haruhi? "Does it… bother you to see Koizumi with someone else?"
"…I won't say it doesn't. I'm not left alone, and I think Haruhi's the only other person who could really make him happy. And I know that this Itsuki isn't mine, so it's not so hard… yes, it does bother me." She looked away. "I'll just have to glomp him extra hard when we get back!"
I don't know what 'glomp' means, and I'm not sure I want to know.
Emiri nudged me with her elbow. I had thought she was asleep, but it appears I was mistaken. She looked up at me. "If Ryoko's in there…"
I knew where this was going, and I was seriously thinking about it too. "Hey, Tsuruya? Would it be possible to go in and see Ryoko after everyone else leaves? Just, you know… to say goodbye."
She smiled. It wasn't her crazy smile, her cheerful smile, or any other of her carefree assortment of grins. It was a soft, caring smile. An understanding smile. A sad smile. "I think we can do that, yes."
Author's Note: It's been nearly two years since this story was updated. But here it is. A chapter about Crickets and DeLoreans.