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Universe Roulette - Chapter 8

Title: Universe Roulette


Summary: Kyon wakes up one day, and the world is just a tiny bit different.  Koizumi, annoyingly, continues to remain the same.

Rating: PG. 

Author’s Note: Why are there Christmas decorations everywhere already?  Whyyyyy?


Universe Roulette

Chapter 8

Kyon stood at the bottom of the hill with a sense of trepidation.
He’d awoken that morning to discover that his old school uniform was hanging in his closet once again. This should have been a pleasant sort of surprise, but instead it just made his insides twist into an uncomfortable knot. 
The high school freshman had sworn aloud. Screw it; four days still hadn’t been enough. Immediate action was required. He had to find Nagato now, and get her started on the problem straight away.
What had it been this time? The uniform switched back – did her royal highness change her mind about it? It made sense. The damn thing hadn’t been even remotely comfortable - although the girl’s outfits hadn’t undergone that radical a change so it probably hadn’t been as bad for them. Either way, Haruhi didn’t have patience for such mundane matters, so her changing the universe because of the uniform was not a totally ridiculous idea. After all, if changing the universe was as easy as it appeared to be, why not?
What didn’t make sense was that the hill was back.
Over the past fortnight Kyon had become somewhat used to walking up a gentle slope instead of the steep, hellish climb that used to dominate his mornings. So its return left him somewhat conflicted.
On one hand, it meant that he had to contend with an unpleasant walk to school first thing in what was already promising to be a bad morning.
On the other hand, a tiny spark of hope flared inside him that if the hill was back, and the uniform was back, that maybe, just maybe, his original universe had been restored.
It was that thought which brought him to his classroom before searching out Nagato. If things were back to normal there was no need to panic, and he could just pretend that it had all merely been an incredibly realistic dream. Right at that moment, the notion even seemed rather plausible. With all the universe switching he would at times come to question his own sanity, so was open to the idea that it had all been some sort of incredibly detailed deranged fantasy.
That hope persevered valiantly through the traditional morning chat with Haruhi about a number of eclectic topics. Nothing had been amiss there. Things were looking good still when Okabe marched into the classroom. 
It was to be short-lived. The flight of fancy was abruptly killed when attendance was taken, and the sweet taste of optimism turned salty in his mouth as Kunikida and Taniguchi remained conspicuously absent from the list.
Still not his original universe then. It was naïve to even consider the possibility that it had all been a construct of his imagination. That would have been far too easy, and whenever Haruhi was involved nothing was ever easy.
It took considerable strength of will to sit through class instead of bolting from his seat and tracking down Nagato immediately – or heck, even Asakura. His concentration was shot for most of the morning, so he might as well not have been there anyway. It was rather hard to focus when every second wasted might be the second that proved to be the difference in solving this switching universe problem and having to start from scratch over and over again. There was no pattern to how long Haruhi kept each universe, or dimension, or whatever you wanted to call it, other than the fact that none had yet persisted for an entire week, and that the changes seemed to happen overnight. Apparently it would take more than four days for Nagato’s people to find a solution, though, which meant that every hour could very well make the difference.
As soon as the lunch bell rang he all but ran from the classroom, earning curious looks from Haruhi and several classmates, which he paid no mind. It stood to reason – he’d possessed no friends save for the Brigade members in the previous couple of universes, so ostensibly rarely had anywhere to go. It was irrelevant. There was no real point in pretending to be someone he wasn’t – beyond acting normal enough to avoid excess attention or accusations of craziness.
He slowed his pace some once he was away from the classroom, reasoning that it would take Nagato some time to get to the computer society’s clubroom herself. Thoughts of his own lunch didn’t even cross his mind. Talking with Nagato was most important.
How to best explain it? It needed to be fast. With repeated practice, he had more or less figured out the critical path to soliciting Nagato’s assistance – what had it been last time?
There it was – the computer society’s clubroom. He firmly knocked twice on the door, then swung it open.  
To his shock, the room was in already in use.
The blonde computer society’s president’s head immediately swivelled towards the door. A frown appeared on the junior’s face, followed quickly by a suspicious scowl. “What do you want?”
It was not the person he’d been expecting to see, and a quick glance around informed him that Nagato was not reading in any of the corners like he’d hoped. Maybe she was back in the Brigade this time? Just to be sure, he asked, “I’m looking for Nagato. Thought she might be here. Have you seen her?”
The scowl shifted into an expression of puzzlement. “Nagato?”
“Nagato Yuki. You know, quiet girl. About so tall, wears glasses, short hair…”
“I have no idea who you’re talking about. What on earth makes you think this person would be here?”
It was as though the world stopped spinning on its axis for a moment.
“She’s not here?” he repeated dumbly.
Obviously deciding that the freshman wasn’t there on Brigade business, the computer society president started to show some concern. “Like I said, I have no idea who you’re talking about. Are you okay? You’re looking a little pale.”
“I’m fine,” he said levelly. “Sorry for the trouble.” With a sense of dread, he closed the door and moved next door to the Brigade’s clubroom.
It was empty.
With a vague sense of disbelief, Kyon started to wander the school, dread growing as he checked every classroom, stopped and asked multiple classmates, and even looked in the library. Soon, however, he was forced to admit the horrifying truth.
Nagato was gone.
Haruhi had made a new universe without Asahina, Kunikida, Taniguchi, and now Nagato. Why? For what purpose? Now his best hope for stopping this crazy merry-go-round no longer existed. Maybe that was why? Did the Data Thought Integration Entity discover a solution, and Haruhi reset the world before it could be put into effect? That was a troubling development if true.
Right, panicking would do no good. A new plan was necessary. Precious hours had already been wasted looking for Nagato, and now he was going to waste several more sitting through afternoon classes and club. Club he would have skipped, if not for the developing paranoia that deviating too much from routine might prompt an even faster universe change from Haruhi than normal.
He needed to speak with someone else – Asahina had vanished, Nagato was either gone completely, or at least a place where he couldn’t track her down, and when faced with the prospect he still didn’t feel altogether comfortable with the thought of talking to Asakura alone. New universes or not, he wasn’t going to take chances. 
That left Koizumi. Even if carrying an understandable and productive conversation with the esper was like wringing blood from a stone, the other boy had at least believed him without much question each time. He could only hope that understanding was present in this universe too. 
Thus, even if there were doubts about the effectiveness of the esper’s mysterious Agency, Kyon quietly asked him in club that afternoon to stay and talk to him after. The esper just smiled and nodded amiably.
They were back to doing a music video again, apparently. Kyon automatically did whatever he was told in his role as chore boy. At least he got to hear a finished version of the song this time. It was actually pretty catchy, and there was a chance the music video might not be quite as horrible as the movie had been. Haruhi really did have more talents than any one person had any right to have.
The afternoon passed quickly. Koizumi met up with him at the tables under the trees on the east side of the school – it was clearly one of the esper’s favourite spots for quiet discussions. 
There was no time to waste – an entire day had been squandered already. “Haruhi’s been changing the universe,” he blurted. Wait. That hadn’t been what he’d intended to say at all. What happened to the critical path?
An awkward smile was his only response. “Come again?”
Deep breath. If divine giants hadn’t managed to completely freak him out – though in all honesty, they had, he simply possessed enough self-control to contain the instinctively hysterical response – keeping calm in this situation should be a cinch. Nothing was trying to kill him, after all. Just drastically alter the existence of everything around him. “Sorry. There’s no easy way to explain it. You wouldn’t be aware of it, but Haruhi’s been remaking the universe. She’s been through about four or five of them now. Just small changes, usually. Apparently I’m immune – your Agency had some theory why, can’t say I fully understood it. But I need help to get things back to the way they were, and it seems you’re my last hope.”
“So I’m Obi-Wan Kenobi now, am I?” the esper quipped lightly. 
Kyon threw him an irritated glare. “This is serious, you know.”
The transfer student immediately grew serious. “It sounds it. Before I ask for proof of anything though – do you know why?”
Scratching the back of his head, the high schooler admitted, “You’ve asked me if I’d figured out why Haruhi kept changing the universes before, but honestly, I still haven’t figured it out.”
The esper folded his hands in his lap demurely. “Well, that proves it then.”
“You already knew what my question referred to without having to ask for context. Proof that you’re telling the truth.”
“Hey, didn’t you just say a second ago that you weren’t going to ask for proof yet?”
Koizumi quirked a finger at him and smiled. “Well, it wouldn’t have been reliable if you’d been thinking about it, would it?”
Slumping in his seat, Kyon merely grumbled, “You’re like a sneaky old man, you know that?”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Running a hand through his hair, Kyon admitted, “That aside… I’m still surprised you keep taking this so well.”
The esper frowned thoughtfully.  "Well, the conversation does feel familiar. Though I suppose that is to be expected if you’ve had it multiple times before. Just rehashing familiar territory for you, right?” The last part was tacked on with a smile.
Smug bastard. “…Yeah. But hey, you know, maybe if you could hurry and go to talk to your Agency friends or whatever it is you do…”
Taking the hint, the esper stood. “Right. You mentioned that we might not have a lot of time. I’ll take it to the higher ups immediately, and will keep you posted.”
Despite his utter lack of faith in that mysterious ‘Agency’ – they seemed to be good at fighting divine giants but not much else – Kyon felt a little better after effectively handing the problem over to someone else. It was hard enough to avoid tripping up and looking crazy without the added weight of solving such a brain-bending problem distracting him. Brainstorming outlandish fantastical ideas wasn’t his forte.
Sleep that night came a little easier, though he was still mentally tossing up whether he felt brave enough to talk to Asakura alone about the issue. Maybe Koizumi would be willing to come along. If the blue-haired girl had any crazy ideas of closing them off into some different data jurisdiction, it ought to be similar enough to closed space that the esper would have some of his powers, right? That was the deal with the cave cricket incident, anyway. Hmm, on second thoughts, that could be a bit of a gamble.
In school the next day, they were working on units that hadn’t been covered in any of the universes previously, so Kyon struggled through classes, brutally cramming everything he could into his head and attempting to speed read through a textbook during a lonely lunch hour spent holed up in the Brigade clubroom. It made for a pretty miserable day – even pre-class banter with Haruhi was considerably soured by the whole affair. It was thus a relief when classes ended for the day and he headed for the clubroom as was habit.
Despite the fact that the damn brigade was essentially the home of the source of his anguish, it was also the only source of his comfort.  In each of the universes so far, Koizumi had believed him, and while the esper hadn't been able to do much about it, he'd at least provided a sympathetic ear.  And it seemed almost as though Koizumi was starting to remember their original world, or at least something of the previous few successions if his reports of deja vu were anything to go by. 
That might have just been blind optimism, but if anyone other than him could sense something wrong it meant there was a higher probability of him not being completely crazy.
A small shake of the head from the esper when he entered the room dashed his hopes of any progress with his problem, but in all honesty, Kyon wasn’t expecting results for another couple of days yet. They settled down to play cards, with Asakura and Tsuruya inviting themselves into the game until Haruhi made her late and predictably flashy entrance. 
The next day passed in almost exactly the same fashion. As did the next. At his questioning glance, Koizumi just shook his head slightly each time, whispering an apology and a brief report to him later. Apparently the higher ups at the Agency were spending more time arguing about whether they should do anything instead of speculating over how to. 
The weekend came and went, and still the universe remained the same.
Kyon wasn’t sure whether this should make him incredibly anxious or relieved. On one hand, this gave them valuable time for making some inroads into solving the issue. On the other, it could also mean that the time remaining before Haruhi became bored and mixed things up again was inevitably near. There was also the possibility that she’d finally settled on this universe for good. Maybe Haruhi had calmed down? He sure hoped so. It would give him more of a chance to find a way to reverse things, or failing that, at least adjust to his new life.
Though while the stability might be nice, Kyon wasn’t exactly sure how he felt about that. Even after several days, he still hadn’t become used to this version of reality, and indeed would have felt like a stranger in his own school if it weren’t for Koizumi’s persistent cheerful presence.
Things continued in a rather dull routine – until halfway through lunch on Wednesday, when Koizumi came to find him in the clubroom.
“Ah, I thought you’d be here.”
“Using your psychic powers for evil?”
“One doesn’t need psychic powers to predict that. You’re always here. It would be weird if you weren’t.”
Grand. Just as he’d suspected. “Huh. I guess I’ve become just like Nagato after all.”
“Nagato? Oh, you mean the girl from the original universe that Asakura replaced?”
“Yeah. She was practically part of the furniture in here.” Talking about the quiet alien girl in past tense like that was sort of depressing. Surprisingly, he was missing her even more than Asahina at the moment. Though that might have just been because Tsuruya was a far more agreeable replacement than Asakura. “…Any luck?”
“By now we’ve established that we’re unlikely to be able do anything about it ourselves. Naturally, the solution lies with Suzumiya. That’s where the problems come in. I’m sorry it’s taken this long to even reach this point.”
He waved the apology off. “At least there’s some progress. So, how do we make Haruhi stop this crazy roller coaster? We can’t just walk up to her and say, ‘oh, by the way, please stop remaking the world and bring all these people you don’t remember back’, can we?” It was becoming tempting. If nothing else, it would make him feel better.
“We have to find a subtle way to convince her to act in that fashion. The higher-ups are thinking that the most effective means of doing this is trying to divine what caused the change in the first place. If nothing else, filling these requirements should stabilise matters some, and with a bit of manipulation it should be possible to entice Suzumiya to return things to a more normal state. Though, I suppose we wouldn’t want things to become too normal, lest she become bored.” This last statement was punctuated with a cheery smile. Kyon desperately wanted to punch it.
“Right… what changed it, huh?” Maybe it was time to come clean about his brief flirtation with Asahina. But he’d flirted with Asahina far worse before, and Haruhi hadn’t come as far as actually remaking the world, despite that one time that came pretty close. Their ultra-chief had barely batted an eye, in fact. Idly, Kyon noted the time. Lunch was almost over. “Hmmm.”
“You can think it over some more if you want, and tell me after club this afternoon,” the esper suggested.
“Yeah - oh, not today, though. I can’t stick around for club. But we probably shouldn’t leave it-” Haruhi would probably change the universe then, just his luck.
“Going somewhere?”
“Sister’s birthday.”
“Ah, of course. Well, in that case, there’s no reason why it can’t be discussed over the phone. You still have my number, right?”
Kyon nodded his assent. “I’ll call this evening.” It was bound to be an unpleasant conversation, but it would be easier over the phone. He wouldn’t keep getting the urge to wipe that fake grin off the esper’s face at every turn.
Most of afternoon classes were spent mulling over whether that one exchange had really been enough to instigate that whole mess. Or had it just been boredom? But then why would Haruhi keep changing the universe? 
There were dark suspicions beginning to lurk in the back of his mind, but he didn’t want to face them just yet. They were discomfiting, and he automatically wanted to reject them. But was that just… what did Koizumi always call it… cognitive dissonance? Was the notion so unpleasant to confront that he was making up excuses and taking irrational leaps of logic to avoid giving the idea a chance?
It was a relief when the bell rang, signalling the end of classes for the day. Haruhi haphazardly packed up her books, nattering away at him. “…And then the last shot will be the big finale! It’ll look fantastic! Everyone is going to be jealous and want to join up! So get to the clubroom straight away so we can start!”
“I can’t today. I’ve got another commitment.”
“What?! The Brigade should be your top priority!”
“It’s my family! I can’t exactly just drop it!”
“We need you here!” Haruhi complained. “Tsuruya, Asakura and I all have to be on stage, Koizumi needs to hold the lights, and you need to operate the camera! We can’t spare any hands!”
“I’m sorry. It’s my sister’s birthday party. We can do it tomorrow,” he offered. “Or I could ask Tani-” Oh, that was right. He didn’t have friends to ask to help out anymore. “Just drag in any old person walking by to do it. That’s what you normally do anyway,” he pointed out as he headed for the door.
Haruhi scowled, then yelled, “Fine! You’ll see! We’ll recruit more club members, and then we won’t need you anyway!”
Rolling his eyes, Kyon made an apologetic gesture and hurried from the classroom. Out in the hallway, he stuck his hands in his pockets and skulked away. Honestly, he’d probably rather be at club activities than his sister’s birthday party, but she’d made him promise, and his parents would likely lecture him if he didn’t turn up. 
“Kyooooonnnn!” came the excited squeal as he arrived home.
“Hey,” he greeted with a smile, ruffling her hair. She could be annoying, but sometimes she was just adorable. “Happy birthday!”
“Thanks for coming!” she bubbled, grabbing onto his waist with an enthusiastic hug before running back towards the kitchen. “Mum, Mum! Kyon’s home! Can we have the cake now?!”
Shaking his head, he cast a glance outside. Rain clouds looked to be gathering, casting the world into that distasteful monochrome gloominess. Idly, he wondered if Haruhi had wished them up, just to have moody lighting for her music video.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 2nd, 2008 12:53 pm (UTC)
Heh, the first Christmas stuff did turn up in September here as well, but it only went completely nuts in the past couple of weeks. Gosh, full on since September, though? I bet shopclerks must go crazy. Mental-institution sort of crazy.

...I actually miss writing Yuki when she's gone. .___.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )