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The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya
By Nagaru Tanigawa
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2013 Nagaru Tanigawa
All rights reserved.
It was Monday, the first weekday, and though nothing particularly notable happened, perhaps it was Sunday's lingering lethargy that made the walk home seem longer, and seem to take longer, than usual.
Having Haruhi and the others along for the first part of the walk was nice and distracting, but once we parted ways and I was on my own, I started to feel rather lonely—as though being surrounded by the familiar faces of the SOS Brigade had become my natural state. I wasn't sure what to make of myself, having failed to pay close attention and gotten so thoroughly tainted. It was as if I'd poked a sleeping dog with a stick only to realize the stick was me.
I stopped walking, and looked back without any real intention. The road to the school was brighter than usual in the springtime light. That might've been thanks to the innocence of the new freshmen who had visited the club after school, or maybe it was just an effect of the increased isolation.
"Not that it matters."
My comment itself was also pointless. Sometimes I wonder whether saying something when there's nobody around to hear it has any meaning at all. Words that convey nothing to another person are no more than pronunciation practice, after all. And I don't make it a habit to talk to myself, so the words I'd just spoken were meant as a kind of self-reminder.
The truth was, if Haruhi tainted people, then I'd been thoroughly contaminated for a long time, and even if I could dump paint over myself to cover it up, I had less than a Golgi body's diameter's worth of inclination to do so.
Such were my thoughts as my homing instinct led me back to my house, pushing thoughts of the irregular factors like Sasaki and Kuyoh that had recently forced their way into prominence to the corner of my mind, greeting the evening and bringing the day to a close in my bedroom. It become my natural schedule to do so, and today was no different.
Nothing worth any particular mention had happened today.
While it would've been exaggerating to say she had the force of a rock falling from a cliff, Haruhi's speed down the hill would've been a solid challenge for any world-class athlete.
Descending the road from school behind her, as though being dragged by an invisible rope, were Koizumi and I along with Asahina, and by the time we reached the level ground in front of Koyoen Station, I was thoroughly winded. Suffice it to say that even Koizumi, who normally looked like something straight out of a deodorant commercial, was wiping sweat from his brow. Asahina gasped for breath, bent over with her hands on her knees.
But Haruhi, who had to be hiding a radioactive power source somewhere in her body, seemed perfectly fine. "What're you guys lazing around for? We've come this far, so let's finish with a run!"
She took off at a sprint, heading for Nagato's apartment.
This too was at Olympic speed, and it would've taken an athlete at the top of their career to keep up with her. I sent Koizumi ahead while taking the slower Asahina's bag and following at the best pace I could manage.
"Haaah ... hah ..."
Minding Asahina with her tangled legs, I arrived late; Haruhi had been waiting for me at the apartment's entrance, but the moment she confirmed everyone's presence, she started pushing buttons on the intercom. 7, 0, 8, call.
The answer came immediately. As though she'd been waiting.
"Yuki, it's me. Everybody's here to check in on you."
The intercom clicked off, and the automatic doors slowly slid open.
We entered the elevator that was stopped on the first floor, and Haruhi hit the button marked "7F." I can't say it was particularly roomy, and with all four of us in the elevator it was pretty cramped. The sound of Asahina's breathing was very clear in my ear. Along with the faint sound of machinery.
The box ascended slowly as though under human power, and Haruhi's lips were pursed the whole way. It wasn't as though her mood was particularly poor, though—it was just that whenever she didn't know exactly what expression to make, she defaulted to irritation.
She breezed impatiently through the doors once they finally opened to the seventh floor, pushing the air audibly aside as she marched along, finally hitting the door buzzer for 708 several times.
The door unlocked so quickly it seemed as though the room's occupant must have been waiting just on the other side, and the metal door slowly swung open. Backlit by the warm interior lighting, the shadow of a human silhouette fell across the entryway.
There in the rectangular space created by the open door was Yuki Nagato, in her pajamas.
"Should you really be up?"
In response to Haruhi's question Nagato only nodded, her eyes deep and unfathomable, then made for her closet to bring out indoor slippers for her guests.
"Aw, forget about that stuff."
Haruhi kicked off her own shoes and stopped Nagato, taking her by the shoulders and marching her back inside to the bedroom. Asahina and I weren't the only ones who'd visited Nagato's place—everyone had been here several times, so even Haruhi had a sense of the room layout. I'd never ventured into Nagato's bedroom, though—the living room and guest room were the extent of my exploration. Not that any of that mattered.
Before bothering to reflect on the strange sensation of entering the uncharted territory of Nagato's bedroom for the first time—a bed was its only furnishing—I took a good look at Nagato, whom Haruhi was busy forcing back into bed.
Nagato's pale face was unmoved as it contemplated the ceiling, and she didn't look particularly feverish. If I had to identify something that was out of the ordinary, I suppose she had a little bit of bed-head, but that was it. My vision informed me that her eyelids were two millimeters more closed than normal, but she didn't seem to be in any pain. Those unsexy pajamas, though ...
Having regained some of my composure, I realized just how much of it I'd lost.
Haruhi put her hand to Nagato's head. "Yuki, did you eat dinner? Does your head hurt?"
Her head still resting on the pillow, Nagato shook it side to side.
"You've gotta eat. I figured you might not have, since you live alone and all. Hmm"—Haruhi put her other hand to her own forehead—"you do have a bit of a fever. Do you have an ice pack anywhere?"
Nagato indicated in the negative.
"Well, whatever. I'll buy you one later. First, dinner. I'm borrowing your kitchen and fridge, Yuki, okay?"
Haruhi didn't wait for Nagato's response, standing while simultaneously grabbing Asahina's arm.
"I'm gonna make you my special rice porridge. Or would my special udon and veggie stew be better? Either one is great for when you have a cold. Mikuru, give me a hand."
"Um ... okay—!"
Asahina had been gazing worriedly at Nagato with her arms full of slippers, but perhaps spurred into action, she nodded several times and accompanied Haruhi. But just before they left the room, Haruhi stopped short and spoke to Koizumi and me, who were still standing there like idiots.
"Out of the room, you two. You can't just stare at a girl while she's sleeping."
"In that case," said Koizumi, "let me take care of the shopping. We need an ice pack and some cold medicine, correct?"
"Hang on a sec. I gotta make dinner, and that depends on what's in the fridge. I wonder if she's got any onion. Yeah, I'm gonna make a list. Come with me, Koizumi."
"As you wish."
Koizumi patted my shoulder as he smoothly breezed out of the room, giving me a strange look.
Left behind were me, who stood there with nothing to do, and Nagato, who lay neatly on her back.
I could hear fragments of the orders Haruhi was hurling at Koizumi and Asahina in the kitchen. "There's nothing but canned goods! That's hardly a balanced diet. Her body's all messed up because she's not eating any tasty vegetables. Mikuru, wash some rice and get the rice cooker ready—oh, and that pot too. And Koizumi, some eggs, spinach, scallions, and ..."
Haruhi was good at stuff like this. She might claim it's her duty as brigade chief, but it was in things that had nothing to do with the SOS Brigade where she really shone. And I knew from experience she was a good cook.
But this was no time to let myself get distracted by background chatter.
I had to ask.
"Are you all right? Do you feel about the same as you look?"
"Can you not talk?"
"I can." Nagato had been still vaguely gazing at the ceiling, but then sat slowly up, the comforter still covering her upper body. Even a self-righting doll would have wobbled more than she did. She looked like The Undertaker.
"Is it because of Kuyoh that you're like this?"
"I cannot say that for certain." Nagato regarded me with eyes like polished quartz.
"You don't think she did this? I mean—"
The incident last winter at the mansion where Nagato had collapsed—what had been behind that? We'd wandered in the mountain blizzard for hours, and the source of light we'd found turned out to be an inescapable mountain, wherein Nagato lost her usual lucidity. Could that have been ...?
"Under load," murmured Nagato in a near-whisper, her eyes dropping vaguely to the bed.
Had her body always been so small? She'd only been absent a day, and yet she seemed awfully thin and insubstantial now.
Then a sudden revelation struck me.
"When did this start?" I thought back on the events of the previous day. "When did the fever that forced you into bed begin?"
That was the day of our first citywide mysterious phenomenon patrol. There certainly hadn't been anything wrong with Nagato then.
Surely this hadn't started right when I'd gotten that phone call from Sasaki in the bath.
"..." Nagato didn't answer, her vague, unfocused gaze falling on my chest.
Now that I thought about it, it was strange. Yesterday, Sunday. At Sasaki's behest I'd gone out and met Kyoko Tachibana, Kuyoh Suoh, and Fujiwara, but there'd been a surprising intruder.
Emiri Kimidori. She was a year above us, and was another of the Data Overmind's interfaces, along with Nagato and Asakura. The organic humanoid had hidden in either Nagato's or the student council president's shadow thus far. But the idea that she had a part-time job at that café and just happened to be there the same day as the rest of us was absurd. Kimidori was observing Kuyoh, I was positive. But why? Maybe to make sure that Kuyoh didn't pull any crafty alien tricks on me. But usually that was Nagato's job. And Nagato hadn't been there.
A wave of anger hit me, and I wanted to put a cross-counterpunch through my own temple.
How stupid could I be? I should've known—should've noticed.
Kimidori had come because Nagato wasn't able to. Nagato's backup, Ryoko Asakura, was out of the picture. Kimidori, despite being from a different faction, was the only other one nearby. Hence her presence at the café, where she was disguised as a waitress, neither too close to us nor too far away.
Nagato's eyes were duller than they'd ever been. Their shine was like that of an ancient coin dug up from the ground, seeming to lack any liveliness. They had lost their former sharpened-pencil gleam.
Without any air-conditioning, the bedroom stayed at a mild room temperature—yet I felt a chill run across my skin. It wasn't physical, instead emphasizing the cold worry in my mind.
"How can I make you better?"
This was something that neither over-the-counter medicine nor Haruhi's home cooking could cure. It was an alien pathogen. The only one who could come up with a vaccine or a drug to treat it was Nagato, and Yuki Nagato was the one lying here incapacitated.
"..." Her pale lips were closed for ten seconds, after which Nagato finally moved them. "I cannot recover from my current state of my own will. The Data Overmind will determine it."
Her dimwitted boss, eh? He ought to try showing his face in front of me, I said. We'd have a nice, frank chat.
"Impossible. The Data Overmind ..." Nagato's eyes drooped another couple of millimeters. "... cannot communicate directly with organic beings ... that is why it made me."
Her head fell drowsily back onto the pillow.
"I am fine."
I checked again. This was no ordinary fever. Whatever it was that was afflicting Nagato, it was something that not even a dream team of the world's greatest doctors could solve.
It was an information attack from the cosmic horror known as the Heavenly Canopy Dominion. They were shutting down her incredible powers by placing this heavy load on her.
"Could we fix this if we talked to Kuyoh?"
I couldn't think of anything else. Just as Nagato was a representative of the Data Overmind, Kuyoh was an agent of the Heavenly Canopy Dominion. While it might not be as easy as it was with Nagato, communication with Kuyoh was possible—I'd learned that much from Sasaki and Kyoko Tachibana. She could speak Japanese, even if it was at a very low level. Which meant she ought to be able to understand the words I would say.
"Words ..." Nagato spoke in a thin voice, barely above a sigh. "Words are difficult. I am not currently able to conduct discourse with another organic interface. My verbal communication facility is insufficient."
I'd known that much from the beginning. But her silent nature was an important part of who she was—both for me and for Haruhi, I said.
"I ..." she began, her expressionless face transparently biting back the frustration she felt. "If as an individual I had been given social capabilities ..."
Her pale expression was infinitesimally close to blank.
"The possibility of my gaining tools like Ryoko Asakura's was not zero. I was not made that way. I cannot change my predefined index. Until I cease functioning, I will be ... as ... I am."
Nagato's eyes were closed about three millimeters as they gazed up at the featureless ceiling.
I was out of words to offer.
How would things have been if Nagato's and Asakura's positions had been switched? If the silent, unapproachable, book-loving one had been the class representative, while the smiling, sociable busybody had been the sole literature club member?
It was an obvious mismatch—honestly, I couldn't even imagine it. I hadn't been stabbed by Nagato, then gone on to be saved by Asakura. There was no doubt in my mind that I was glad for the way things were, with Asakura there and Nagato here. Sorry, Asakura. I hope you never come back from Canada or wherever. Nagato's enough for me. The trio of Nagato, Haruhi, and Asahina is more than enough to fill my cup to overflowing.
"Nagato, please, tell me"—I leaned forward, coming closer to her mussed bangs—"What should I do? How can I get you back to normal?"
No answer was forthcoming.
Nagato took her time and fixed me in her gaze, and the reply she finally gave me was very short indeed.
"Nothing? You can't—" I said, leaning forward.
"Hey, Kyon! What're you doing with Yuki?!" Haruhi's eyes were isosceles triangles of rage as she stood there, rice paddle in hand and apron tied on over her school uniform. "Get in here and help me! Koizumi's already gone out shopping, so you could at least try to make yourself useful. Honestly, you're the one who should be working hardest—menial physical labor is your responsibility, after all! Set out the plates, wash the chopsticks, and that's just for starters. Now c'mon!"
I found myself being hauled by my neck and plunked down in the kitchen like a sandbag placed to protect against flooding.
Which was fine. I'd help with anything. If it would help Nagato recover, I'd make any dish. That's right, here and now, if there was any possibility it could help. Whatever revitalizing dish Haruhi made would probably be enough to make even an extraterrestrial life-form turn green and sprint out of the house barefoot. The nastier, the better.
But while I might be driven to tears of gratitude by Haruhi's cooking, my tongue had never rejected it. I will be frank. With all apologies to the mother who raised me, Haruhi's meals were better.
Excerpted from The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa. Copyright © 2013 Nagaru Tanigawa. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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