Suzumiya Haruhi:Volume8 Wandering Shadow

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The volleyball went down hard on the floor, making a surprisingly melodic 'Thud~' before it bounced back up. A loud round of cheers then rang throughout the gym and, as if mimicking the volleyball, bounced off the walls and ceilings and gathered around me.

I was wearing slightly dirty gym clothes, sitting with my hands behind my back and my feet stretched forward. If you were to ask me why was I in such a relaxed pose, the answer is simple. I was merely a spectator, watching the volleyball match before me. And why was I doing this, you ask? Also simple, it's because I had nothing better to do. Since the school does not permit students leaving with an 'I have nothing better to do' excuse, my only option had been to head down here and watch other students play volleyball.

I was sitting in a walkway, complete with handrails, instead of the bleachers, secretly suspecting that it was built for people like me who didn't want to be in the middle of such an atmosphere. I wasn't the only one who had dragged his lazy body all the way to this walkway to get away from the crowd though. It seems that there were other people besides me with too much time on their hands.

Sitting beside me is my good friend, Taniguchi.

"The girls in our class sure are athletic."

From the tone of his voice, it seemed that he wasn't in awe, but kind of disappointed instead.


I uttered this half-hearted response while continuing to watch the ball fly around the court. The opponent began her serve, and the ball traveled in an arc, before being projected upwards by the other side's setter.

From behind the 3-meter line, a girl clad in gym clothes ran forward, then leapt high into the air. At the apex of her jump, the hitter raised her right arm, and viciously spiked the ball downwards. The angle was perfect, as the ball flew steeply down and landed in the corner of the opponents' court. A member from the volleyball club, who was acting as a stand-in referee, blew his whistle. A perfect back attack indeed.

Once again, cheers rang throughout the gym.

What a powerful spike. That girl must have been really bored up till now.

"Hey, Kyon, let's make a bet, which side do you think will win?"

Even though Taniguchi was the one making the suggestion, he didn't seem enthusiastic at all. It's a good idea, but the odds are highly stacked against the opposition.

Before Taniguchi could say anything further, I said:

"Class 1-5 will win. I'm sure of it."

Upon hearing this, Taniguchi immediately shut his mouth, frowning.

"Isn't that obvious? She's in our class, you know."

After returning to earth, the aforementioned hitter turned around, revealing a bright smile full of self-confidence. She wasn't looking at me though, and even if she had been, her smile was different from the one she usually revealed in the club room. This seemed like more of a, "that was easy, too easy!" kind of smile that she was showing her teammates, who had come running over to congratulate her.

Our class had already reached 15 points. It was a landslide victory.

Just like we predicted, Class 1-5's Girls Team (A) had managed to sweep through the opposition, and their major scorer, their trump card, was currently buried among her teammates, gently beating her fists upon their open palms.

As she left the court, she suddenly caught sight of the three of us squeezed inside the corridor by the wall. Her footsteps slowed down, as her gaze traveled towards me. I instantly shifted my gaze elsewhere.

She was a super utility player, one who had managed to do anything perfectly. Once she tasted victory, she would only long for more, and that included scoring all the points in this current match.

Ah, there's no need to try to sound mysterious anymore. This girl, who was currently sitting on the substitute bench drinking the beverages the team had brought, was, without a doubt, Suzumiya Haruhi.

It was now March, and the end of term exams had just ended. Many schools were already making holiday preparations, and that of course included North High. Now normally this would be the time to quietly wait for the school holidays, but apparently someone had suggested "Don't we have better things to do instead of waiting for time to pass?" As a result, various intramural sports had been planned, and incorporated into the school's holiday preparations.

Maybe it was done out of the school's concern for letting students have a break after the end of term exams, but if you ask me, I'd pick longer holidays over intramural sports activities anytime.

In case you're wondering, this year's intramural sports event was soccer for the guys and volleyball for the girls. I was originally in my class's Boys Team (B), but we had been eliminated by Class 1-9 in one of the knockout rounds. I had found myself disliking them even more now, and having Koizumi in that class doesn't help either. Class 1-9 was a class for those interested in the Science and Mathematics Field, so it was naturally comprised of sharp-witted know-it-alls who did nothing but study. It would be downright humiliating to lose to them in soccer, all right.

Which is why Taniguchi and I, as well the rest of Class 1-5's boys population were feeling so bad right now.

Having nothing better to do, all of us came down to the gym to support the Girls Team instead.

"Suzumiya-san's really something, isn't she?"

Haruhi was enjoying a game of volleyball with her fellow classmates on the volleyball court.
Haruhi was enjoying a game of volleyball with her fellow classmates on the volleyball court.

The soft-spoken Kunikida, who was also sitting beside me, said. Thanks to Haruhi's hyper-activeness, Girls Team (A) had managed to advance up the ladder and into their 3rd match, while the Boys Team were scrapped and turned into spectators in their second match.

"Why isn't she in some sports club? Not everyone has such talent like her."

I agree completely with him. If Haruhi had joined the athletics (track and field) club, she would have been able to compete in the nationals right now. The same goes with any kind of sport. She would probably be one of the top athletes after rigorous training. After all, I haven't seen anyone who likes the words "First Place" and "Victory" as much as her.

As I continued to watch another match that was taking place beside the first court, I gave Kunikida my reply.

"That girl has much more important things to do than wasting her youth on things like sports."

Suddenly, I wondered if by any chance Asahina-san or Nagato would be in the gym cheering her along too. Unfortunately, they were nowhere to be seen.

"The SOS Brigade, eh."

Kunikida said through one of his smiles.

"Yea, that seems just like Suzumiya-san. She's never wanted to be an ordinary student ever since she began high school. It's fitting that she'd want to play some weird games with someone like you, Kyon."

I didn't even have the strength to reply.

No matter how you viewed it, my first year was fast drawing to an end. Since there would be no activities after the intramural sports, class time had been shortened. After that would be spring holiday, and when the cherry-blossoms start to bloom, I would be in my second year already. One thing many worried about was which class would they be sorted into, because it could very well determine how well their future school days would go. I had no bad feelings towards Kunikida or that idiot Taniguchi, so even if I had to be in the same class as them for another year, I definitely wouldn't mind.

As I was deep in my thoughts, Kunikida suddenly arched forward, drawing my attention.

"The next match is about to start, I think."

As I peered downward, I saw Haruhi walking forward like the Team Captain, with her other teammates surrounding her.

Spring would arrive soon, but since this school was situated on top of a mountain, it was still quite cold. Or maybe that was just me, due to receiving my end of term exam results just days ago.

I was pretty pleased myself with those results, but unfortunately it seemed that my mum wasn't. She didn't say it out loud, but from the way she brought home various flyers about tuition centers and cram schools, I could pretty much take a hint. Just the sight of them had made me feel weak in the stomach. My mum had suggested I enter a university, be it a local one or a private one. Okabe-sensei had written the same things on my report card. But give me a break man, it's just too demanding.

Haruhi had spoken to me about the same issue as well. Come to think of it, the only reason my marks weren't hovering dangerously above the dreaded "Pass" line was all thanks to Haruhi. She had specifically become my private tutor, giving me some last-minute "Studying tips" in the club room after school. A few days before the exams, she had slammed an entire stack of reference books and self-made notes on my desk and said:

"I won't let you fail and sit for miserable tuition classes and re-examinations during the holidays! I won't let something so trivial come between you and the SOS Brigade's activities!"

Once she started rambling about Brigade Activities, that girl would hear nothing from anyone else. I had originally wanted to ask her what was my hourly pay for contributing to Brigade Activities, but held back after rationalizing that my entire wallet might be confiscated at the mention of that sentence.

Compared to spending the last few days of school being cooped up in a packed class room being forced by teachers to study, I'd rather sit in the club room and enjoy Asahina-san's tea while playing board games with Koizumi. That was the sole reason why I had asked Haruhi, who had an armband bearing the words "Supreme Instructor" now, to help me with my homework.

Haruhi's method of study was simple, and that was via intuition. She would memorize any questions or topics she deemed important, and likely to appear on the sheet of my question papers. I had a feeling that Haruhi's intuition would be very accurate, so I listened carefully to her while nodding my head, Of course, if I were to ask Nagato, she would probably recite out the entire question paper for me, complete with the model answers. If I were to ask Koizumi instead, he might use some weird powers to magically whisk the question papers over from the staff room to the club room. Since I possessed no form of ESP, the only thing I could do was study hard.

It would have been better if I could just sit back and do nothing but watch a happy Haruhi, who had specially prepared a teacher's cane and a pair of spectacles to look more like a "Supreme Instructor", waltz around the club room, but I knew that it was impossible. It was for my own good, after all.

I was pretty sure Haruhi wanted to sit behind me again during the next semester, and every so often poke my back with her mechanical pencil and say, "Hey, Kyon, why don't we..." before proceeding to spout out some nonsensical idea that gave no consideration whatsoever to how others or I felt. In order to accomplish that, she had to be in the same class as me next semester, and that would mean having me pass the exams and not get retained for another year. Hence it was only natural that she monitored my grades. Why would she go all the way to do that, you ask? Well that's because she's the multi-talented, SOS Brigade commander after all. It's just like how a commanding officer cannot win a war without soldiers, and how soldiers would be disorganized on the battlefield without a reigning commander. Haruhi would be the commanding officer in question here, giving out various orders, while I would be her loyal soldier, faithfully executing each and every one of them.

That's basically how things went last semester, and I strongly believe that next semester will be the same too. I have a hunch that's also what Haruhi has in mind, and in order to accomplish her goal, she would use any methods, including those out of the bounds of logic. Heck, I might even have to spend my entire life repeating my first year, Groundhog Day style.

I really hoped that nothing like what happened last August would happen again. I'm pretty sure Haruhi doesn't either. At least, that is what I believe.

Why? Do you even need to ask? It's because the creation of the SOS Brigade has given Haruhi many happy and memorable moments, and she wouldn't want those happy memories to go to waste. This I can definitely confirm.

I mean, just look at Haruhi's current state.

I once again looked at the match before me.

Haruhi was leading the volleyball team to victory.

She was attacking savagely, spiking at every chance. And before you ask, let me clarify that I wasn't peeping at her belly that occasionally showed whenever she made a high jump. I was looking at the expression on her face.

When I first met her during the month of April a year ago, she was an individual who completely distanced herself from the class. During that time, all she had was a scowl on her face as she sat behind me, never smiling, not even once. Upon seeing this, I began chatting with her in order to liven up the atmosphere. Even though she would occasionally reply to my questions, she still kept a sizable distance from her fellow female classmates. Well, not any more now. Even though she didn't have a bunch of really good friends in our class, she had nevertheless warmed up to our classmates, instead of rejecting them like she had before.

It must have been the SOS Brigade's influence. Before she became the eccentric person she was during high school, I believe that she used to be an active, cheerful and playful person. I don't think the SOS Brigade changed Haruhi. Rather, I think it reverted her back to her original self, reawakening her cheerful personality that was covered after she entered junior high.

I don't think I've ever known Haruhi before junior high, seeing that we've never met before. I think I heard something about Haruhi from one of my friends who happened to study in the same junior high school as she did, but I can't really remember.

In the gym, Haruhi was enjoying a game of volleyball with her fellow classmates on the volleyball court. For some reason, I felt as if she was holding herself back. Was that bright, million-watt smile she usually revealed during punishment-games reserved for us brigade members only? It's a shame then, Haruhi. I'm sure everyone would like to see it.

Having successfully performed yet another backcourt attack, Haruhi slammed her fist into one of her teammate's wide opened palms.

The volleyball game then ended, and as so today's school activities came to a close.

Students who had club activities proceeded to head to their respective club rooms, while the others headed home. Being SOS Brigade members, Haruhi and I proceeded to walk to the all too familiar literature club room, with Haruhi looking even more pleased than usual.

There was no doubt Haruhi was pleased after winning the volleyball match, but that was not all. The reason Haruhi looked even more pleased than usual was because she had successfully thwarted the student council's plot in overthrowing the SOS Brigade. Having defeated the student council's president, there was probably nothing that troubled Haruhi anymore, save the promotion to being second year seniors.

Since Koizumi said that anything Haruhi wished for would become true, Nagato, Koizumi and I had come to the conclusion that there was a very big possibility Haruhi wished for all of us to be in the same class. Even though Koizumi was in "Bookworm" class, defying logic was the least of Haruhi's powers. After all, there have been even more logic-defying instances of Haruhi's powers, like for instance Asahina-san shooting laser beams out of her eyes. The main catch was Haruhi didn't know she had such powers. If she did, it would probably be the undoing of the SOS Brigade.

That wasn't the only thing Haruhi didn't know. Haruhi had no idea Nagato had the ability to manipulate data, or that Koizumi could possibly achieve anything with the 'Organization' on his side.

I'm a very positive guy. Even though I would be entering my second year of high school soon, I would still want to sit in front of Haruhi. And I dare say that if the SOS Brigade was disbanded, I would be very sad, as sad as I was when I found out during December that Haruhi had disappeared.

But come to think of it, if the SOS Brigade was really disbanded, that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, and I don't think I'll come to mind so much. Because if the SOS Brigade was really disbanded, it would mean that Haruhi's powers had finally calmed down, and just like Koizumi said, that was not a bad thing either. I wonder if this is what they mean by triple-crossing.

It's just --- If that really happened, I think I'll be pretty lonely.

"What's the matter?"

Maybe it's because I had the words "Depressed" plastered all over my face, as the energetic Haruhi looked at me and said:

"You certainly are acting strange today. For a moment you look silly, and all of a sudden you look serious. What's up, face muscle cramps? Or is it due to depression since losing the soccer match? To be honest, you guys are really pathetic."

Well it's not completely my fault. The teams were decided by drawing lots, and all of the athletic guys were selected to join Team A. I had to play the role of Defender for Team B, along with Taniguchi and Kunikida. We had managed to stop the striker by clinging on to him as if our lives depended on it, but I never expected him to pass the ball to Koizumi, who then kicked the ball into the goal. But what a pity. Class 1-9 lost to class 1-6 in the semi-finals. Although this was nothing to be surprised at, I had a feeling that leaving things half-accomplished wasn't Koizumi's style. Perhaps he had lost on purpose?

"What are you mumbling about?"

Haruhi said as she suddenly laughed.

"But since it's Koizumi-kun we're talking about, I can't say that it's totally impossible. Maybe they just wanted to prove you wrong. The only thing you and Taniguchi perceive them as are a bunch of useless book-worms right? In the end you failed to stop them miserably and in the process made fools out of yourselves. What a bunch of morons. Although they are some pretty cocky students in Class 1-9, I don't think that they're that bad as a whole."

As I was recalling the match, I found myself before the club room door, having arrived here before I even knew it. Haruhi wrenched open the door and proudly strode inside. Don't you have any manners at all? And what happened to "knock before you enter"?

"Mikuru-chan~ How did your matches go? Is there any cold tea? I've been playing volleyball ever since this morning, and my throat feels dry, probably due to lack of water."

All the brigade members had already assembled in the club room. Nagato and Koizumi had resumed their usual seats, and Asahina-san had once again donned the maid costume as she stood by the door, holding a tea tray in her hands, looking like some elegant maid. I wonder if she plans on becoming Rembrandt or Ruben's model one day?

"Erm, I'm sorry, there's no cold tea."

Asahina-san frantically apologized, as if she had done something wrong.

"I-I'll cool it down right away by putting it in the fridge... I-Is that okay?"

Now that you mention it, there was really a fridge in this club room. Even though it was only a small one, it was nevertheless enough to stuff in a few cans of carbonated drinks. But since my main purpose of visiting the club room was to savor Asahina-san's tea, the fridge was about as useless as the stove after Christmas.

"There's no need to."

Haruhi generously said.

"Even though it wouldn't take long for it to cool in the freezer, freshly brewed tea is still the best."

Asahina-san swiftly brought Haruhi and me two cups of steaming tea. It seems that her tea-brewing skills have improved yet again. Just as I was thinking whether or not to compliment on her skills, Asahina-san suddenly said:

"Hmm... Cold tea... Should I buy a water cooler next?"

Sometimes I wonder, did Asahina-san bring anything else from the future other than knowledge on tea leaves? Even though she looked like a cute little maid, she was nevertheless a time traveler from the future.

Koizumi was playing Othello all by himself.

"Why bring out this nostalgic relic now?"

I said to Koizumi as I sipped my tea. Come to think of it, this was the first board game to be brought into the club room, and I was the one who brought it.

"It's because the brigade has been around for almost a year now, has it? I was thinking maybe we should go back to where we started."

Even though Koizumi was pretty courteous on the soccer field, he had returned to his original smiling state now. Before I had the chance to answer him, he had removed all the pieces from the Othello board and returned it to its original state back on the table.

Asahina-san swiftly brought Haruhi and me two cups of steaming tea.
Asahina-san swiftly brought Haruhi and me two cups of steaming tea.

Back to where we started, eh?

Even though I haven't lived so long as to look back and reminisce on my past, there was something I've always wanted to say.

I picked up the magnetic Othello board and shot a sideways glance. A year ago, I saw a person's shadow when I entered the club room. That shadow was now sitting in a corner of the club room, quietly reading a book on foreign literature.


It was Nagato Yuki, silently reading a book in the corner. I clearly remember the one time this alien-made interface revealed any signs of emotions. It was when Asahina-san and I were playing Othello.

Now that you mention it, I don't think I've ever played Othello with Nagato before. I don't think I'd have any chances of winning, though, unless Nagato decided to lose on purpose. Now if my opponent was Koizumi, that'd be another story. Unless Koizumi was also deliberately losing to me all this time.

I had noticed that after plopping herself down on the commander's chair, Haruhi would be silent for a short period of time. First, she would turn on the computer and connect herself to the internet. That was a somewhat daily routine to her. The next thing she would do was access the SOS Brigade's miserable home page. This was the commander's duty, I suppose? Finally, she would begin surfing the Internet for all sorts of weird and unknown stuff. She would also occasionally download freeware from random sites and install them. I have no idea what's on the computer and what's not anymore. If she ran into a problem, Haruhi would simply summon up the Computer Society's President and have him fix things up immediately. Talk about using a tool to its fullest.

On this lazy winter's evening, each and every one of us brigade members felt tired after that silly intramural sports event. All I wanted to do was have my evening pass peacefully.

Playing Othello was not such a bad idea, and Asahina-san's tea was even tastier than usual. It seemed that today would pass in peace too, and soon enough we would be able to head back home.

--- If only that were the case. They say all peaceful days must come to an end some day.

Back to where it all started.

Because someone who had hoped for this happened to barge into the SOS Brigade's club room.

Yes, a client. This time, it wasn't one of our prearranged plans, and I highly doubt it's something Haruhi wished for.

After knocking on the door, our client politely entered our club room. Perhaps it was due to her politeness, I felt as if I was witnessing a sheep enter a tiger's den.

Our client then proceeded to say something that made Haruhi very excited.

"I think there are spirits wandering around my house. Could you please help me investigate the matter?"


With eyes sparkling, Haruhi repeated our client's words like a parrot learning to mimic.

"Have they appeared before?"


Our client, Sakanaka-san, said as she nodded.

"There have been plenty of rumors lately about spirits behind everything."

Sakanaka who? I've already forgotten her given name, all I remember is that she's in the same class as Haruhi and me. Sakanaka-san sat on the chair specially reserved for clients, looking anxious as she sipped Asahina-san's tea.

"It's happened just recently, about three days ago. I'm also confused about this matter..."

Sakanaka-san said as she drank her tea. She then stood up and started walking around the club room, looking very much bemused, especially when she approached Asahina-san's costume rack.

I suddenly recalled Haruhi's volleyball match. Standing beside Haruhi, the setter for Girl's Team (A), was this particular girl --- Sakanaka-san.

Truthfully speaking, I had a very vague impression of her in class. The only person of Class 1-5 who stood out the most in my memory was the class representative Asakura Ryouko, who had since transferred to Canada. Since then I have no idea who the class representative was, or if her former position was still vacant. The other people I was familiar with would be Kunikida and Taniguchi. If put in terms of the solar system, Kunikida and Taniguchi would be like what Venus is to Earth, while my other classmates, Sakanaka-san included, would probably be the planet Uranus.

Haruhi, however, was one who did not care about how distant she was from her classmates.

"Please tell me everything you know. Spirits, eh... Spirits... Say Sakanaka-san, you're sure it's spirits who are behind everything, right? If that's true, then it should be time for the SOS Brigade to act!"

From her looks, I was pretty sure she wanted to put on an armband that said "Spirit Detective" and rush straight to the scene of the crime.

"Erm... Wait... Suzumiya-san..."

Sakanaka-san said as she frantically waved her hands.

"I can't guarantee its really spirits, it's just something that resembles spirits, that's all. Or at least that's what the rumors say... Although I do find that place to be really creepy..."

When Sakanaka-san found the gazes of all five brigade members, Nagato included, focused on her, she quickly lowered her head, and said:

"Erm... Was it right for me to come here..."

"You were absolutely right, Sakanaka-san!"

Haruhi roared.

"Be it ghosts, spirits, specters, wandering souls, whatever. As long as they're supernaturally related I've got no problem with them. I can't sit still after finding out about this kind of incident!"

You've never been able to sit still in the first place.

"Kyon, I would appreciate it if you'd stop interrupting me with your silly side comments. We're talking about spirits here, spirits! Don't you want to see one? Or have you already seen one yourself?"

I've never seen one, and I sure hope I never do.

Haruhi looked like a kindergartener who had just woken up from her 30 minute nap.

"Unfortunately we can't depart now. I've still got to work out the details."

I'm sorry but I don't think there's much to work out.

Haruhi's eyes flared up brightly in excitement. I avoided her gaze as I looked at Sakanaka-san who was sitting beside me, opening her mouth as if she had something to say, but abruptly closing it all of a sudden.

Why did Sakanaka-san bring up the subject of spirits just as the term was about to end? Speaking of clients, she would probably be our second client so far, the first being Kimidori-san. After Kimidori-san had given us the trouble of locating the missing Computer Society President, I had tore down our advertising poster and tossed it into the bin. That seemed to have worked, because since then no one had bothered to visit the SOS Brigade. I doubt many even knew of an SOS Brigade anyway. Is that to say Sakanaka-san memorized the contents of the poster before I tore it down? If that was the case I felt sorry for her brain cells, for they could have been used to remember even more useful things.

To my surprise, Sakanaka-san shook her head.

"That's not it. I remembered that I had received something like a flyer for the SOS Brigade some time ago but had forgotten to throw it away on my way home. When I saw the flyer, I suddenly thought that this was the best place to come to."

Sakanaka-san said as she retrieved a piece of paper from her bag. Upon seeing the old and crumpled paper, Asahina-san backed away like a vampire seeing a cross.


That was the first ever official flyer of the SOS Brigade, which was actually printed using the school's photocopier.

It was the SOS Brigade's founding principle.

If I'm not mistaken, this is what was written on the flyer:

"We at the SOS Brigade are currently searching for any paranormal activities in this world. Those who have experienced, are experiencing, or feel that they will experience a paranormal event soon are welcome to come seek us. We will try our best to solve your problem..."

This flyer was written by Haruhi, who wished to seek out all the paranormal activities in the world, and distributed by two bunny girls by the school gates.

Oh boy. It seems that the seed Haruhi had planted a year ago had now sprouted and came back to us. And during the end of the school terms, too. Who had wanted such a thing to happen? I didn't scream out "encore". Is this what "back to where we started" meant?

I wonder if Sakanaka-san felt the uneasiness Asahina-san and I radiated, as she too grew uneasy.

"... This is the SOS Brigade, am I right? It's very famous now... From what I've heard, it was Suzumiya-san and you guys who were involved in that scary incident..." [Translator's note: The word used for scary is ambiguous. It could mean "scary incident" or "act of terrorism".]

I'm sorry, Sakanaka-san, but I'm afraid we don't have anyone talented in that field. The only ones we have are a book-loving alien, an esper who likes to deduce and a time traveler that will greatly soothe your tired eyes. We would probably be more talented in the science fiction field instead. Of course, all of this doesn't apply to good old normal me.

As I sat down quietly without uttering a word, a peculiar expression appeared on Haruhi's face.

"You see, Kyon, someone did bother to read our flyers. How can you say that it's a waste of time now? Maybe we should resort to distributing flyers again in the future."

Honestly. I think that even Haruhi had forgotten about the whole flyer incident as well.

"Well, rest assured, Sakanaka-san! Since we're classmates, I'll solve this for you free of charge!"

Truthfully speaking, Haruhi never once charged anyone who came here. After all, the greatest reward Haruhi could ever expect would to be to come in contact with some paranormal event. As long as a client came to visit our club room, Haruhi would be overjoyed. It was the same with Kimidori-san's kamadouma case as well.

"Spirits eh."

Haruhi said as a smile creased her lips.

"Our goal is to exterminate those evil spirits, but before that, I'll have to know each and every detail regarding them! Oh, and we'll be needing the camera and camcorder too."

Haruhi said to herself, getting excited over a matter all of us brigade members clearly weren't. This wasn't good. If this went on, spirits might really appear... Wait, did Sakanaka-san say spirits?

Ahaha. Those spirits might be nothing more than an optical illusion. If word got out that spirits really did exist, then all the foundations of science that man had spent years to accumulate might very well crumble.

"Erm... I think we'd better wait. I can't really guarantee that spirits really are behind this. Maybe they aren't, but I can't seem to find any other explanation for it..."

Sakanaka-san started to fumble with her words.

"Hey, Haruhi."

I interrupted. Why, you ask? It's because that idiot had already began running towards the equipment closet.

"Calm down, would you? Or at least, hear what Sakanaka-san has to say."

"You're in my way."

Haruhi said as she frustratedly sat back down on the commander's chair, crossing both her arms at the same time. She shot Sakanaka-san and me a look that suggested we should hurry up and finish what we had to say. I ignored her and glanced at Koizumi and Nagato's expressions, which I had not done since Sakanaka-san had entered the clubroom.

I shouldn't have looked.

The two of them looked indistinguishable from normal. Koizumi still wore his trademark, foxy smile, and Nagato didn't display any expression at all, just as usual.

However, they seemed to be taking interest in Sakanaka-san, and for some strange reason, I suddenly felt that the both of them had the same thoughts running in their minds.

--- Spirits? What is she talking about?

That's what I could read from the looks on their faces.

Since we're on the subject of spirits, let me first clarify that I don't believe in ghosts. I had firmly believed that those supernatural shows you'd see on television were no more than cheap entertainment, and were definitely not real.

However, all that I had previously believed in had gone out of the window ever since last year. Do you still have to ask why? It's because I've come into contact with aliens, time travelers, and even an idiotic esper. I've even gone through many paranormal events myself.

Due to this, it would come across as no surprise should spirits, demons or angels suddenly materialize before my eyes one day. But just like I've never had the chance to meet a slider, I've never had a chance to say hello to a wandering spirit either. Seeing that I've never come across any spirits before, it would be useless to worry about them. If they really decided to show themselves before me, I guess that I would have little choice then. However, I was not so desperate as to go searching for them myself. I think all of you should understand the current situation I'm stuck in now, no?

Besides, I'm not the only one stuck in this mess.

"Spirits eh... Hmm..."

Haruhi said as she rubbed her chin, appearing to be in deep thought.

"Erm, about this matter... Well..."

Asahina-san said as she looked suspiciously at our client.


Nagato was quiet, just as usual.

It was as if all of the brigade members had the same thoughts as I did, be it Nagato, Koizumi, or Asahina-san. At the mentioning of the word "spirit", all of them became dead serious all of a sudden. Haruhi was obviously the only exception. Asahina-san looked as if she had little idea of what the word spirit truly meant, as she stood there with a blank look on her face. Maybe sometime in the far future, religion will be a thing of the past. That's too bad, Asahina-san. Maybe I should teach you a thing or two about religion. Well, maybe some time in the future.

Even though I wasn't a very sociable person, at the very least, Haruhi wasn't the only person that I spoke to in Class 1-5. I would occasionally chat with Taniguchi, Kunikida and some of my other male classmates. Female classmates, though, were another story altogether. I had almost zero experience in socializing with girls. That is, to put it simply, I rarely talked to any of the girls in my class.

Even after racking every single corner of my brain, I could still not recall any incident where I had talked with Sakanaka-san. But even so, from my observations, Sakanaka-san was one of those girls who rarely talked.

"I first started suspecting the presence of spirits thanks to Rousseau."

Sakanaka-san said to an attentive Haruhi.


Haruhi frowned upon hearing the name.

"Erm... It's the name of my dog."

That's some way to name a dog.

"Every morning and evening, I would bring Rousseau for a walk along the same path. When my family first got Rousseau, we used to take many different paths, but that was no longer the case. I would now take him for a walk on a fixed route, while taking a stroll at the same time."

You can skip trivial details like that.

"I'm sorry but could you get straight to the point?"

"Kyon, be quiet." Haruhi snapped at me as she said: "Please continue, Sakanaka-san."

"Rousseau used to like the path we would take, but one day..."

Sakanaka-san's voice grew fainter as she gulped, making it sound as if she was about to dictate a horrifying ghost story.

"About a week ago, Rousseau suddenly refused to take the familiar path. Even though I pulled him along his leash, he would not budge."

Sakanaka-san demonstrated a pose that I was highly familiar with --- With both her hands clawed tightly on the desk, she resembled Shamisen refusing to get off my bed at night.

"How was it possible for me to not be shocked at his reaction? He had been fine all along, it was only after approaching that place that he started acting weird. The same thing happened the next day, and the day after that, so I had no choice but to change our usual route."

Sakanaka-san paused and drank a cup of tea.

So that's what happened. A dog, which happened to share the same name with a famous philosopher, suddenly disliked its original route. What did this have to do with spirits?

Haruhi beat me to that question.

"What about spirits?"

Haruhi asked loudly.

"Erm... That's why..."

Sakanaka-san said as she lowered her tea cup.

"That's why I said I'm not sure if it involves spirits. It's just a rumor I've heard lately."

And where did that spirit rumor originate from?

"Lots of places. Many people keep dogs as pets in my area. I would occasionally meet up with them whenever I took Rousseau for a walk and stop by for a chat. The first time I've heard the rumor was when I was talking to Minami-san, who kept two Shar Peis as pets. According to Minami-san, both of her dogs also refused to walk along that path, as if they were troubled by it."

Could it be something we humans can't sense?

"Yeah, I think so, because I certainly never felt anything when I passed by."

We're getting more and more off topic here. What about spirits?

"Well, you see..."

Sakanaka-san said, as if she was deeply troubled by the incident.

"From that day onwards, all dogs in that area refused to approach that place. Soon, it became a hot topic among dog owners, and it seemed like dogs weren't the only ones who disliked that place either. There used to be a couple of stray cats in that area, but ever since then, even they have disappeared from there.

All this while, Haruhi was listening very carefully. She would occasionally make random notes with her pencil, as if taking down important clues. But when I took a peek, all I saw were a couple of childish drawings of cats and dogs.

"There must be spirits nearby, that's why animals do not dare to approach that place. It could be a spirit that only appeared before cats and dogs, but not humans. Am I right?"

"Yes, that's the case."

Sakanaka-san said as she nodded her head.

"Oh and there's another thing that's been bothering me. I have a friend named Higuchi-san who lives in the same area. She owns a lot of dogs, and I'm friends with each and every one of them."

Sakanaka-san then used a scary tone as she said:

"This morning, I noticed that she didn't bring one of her dogs out for a walk. When I asked her, she told me that he had fallen sick last night. She didn't go into the details, but from what I heard, it seems that he was sent to a vet."

"So do you think spirits have anything to do with this? Suzumiya-san?"

"Hmm... I'd say there are, but..."

Haruhi crossed her arms, lowered her head, shut her eyes and was soon deep in thought. From the expression on her face, I could roughly guess what she was thinking. "But if that's all that's happened, then it'd be too boring. Throwing in spirits to the mix makes things seem more interesting."

"But from our current situation, I can't confirm anything yet."

Hearing Haruhi say something as down-to-earth as that definitely surprised me. But shortly after that, she said:

"However, the possibility of this case involving spirits is very high. Maybe it's some spirit only dogs or cats can see. That girl – what was her name again? Her dog must have seen the spirit and suffered from major shock. That's why it fell sick."

I couldn't say that I completely disagreed with Haruhi. I had seen Shamisen stare at an empty corner of my room for long periods before, as if looking at something I couldn't see. But apparently cats were different from dogs. Even if they really did see a spirit, they wouldn't fall ill. As a cat owner, I think I understand this very well.

As I was thinking about Shamisen, Haruhi suddenly stood up, threatening to kick the chair she was previously sitting on high into the air.

"I've basically understood the situation we're in right now."

The only thing I understand is that there's some place where dogs and cats can't enter.

"That's more than enough. Instead of staying here making pointless deductions, we should hurry to the scene. If we're lucky, we might run into something that apparently drives fear into an animal's heart. It could be a spirit, a ghost, or maybe even a monster!

A monster? Isn't that even scarier than a spirit? Just merely thinking of the various monsters that roamed Europe during the 19th century had made shivers travel up my spine. If it was a wandering spirit we encountered, we could perhaps preach to it and convince it not to harm us in order to be reincarnated into the next life, but if it's monsters or demons we're talking about, then you shouldn't have come here in the first place, Sakanaka-san! What would happen if one of us were to be possessed?

Thinking of this, I suddenly found myself looking at Nagato.

Since the last client we had, Kimidori-san (who was now the student council secretary by the way) was related to Nagato in a way, could Sakanaka-san be related to her too?

I immediately expelled that idea from my mind. That was because Nagato had already put away her book and was keenly listening to Sakanaka-san. On that pale, white face of hers was an expression only I could fathom, something that I was greatly proud of. From what I could tell, Nagato seemed to be in deep thought, meaning that Sakanaka-san's weird spirit-talk was something totally new for her.

I then turned my head suspiciously towards Koizumi. As we locked sights, Koizumi shrugged, and revealed a sort of pained smile on his face, as if asking what I wanted. "It's none of my business" --- That was apparently what Koizumi was trying to say, based on his body language. I felt as if I had begun to understand Koizumi a little more.

The only person left would be someone I needn't look at to know her answer. Asahina-san revealed an expression that plainly said "I know nothing at all". In fact, I doubt if she even knew what we were talking about, or what was going on.

"Well then, everyone,"

Haruhi said energetically.

"Let's go now, we have a camera... But we lack a ghost trap. Now if only we had some paper strips with Tangut Inscriptions on them..."

"It's also important to have maps of the area."

Koizumi added, as he tossed Sakanaka-san a light smile.

"I would like to start a serious investigation on this. Would you mind if I asked for Rousseau's help in assisting this investigation?"

Seems like he's also pretty keen on starting this investigation himself.

It would be pointless searching all over the area for suspicious spots. If we did what Koizumi said and have Rousseau lead the way, we would be able to save a lot of time and head straight to our destination.


Sakanaka-san said as she nodded towards Koizumi's handsome face.

"I'll bring him out for a walk then."

Asahina-san's eyes bulged as she said:

"Erm, if we're really going, then I'll have to change first..."

All this while Asahina-san was furiously gripping on her maid outfit, looking very anxious, as if she was half expecting herself to be dragged out in that outfit if she did not hurry up and change. That made sense, though, as Haruhi would definitely drag her along in that outfit should she get in the way of her investigation.

"Hmm, that's right Mikuru-chan, you'd better get changed. You can't be seen in that outfit outside."

Haruhi had finally made a logical statement.


Asahina-san said as she revealed a relaxed expression, and proceeded to reach for her hairclip.

If that was so, Koizumi and I would have to leave.

There was no way I'd let Koizumi taste some free eye candy.

As I turned my back and prepared to leave, Haruhi said something shocking.

"Mikuru-chan, you're not allowed to wear your uniform."


Ignoring Asahina-san's troubled "Eh", Haruhi strode towards the costume rack, and smiled sadistically as she withdrew an outfit.

"This is it. It's perfect for spooky occasions like this!"

Haruhi said as she raised a long white-and-red kimono. It was one which reminded me of ancient Japan, and that is to say...

Asahina-san stepped back instinctively.


"A miko outfit. A miko!"

A wicked smile lit up Haruhi's face. It was a smile that appeared whenever she had one of her brilliant ideas. Thrusting the miko outfit into Asahina-san's arms, Haruhi said:

"Since we're going on an exorcising trip, this is the best costume we have. If only I had known earlier, I would have definitely prepared some religious robes. Since we can't have Mikuru-chan dress up like a nun or monk because it's too embarrassing, the only choice we have left is to have her dress up as a miko... How's that, Kyon? I'm not one who would bring in different costumes without considering! Isn't this costume just perfect for the occasion?"

Even though school was already over, I still felt it was better to discuss whether the maid outfit or the miko one would draw more attention from the students. However, before I had a chance to express my thoughts, Haruhi had already shooed me and Koizumi out of the club room.

The sounds of Haruhi's glorious shouts, mingled with Asahina-san's cute yet horrified screams, soon drifted out of the club room.


"Yea? Before you ask, let me first clarify that I don't think spirits are involved."

Koizumi said as he brushed his hair, and once again revealed his trademark, fox-like smile.

"So what do you think it is this time?"

"I can't guarantee anything at this point. All I can do is make educated guesses."

Ah, whatever. Just spill it.

"From what Sakanaka-san said, there was a place many dogs couldn't enter. That brings me to my question. What do animals, especially cats and dogs, have that's superior to us humans?"

"The sense of smell?"

"That is correct. There should be something on that path that dogs do not like, or perhaps something buried there."

Koizumi tidied his hair once again, and said while smiling:

"The first thing that came into mind would be a gaseous bomb, or something of the sort. Maybe it had fell off an army truck while being shipped to who knows where."

You moron. If something as sensitive as a bomb could fall off the back of the truck, what was the point of using the truck to transport it in the first place?

"Another possibility would be radioactive materials. However, I have no idea how keen animals are towards radiation."

Let's just ignore gas bombs and radioactive substances for a while. I find something like an unexploded bomb to be much easier to believe.

"Hmm, that's actually possible too. What about this one? Maybe a bear happened to hibernate nearby after coming down from the mountains. Now that it's going to awaken anytime soon, the dogs are all fleeing in fear..."

Don't be ridiculous! We don't even have wild boars nearby, never mind wild bears.

"That's why," Koizumi said as he elegantly crossed his arms, "If the only clue we have is that there's something going on that's related to smell, it would be possible to formulate all sorts of wild theories. The only way to solve this mystery would to be to gather all the information possible, analyze it with a calm and deductive mind, infer a plausible hypothesis with the help of an imaginative mind, and finally follow the line that your gut tells you to. Only when such procedures come together can we unveil the truth. So for the first step, we have to make sure all the information comes from a reliable source. Do we have all the information needed now? There's no way to know. That's why it's not as easy to solve a mystery as it looks."

If you want to give your opinions on deducing and inferring, you should go to a research facility. What was the point of bringing it up here? Just like Haruhi said, all we needed to do was head to the scene of the crime, and search for anything suspicious, as simple as that. For all we know, Haruhi might end up digging up something weird, like ancient coins from the Chinese Empire. If that really happened, the archeologists over the world would probably be stumped, so it's better not to hope for something like that to happen.

To make a long story short, if you want to make any deductions, or as you call them, educated guesses, Koizumi, save them for the next club meeting.

"Finding out the truth via simple logic, that could very well be one of the greatest secrets of deduction. But then again, if the truth could be unveiled that easily, then this case would be far too unentertaining, eh?"

As Koizumi was muttering some complicated-sounding crap again, I felt the door I was leaning on suddenly budge, as it began slanting sideways.

And, as the door opened, an energetic brigade commander tugged a miko version of Asahina-san out to meet us.

"Preparations complete! You look good in that, Mikuru-chan! Any wandering spirit would certainly be shocked right back to the afterlife!"


Asahina-san lowered her head in embarrassment as she stood out for our viewing pleasure, looking very wobbly. After the Hinamatsuri festival on the 3rd of March, I once again got to see her in such an outfit.

When was that kimono made, I wonder? It was downright similar to those kinds of kimonos used only by shrine maidens, complete with one of those ceremonial staves, and if she performed a miko-mai in this while reciting random incantations, I don't think evil spirits were the only ones who would descend to the afterlife. Simply put, this outfit was so cute, it was made for the kill.

Behind the both of them was Sakanaka-san, who was frantically saying "Erm... There's no need to go this far actually..." and Nagato, who was not transparent but who's existence resembled a spirit. As all of them left the club room, it appeared that all preparations to leave the school were indeed complete.

Are we really going off to exorcise spirits? Asahina-san was forced to become a miko now, and if this part-time miko did indeed wave that exorcising staff around in a miko-mai, I fear that she'd accidentally hit her shoulders with it or something. To all the real priests and exorcists out there, we're terribly sorry for the humiliation.

Finally, early spring had come. During this season, it was common to exhibit strange behaviors, be it people, cats or dogs.

Theoretically, that is.

Haruhi had a very excited expression on her face as our search began. I felt as if we were going to be dragged into some other strange event again, for the other brigade members Koizumi, Asahina-san and even Nagato had begun operating individually. Sometimes I wonder if I should actually do something instead of just standing around.

However, I was the only brigade member that wasn't bound to any faction, so the only thing I was capable of doing was standing here and fiddling with my own thoughts.

And come to think of it, the one who was leading us was no more than an ordinary dog-loving female classmate of mine. Based on the story Sakanaka-san had told us, I wondered if spirits would really materialize before our eyes.

If spirits that couldn't be exorcised by Asahina-san's incantations did exist and were really floating all around town, they would have floated all the way into the club room a long time ago. The most important thing was that such a festival for ghosts had yet to appear.

No, wait. I take that back. The most important thing might very well be---

Something even harder to explain than spirits, who had conveniently not materialized since none of us had even thought about it.

After walking down the steep slope beyond North High, we boarded a train at the train station, switched railways once, and finally took a different train to the area where Sakanaka-san lived. Since it was located in the opposite direction from the train station the SOS Brigade used to meet, I had never been to that area before. All I knew was that it was a high-class residential area.

Since there were plenty of rich businessmen living in the area, it was obvious that Sakanaka-san was pretty rich herself. Her father was the CEO of some large company, while her brother was pursuing a degree in medicine at a famous university. I can't believe that I only noticed I had such a rich classmate at the end of the term.

"It's nothing much actually."

Sakanaka-san said as she clutched her hands humbly on the train.

"My father's only managing a small company, while my brother's studying at a local university."

That is to say that aside from her family being rich, her brother was also a smart guy. I wonder if Sakanaka-san calls her brother "Onii-chan"? I'm beginning to miss that calling now.

An image of my sister smiling popped into my mind. I dismissed it by glancing all around the train.

Since all of us were headed to Sakanaka-san's house, it was natural that the five members of the SOS Brigade, plus one of my classmates, were huddled together in one spot. For some people, six may seem too big a company, but thankfully, there were other students boarding the same train. Since most of them were girls from Kouyouen High School, we North High students were forced to a corner. But even in a train full of high school students, I felt that we were definitely drawing in too much attention.


That would be due to Asahina-san sobbing as she tightly held on the handrails. That can't be helped. There was no way a sobbing girl in a miko outfit boarding a public train wouldn't attract any sort of attention.

Asahina-san had once boarded a train in a bunny-girl outfit, and was even forced to run round the shops in that area in the same outfit. That's why I wanted to console her by telling her she was far better off this time. At least she was dressed in a costume that didn't reveal much skin.

"Mikuru-chan, do you know any incantations, spells, verses, or anything of the sort?"

"... Sob... N-no..."

Asahina-san said softly as she lowered her head.

"Well that's to be expected."

Even though she faced an ashamed Asahina-san, Haruhi didn't bother lowering her voice. She certainly didn't care how Asahina-san felt, all right.

"What about you, Yuki? Have you read about anything to do with exorcism in your books before?"


Nagato was staring at the passing scenery outside the train window when Haruhi asked her. She spent two seconds to briefly shake her head, before resuming her original pose once again.

I had a feeling I knew what Nagato was about to say. It appeared that Haruhi did too, as she said:

"Is that so. Well, I guess it's only natural that no one remembers any spells or incantations. But fortunately for you Mikuru-chan, I happen to recall a small portion of an incantation, so repeat after me..."

What type of incantation are you planning on teaching Asahina-san anyway? If that incantation turns out to be some sort of summoning spell, don't try to blame Asahina-san when something happens. And don't bother looking for me either, as I'll be the first one to run away.

"Don't be stupid."

Haruhi said happily.

"If I did know such a powerful incantation, I would have tried it out ages ago. Now that you mention it, I remember buying a spell book when I was in junior high. Even though I followed everything written on it, nothing happened. So I came to the conclusion that those spell books you buy in shopping districts can't be genuine."

"Hmm, I've just thought of something fun."

For a fleeting moment, I pictured a light bulb suddenly lighting up above Haruhi's head.

"For our next city-wide search, why not head to some old bookstores or antique shops? We'll be targeting suspicious old shop owners, and asking them to hand out their genuine magic spell books or magical artifacts! If we're lucky, maybe genies will appear after we give the artifacts a rub!"

If a genie would grant me three wishes and then quietly retreat back into his lamp for another thousand years of slumber, then I might have been interested. Unfortunately, I had a feeling that the genies Haruhi had in mind were those dark sorcerers who were sealed into lamps during ancient times which, upon being released, would proceed to wreak havoc upon the entire Earth. Thinking about this, I was a little uncertain about having Haruhi venture into some old antique store and proceed to give everything around her a rub. All I wished for was for the "old bookstores" and "antiques shops" of Haruhi to quickly close their shops for the day before Haruhi suddenly changed her mind and decided to organize a city search today.

Needless to say, our conversation had already drifted away from "magical incantations" and was now focused on "magical artifacts".


As if reading my mind, Koizumi let out one of his "Huhuhu~" laughs. Since he had both of his hands full, he wasn't able to grab a hold of the handrail and as such wobbled dangerously as the train ran along its tracks. He had his own bag in one hand, and Asahina-san's in the other. And since we're on the topic of bags, aside from my own schoolbag which was sitting in my right hand, I had another bag slung over my shoulder. Inside that bag was Asahina-san's school uniform. Asahina-san needed to change into her school uniform before she went back home, right? If we had left her uniform at school, she would be forced to either wear the miko costume to school or skip school altogether. And since any sane person would choose to skip school, I had no doubt that Asahina-san would too. If that were to happen, what would become of my daily dose of Asahina-san's tea? What would I drink to quench my dry throat then?

"Relax. I can handle that for you if such a situation ever arises."

Koizumi said to me, sounding quite relaxed for someone who just offered to shoulder a big responsibility.

"Even though I'm no good at making tea, I have ways to make sure Asahina-san attends school. I can arrange a car to pick her up if you wish."

Faced with such an offer, all I did was remain silent.

The person driving would most likely be someone from the 'Organization' anyway. Now if it were Arakawa-san, I would have no qualms with it, but if it were Mori-san, whose age remained a well-kept secret, I would feel uneasy about it. Sometimes I wonder if she's Koizumi's superior. If it were someone else from the 'Organization', I would definitely be worried about letting them send Asahina-san to school. Even though they once assisted us during the Asahina Michiru kidnapping incident, I still couldn't bring myself to fully trust them.

Koizumi went "Huhuhu~" again, as he said:

"That's a pity then. And after all the trouble I went of asking Mori-san for help. It seems that I'm going to be a laughingstock at the office again."

The train made a creaking noise, as it shook and slowly decelerated. It seemed that we had reached our destination at last.

Now's not the time to worry about Koizumi's 'Organization', or whatever Haruhi had in mind for our next city-wide search.

It was time to find out what was bothering Sakanaka-san's dog so badly.

After stepping out from the station, all of us proceeded to follow Sakanaka-san as she led us to her house. Although it was located uphill, it wasn't as steep as the mountain leading to North High, and maybe it's just me, but why are the girls here prettier than usual?

Luckily, no one stopped to glare at Asahina-san's miko costume, nor did any police officers take us into custody for suspected kidnap of a shrine maiden. After 15 minutes or so, we finally made it to Sakanaka-san's house.

"Here we are."

After seeing Sakanaka-san casually point at the huge building before us, multiple synonyms of the word "unhappiness" immediately ran through my mind. The building before us was undoubtedly a grand bungalow, and it was painfully obvious that whoever lived in there must have been really rich. The walls, the door, and even the front gate of the three-storey bungalow radiated an aura of superiority, and to top it off, it also had a huge garden in the front yard.

Although it wasn't as wide as Tsuruya-san's traditional-style mansion in terms of land, it nevertheless displayed a sense of modernity and class that even an outsider like me could detect. By the door was the obligatory security company label, and in the huge, roofed garage, two cars were parked. One of them was a locally-made car, and the other was an imported one. By the looks of the garage, it seemed that it could still accommodate a third car. I wonder how much karma I needed to amass before I could be born and raised in a wealthy family like this.

As I was wallowing in my self pity for not being born rich, Sakanaka-san quickly opened the front gate, and beckoned for Haruhi to enter. Haruhi, being her usual self, strode royally into Sakanaka-san's house, as Nagato, Koizumi and Asahina-san followed tightly behind, with me at the rear.

"Please wait a moment."

Sakanaka-san withdrew a set of keys from her bag, and proceeded to open the front door, which, by the way, had three sets of different locks.

"This is so annoying..."

Sakanaka-san said as she began unlocking the door. Could it be that no one was at home? Nah, that can't be it. Sakanaka-san mentioned earlier that her mother was in. It was probably a habit to lock all the doors tightly even though there was someone in then.

"Where's your dog you mentioned earlier?"

"Erm, he'll be here soon."

Sakanaka-san pushed open the doors, as---

"Woof woof!!"

With a series of excited barks, a small, white furred dog leapt out of the door, and began wagging its tail and playfully nipping at Sakanaka-san's skirt.

"Kyaa~ It's so cute~"

Asahina-san's eyes gleamed as she knelt down and began patting the puppy. The puppy peered at Asahina-san with its small, black eyes and placed its paw upon Asahina-san's hand. It then proceeded to run in circles around the miko-outfit clad Asahina-san. No matter how you look at it, this was one normal puppy, and I bet that there was a certificate somewhere in Sakanaka-san's house that proved that it was a pure breed.

"Rousseau, sit."

Upon hearing its owner's command, Rousseau immediately sat down on all fours. It was clear that this was a well-trained puppy. Asahina-san took this opportunity to once again pat its head.

"Erm... Can I carry him?"

"Why, Sure."

Asahina-san clumsily picked up the puppy and began cradling it in her arms. Rousseau yipped happily and licked Asahina-san on her face. Now if this was the kind of treatment every dog could have, then I wouldn't mind being reincarnated into one during my next lifetime.

"This is Rousseau eh? He looks like one of those battery-operated toys! What kind of dog is it?"

Haruhi said as she patted the little puppy on the head. Even though it was being cradled tightly by Asahina-san, Rousseau still behaved well and remained silent. It seems that it originated from a good breed.

"A Scottish Highlands White Terrier,"

Koizumi responded faster than Sakanaka-san, mentioning a kind of breed that seemed more like a sacred race to me. Revealing a knowledgeable face, Koizumi flashed a charming smile as Sakanaka-san said, "you're pretty knowledgeable," while looking fondly at her own dog, who was cradled in Asahina-san's arms.

"He's cute, isn't he?"

Yup, really cute.

With a coat of thick, snow white fur, and a set of deep black eyes that were almost concealed behind that thick fur, Rousseau looked just like a plush doll all right. Rousseau's upbringing must have resembled that of a noble's, while that tri-colored cat of mine, who was probably lazing off in my room right now having nothing better to do, resembled a peasant. But let's not forget that Shamisen is in a totally different class from him. At the very least, that cat once spoke before.

Nagato was behaving eerily like Shamisen, staring straight at the white terrier, not blinking for a full ten seconds. But after a while, Nagato shifted her glance elsewhere, as if she had lost interest in the dog. Sigh.

"Now hold it right there, Mikuru-chan. Just how long are you planning on hogging him all for yourself? I wanna play with him too, you know?"

Since Haruhi had said so, Asahina-san had no choice but to part with Rousseau. Maybe it was just me, but I noticed that Rousseau seemed to enjoy the spotlight, as he jumped eagerly into Haruhi's arms. Is there a theory that dogs tend to get more excited when surrounded by strangers? Even though Haruhi's method of handling Rousseau was pretty rough compared to the way Asahina-san cradled him, Rousseau didn't even whine. He even wagged his tail furiously, as if enjoying the whole experience.

"You're such a cutie, aren't you, JJ?"

'Hey, Haruhi, stop giving stupid nicknames to other people's dogs' was what I was about to say, when Sakanaka-san beat me to it and said:

"Ahaha~ Suzumiya-san, you're using the same nickname for him as my father does."

I was pretty sure Haruhi didn't like being labeled as sharing the same taste as Sakanaka-san's dad. However, the look on her face suggested that it didn't bother her one bit, as she happily carried the puppy, who shared the same name with a certain French philosopher, high in the air.

"So JJ found out something unusual during one of his walks, did he?"

Even though Haruhi was questioning the dog, Rousseau did nothing but simply wag his tail. It was his owner, Sakanaka-san, who replied her question by nodding her head.

"Yeah, that's the case. Even though I'm not sure how unusual this is, other dogs besides Rousseau have also detected it, and have begun staying away from that area, as if mighty fearful of it. That's how the rumor of spirits originated."

Even though I felt that Sakanaka-san and her friend's guesses seemed kind of farfetched, I had no right to say that out loud, having known time travelers, aliens and espers. Who knows, maybe Sakanaka-san's spirits did exist, after all.

But come to think of it, Asahina-san, Nagato and Koizumi had physical bodies, and could be seen via the naked eye. Those "things" that only dogs and not humans could detect, were they really spirits?

After that, even though Sakanaka-san invited us for a cup of tea in her house, Haruhi, who was eager to uncover paranormal events, declined. As Sakanaka-san went to get a change of clothes, her mum came out to greet us guests. No matter how I look at it, Sakanaka-san's mum resembles an elder sister more than a mother, be it in terms of speech, fashion, or gestures. She gave me the impression of a perfect lady.

Sakanaka-san's mum looked curiously at Asahina-san's miko outfit, before asking us why had we come here. Upon hearing our explanation, Sakanaka-san's mum laughed and said, "that girl spoils Rousseau too much. I'm sorry for all the trouble she's caused." Haruhi then responded as usual, saying it was no big deal. Being able to speak so politely in front of such a graceful woman, you're truly great, Haruhi. Me? I was so nervous that I found it hard to even bow, and even felt as if my dirty pair of sneakers would defile their doormat.

Sakanaka-san's mum then told us that we had to stop by one day as guests, for all the trouble her daughter had put us through. As if on cue, Sakanaka-san finished changing into a casual outfit, and promptly came out to meet us.

"Sorry for the wait."

After leaving our bags in Sakanaka-san's house, the six of us plus one dog proceeded to exit the front gate, heading towards the scene of the crime. Was I the only one sighing? I guess so.

For some reason, Haruhi had Rousseau's leash in her hand, as she led the way and sprinted forward.

"Let's go, JJ!"

'Can't you drop that stupid nickname?' I wondered as I began following her sprint. J.J. Rousseau didn't seem to mind that the person holding its leash was a total stranger he had just met less than an hour ago, as he happily ran along with Haruhi.

"Erm, Suzumiya-san, that's not the way! We're supposed to go this way!"

As I saw Sakanaka-san chase after Haruhi, who was laughing all the time, I suddenly wondered: Would the two of them wind up as good friends after all the smoke had cleared?

Sometimes I wonder if dogs have genetic mutations or weird sicknesses that make them like to go for walks. Rousseau was no different, as he joyfully trotted in front of Asahina-san, who was smiling and trying to catch up. Even though her smile was always ravishing, for some reason I felt that her current smile was even more charming than before, a smile that would only appear in a fantasy world.

Now since Haruhi didn't know where to go, she couldn't possibly lead the way, so she had no choice but to hand over Rousseau's leash to Sakanaka-san. All of us followed behind, as if taking a relaxed stroll.

"Which way should we go? Can't you go faster, JJ? Hurry, hurry!"

Haruhi, who was standing right beside Rousseau, ushered him on with her words of encouragement.

"That won't do, Suzumiya-san. We're supposed to go for a walk, not a run."

Sakanaka-san gently replied as she held onto Rousseau's leash.

Nagato was silent, as always, while Koizumi was busy studying a map of the area.

Curious about what Koizumi was doing, I said:

"What's up? Spot anything mysterious on the map?"

In response to my question, Koizumi withdrew a pen from his pocket, and said:

"I'm marking the places dogs do not dare enter. I don't think it'll be necessary for us to go and search every one of them. Just a rough estimation on the map would do."

Oh well, I'll leave this up to you then seeing that you seem to be developing a weird liking for drawing and shapes lately. After seeing Sakanaka-san's dog look so healthy, I'm not worried about anything, even though there are places that dogs really don't dare enter. All I want to do now is enjoy my walk with Rousseau. Speaking of which, I had a sudden urge to keep a dog as a pet. Of course, I didn't expect for one as expensive and as high-classed as Sakanaka-san's. A normal, mixed breed would be enough. It appeared that Haruhi had the same thought in her mind too, as she hopped along with Rousseau like a feisty little bunny, the word 'Spirits' totally driven out of her mind, it seems.

The only one clad in casual clothing was Sakanaka-san. Behind her, four school uniform clad high school students and a miko followed. I wonder what other dogs would think of this, as we followed Sakanaka-san and Rousseau on their everyday path.

Sakanaka-san walked elegantly as she led the way. Is this what she's like in school? Or is this part of her true personality? Based on my calculations, it seemed that we were headed due east, and unless I'm atrociously mistaken, we should wind up near a river soon, the one which had cherry-blossom trees growing by its edges. Riverbanks are really the best places for taking dogs out for walks after all.

As I was busy thinking about trivial, unimportant stuff like those above, Sakanaka-san abruptly stopped.

"He's stopping at the same place again."

I quickly turned to Rousseau. He had all four of his paws planted firmly into the ground, and no matter how hard Sakanaka-san tried to pull him along, he wouldn't budge an inch.

Aww~ was what his owner said, apparently disappointed. I believe everyone present felt the same too.


Haruhi said as her eyes bulged wide, apparently remembering what we were truly here for.

"I don't see anything suspicious."

Even though we were in the middle of a residential area, due to the fact that we were approaching the riverbank, there were more trees growing here. I could see a huge mountain in the distance. From what I've heard, even though wild bears have yet to appear, there were sightings of a wild boar once, in this area. But if that was true, why hadn't I heard about it before? I had frequented the riverbank often, and to top it off, this place was situated near the train station. If wild boars were really sighted, wouldn't it have caused some sort of ruckus? Why didn't I know anything about it till now?

Sakanaka-san was still holding on to Rousseau's leash, even though it was clearly obvious he wasn't going to go in any further.

"He's always been fine with this path, right until one week ago. We would go up the stairs, walk along the riverbank, make a huge U-turn, and come back here, before back-tracking all the way back home. We've been using the same route for as long as I can remember. It all started a week ago, when Rousseau suddenly refused to budge, just like he is now."

Asahina-san squatted down and began scratching behind Rousseau's ears. Upon seeing this, Haruhi began tugging upon her own ear.

"That river seems mighty suspicious. Maybe someone dumped toxic waste into it! I wonder if there's a factory further upstream."

How did you come up with such an idea? We North High students should know that there was no such thing, because if we followed this river upstream, we would end up walking along the familiar path to school. And since I've been walking up that darned path for a whole year now, I know that there's nothing there but trees. There's not even a restaurant along the hill, never mind a factory.

"Nope," Sakanaka-san said. "Rousseau has no qualms about going further upstream or further downstream. It's just this specific spot that troubles him. The same goes with Higuchi-san and Minami-san."

"I see."

Haruhi silently observed Rousseau while he keenly licked Asahina-san. Without warning, she suddenly sprang like a flash of lightning at Rousseau, and proceeded to pick him up in her arms.

"If that's the case, JJ, let's have you first bring us to this suspicious spot! When we reach that specific spot, bark loudly twice to let us know!"

Haruhi took Rousseau's leash from Sakanaka-san's hand, before proceeding to drag Rousseau along. But the distance she managed to cover was probably as short as the leash in her hand, because Rousseau started to howl pitifully the moment Haruhi began dragging him along.

Hearing Rousseau howl like that, Sakanaka-san stood still, as if fixed to the spot. She had a pained expression on her face, which resembled the one Rousseau had too. It was pretty obvious that she didn't want to see her beloved dog in such a condition.

"I don't want Rousseau to be mad at me."

Sakanaka-san said as she took the leash from Haruhi's hands, before proceeding to comfort Rousseau by slowly patting his head.

"I've heard stories of dogs being mad at their owners. When a cold war erupts between a dog and its owner, the dog would inevitably feel rejected, and soon die of a broken heart. If that were to happen, I don't know how I would continue to live on. So..."

Sakanaka-san is really a dog lover, to say the least. No matter how you look at it, she has clearly pampered Rousseau. If I brought Shamisen to her house for one night, I'm sure it would resemble Heaven for him.

Even Haruhi had nothing to say. All she could do was to look at Sakanaka-san with her mouth opened wide. Asahina-san, on the other hand, seemed to agree with what Sakanaka-san had said, as she furiously nodded her head. I really envy you, Rousseau. To think that you managed to win Asahina-san's heart in such a short period of time!

"We can't drag him to somewhere he isn't willing to go."

Koizumi said as he opened his map wide, and proceeded to say:

"This is where we currently are."

Haruhi took Rousseau's leash from Sakanaka-san's hand, before proceeding to drag Rousseau along.
Haruhi took Rousseau's leash from Sakanaka-san's hand, before proceeding to drag Rousseau along.

Using a red pen, Koizumi made a small mark on the map.

"This is the exact spot that dogs start to sense danger. Even if we were to move along this path, I believe that Rousseau would feel uneasy all the way. In other words, he isn't afraid of a specific spot but rather, a specific area. We won't be able to pinpoint anything even if we were to venture further forward."

So what are you suggesting?

Just as I was about to open my mouth to ask, Koizumi smiled warmly and said:

"Let's head back for the time being, and have Rousseau enjoy a stroll on another path."

We ended up following Koizumi's suggestion, and backtracked all the way to the crossroads. From there, we proceeded to the left, due north. Since we were fast approaching the train station, the crowd was thicker, but apparently Asahina-san was more worried about Rousseau than about her outfit, as she totally ignored the stares of the crowd.

Koizumi was leading the way, something he rarely had a chance to, with his map in his hands, his elegant smile ever present on that smooth face of his.

"We should head here next."

Taking a turn, we now found ourselves moving east, as we continued to follow Koizumi's lead.

After five minutes or so...


Rousseau abruptly stopped and refused to continue forward.

"So it's really that river eh."

Looking in the direction Haruhi was pointing, we found ourselves once again gazing at the river bank and cherry-blossom trees.

After confirming our exact location based on a couple of signboards and number plates, Koizumi once again marked another spot on the map.

"I think I get it now, but just in case, can we go to yet another place?"

I've got no idea what Koizumi has figured out, and so I just silently follow him, walking northwards. Fortunately, we didn't have to backtrack this time, because Koizumi had conveniently chosen a place that could be reached via a couple of back lanes and alleyways. If we continued in this direction, I knew that we would soon reach the sea. However, I personally feel that the sea is far too much of an exaggeration, and I doubt Koizumi had the patience to track all the way towards the ocean.

After about 5 minutes, Koizumi turned east, and we continued walking along the new path.

3 minutes later,


Rousseau stopped for the third time, and howled pitifully again. Seeing the doll-like Rousseau howl like that, even I felt troubled. Sakanaka-san immediately rushed forward to pick him up. I understood her feelings perfectly, and even my heart was swayed by her actions.

Asahina-san looked as if she was about to cry, while Nagato looked indifferent than usual. Koizumi, however, revealed a very confident smile, as if he had understood everything, and said:

"I see."

Placing a final mark on his map, Koizumi turned towards us, as if ready to announce that it was time for us to do battle. Even though I knew that what he was about to say couldn't be good news, I still found myself unable to ignore him.

"So what's happening?"

I wanted to know the truth behind everything. It was as simple as that. Even though I wanted to totally ignore what he wanted to say, I found my curiosity getting the better of me. There! I said it! So hurry up and tell us what you know!

"Take a look at this map."

As if on cue, all of us peered at the map in Koizumi's hands.

"These red marks indicate the specific spots Rousseau refused to ventured further within. There are a total of three spots, our current location included. For simplicity's sake, I'll name them A, B and C, with A being our first location and C being our current. Studying the three dots, do any of you find anything odd about them?"

Huh? Are you trying to give us after-lesson classes or something?

I had already given up on anything beyond my basic curriculum, and thus refused to answer his question. Haruhi, on the other hand, immediately answered without first raising her hand.

"If measured in a straight line, the distance between A, B and C are the same."

"You're sharp, Suzumiya-san. That was the reason why I had us go along these routes."

Koizumi said happily, just like a teacher getting a perfect answer from one of his students.

"What's important is that these points do not seem odd if viewed individually, especially point B. No matter how you look at it, it seems like a regular point. However, if I connect them like this..."

Koizumi once again took out his red marker, and began drawing on the map. With B as the center point, Koizumi traced an arc from A to C, making a small ripple form on the surface of this 1: 10000 scale map.

"Oh I see."

Haruhi came to a conclusion before anyone else could.

"Kyon, don't you get it? What does this curve look like?"

What would a curve look like other than a curve?

"That's why you're so bad in math! You have to use your intuition sometimes! Lend me that for a while, okay? Koizumi-kun."

Using the red marker she had just acquired from Koizumi, Haruhi began drawing on the map.

"If we extend this curve, while maintaining its original angle, and join them together, we'll get a perfect circle, no?"

You've got a point there. The shape that Haruhi had just traced did resemble a perfect circle.

Just like those circles you see indicating buried treasure in treasure maps.

I finally understood. So that's what this is all about?

"In other words, dogs are unable to enter this circle, right?"

"That's merely my speculation."

If that area is really shaped like a circle, then the places dogs dare not approach should be the ones outlined in this map. Even though we can't conclude if this is caused by spirits or has some material cause, at least we can confirm which areas they dare not enter."

Koizumi pointed at the circle he had just created with Haruhi.

"If there really is something behind this, then it should be somewhere in this area. And the most suspicious point would be the center of the circle. Since I only used these three points as reference, I can't really say where the center is, but I think I'll be able to make an educated guess. The center of the circle should be located---"

Before Koizumi could point out the location, Haruhi had already beaten him to it, as she used the tip of the marker to pinpoint the exact location.

"It's really the river, after all."

I don't need to hear Haruhi explain any further. The center point of the circle marked on the map should coincide with a very long row of cherry-blossom trees. And opposite those trees would be a bench Asahina-san and I were definitely familiar with.


Sakanaka-san said in awe.

"To think you'd be able to think of such things, Koizumi-kun, you're amazing!"

"It's no big deal, really."

Sakanaka-san has a very impressed look on her face, as she stares at Koizumi's smiling face. Erm, Sakanaka-san, I'd advise you to stay away from this fellow. There's no knowing what's going on in his brain. He also possesses the ability to turn himself into a glowing red orb that could manifest itself at any time. He's just like a mutant!

Even though I wanted to warn Sakanaka-san about this, I found my lips tightly sealed shut, as I quietly studied the map.

I just realized that unless something weird is happening to me, I would find it incredibly hard to travel to that location, as if someone is warning me not to go. I don't need to save yet another boy from an accident, do I? During that incident, only Asahina-san and I were present. This time, however, the SOS Brigade is fully assembled. Even if something were to happen, I'm sure at least someone would lend me a hand, right?

Especially so, since the all-important Brigade Commander is here!

"Let's go."

Haruhi said, appearing cheerful.

"Let's head for this suspicious place then! Rest assured, Sakanaka-san, JJ! After we take some pictures of the spirits, I'll be sure to exorcise them for good!"


As if finally realizing what outfit she's wearing, Asahina-san wrapped both her arms around her shoulders, and began trembling. Haruhi grabbed her wrist, and said,

"This is an emergency! We shall head out now!"

With that, Haruhi began dragging Asahina-san, proceeding towards the river.

Thanks to Haruhi's 'this is an emergency!' all of us got to the riverbank relatively fast. According to Koizumi's deductions, the most suspicious place was none other than the riverbank lined with cherry-blossom trees.

Haruhi had already taken the map from Koizumi, and began staring hard at it, as if trying to find the most precise point of the circle. Too bad Haruhi, all your efforts are in vain. I have a feeling that Koizumi already has it calculated in his head.

"Perhaps that's the spot?"

"That side?"

For some reason, if it ever came to it, I would find Koizumi's cool and composed answer more reliable than Haruhi's, who is still busy staring at the map. Could he have found out something suspicious?

Only the 5 members of the SOS Brigade were present. Sakanaka-san and Rousseau were at home, patiently awaiting news from us. In other words, Sakanaka-san had refused to come along with us, stating she couldn't 'let Rousseau go to a place he detested such'. Even if she had tagged along, I doubt that she would have been of much use anyway, so that's why Haruhi and I didn't protest much about her leaving. Of course, I know that I'm one to talk, seeing that I'm just some random guy Haruhi picked to join her Brigade, much like a stand-in comedian somebody got off the streets.

"Mikuru-chan, I'm sorry to keep you waiting. It's finally your turn to step up on the stage."


To Haruhi, Asahina-san was probably the most useful one in this situation. That's why she had Asahina-san dress up all like that. If we had journeyed all the way here without doing at least something which had connections with spirits, the whole miko outfit would have been a waste.

"B-but w-what am I supposed to do?"

"Just leave it all to me! I've done all necessary preparations beforehand! Mikuru-chan, stand over there. And raise your ceremonial staff high too."

After ordering Asahina-san to stand by the riverbank and raise her ceremonial staff high, Haruhi withdrew a something from her pocket, which was curled into the shape of a cylinder.

"This is it."

Haruhi said as she put her arm menacingly on Asahina-san's shoulder.

"Now let's start the exorcism!"

"Vajrac... chedika?... Prajnapara...mi... ta... Ekasha...ri."

For a while there I wondered what sort of incantation Haruhi had cooked up. It turned out to be nothing more than a simple Sutra of Wisdom Perfection. However, seeing Asahina-san clad in a miko costume chanting out Buddhist Scriptures made me feel uneasy, as if there were going to be a divine intervention at any moment. But if you think about it, maybe this way would be better. Maybe the combined forces of Shinto and Buddhism would be enough to exorcise the spirits.

...seeing Asahina-san clad in a miko costume chanting out Buddhist Scriptures made me feel uneasy, as if there were going to be a divine intervention at any moment.
...seeing Asahina-san clad in a miko costume chanting out Buddhist Scriptures made me feel uneasy, as if there were going to be a divine intervention at any moment.

After looking at the Sutra Haruhi had written, and at Asahina-san frantically trying to recite the lines, I really feel the need to apologize to all the true priests and shrine maidens in the world. All I can do is silently pray they don't mind us.

Haruhi played the role of an assistant, as she frantically flashed Asahina-san the different verses.

"Demons be gone... Demons be gone..."

As Asahina-san was trying to recite the verses even though she was a fake miko, I shot a glance at someone I knew who cared very much. I think it goes without explaining who this particular person is, no?


Nagato's eyes resembled a chime in the night wind, as she gazed at Asahina-san. There was nothing wrong about her. It's just that her eyes were fixed on Asahina-san instead of a book this time.

After seeing this, I was relieved.

I didn't think it was going to be of any use for Asahina-san to continue on chanting like that, since we're not even sure if the whole ruckus is indeed caused by spirits. But one thing I know for sure though, is that be it spirits, paranormal events or things that science can't explain, Nagato was with her, and there is nothing that could escape Nagato's attention. And once Nagato detected something, there was no way I would fail to notice it. Of course Nagato would try to notify me if she had detected anything strange, just like that incident with the kamadouma.

Perhaps she had noticed that I was staring at her, because Nagato suddenly turned her head towards me, as if saying, 'What are you thinking?'


No bombs, no hibernating bears, no radioactive elements, or any weird titanium rods?


Not even a trace?

"Nothing I can detect."

Nagato replied in a monotonous voice, as if reciting her times tables.

"No traces of anything paranormal."

Then why were Rousseau and the other dogs afraid of this place? Shouldn't there be something strange or unusual here?


Like a chime in the wind, Nagato shook her head slightly, as she shifted her gaze behind me.

As if following her lead, I too turned back.

A tall, well-built guy was walking upstream. As he approached us, I shot a glance at him. It's not like he was particularly attractive or anything, it's just that---

He had a dog with him. A Shiba Inu to be exact. Now under normal circumstances, I wouldn't be surprised. After all, it was just an ordinary Shiba Inu, nothing special about it.

The problem was, wasn't this an area where no dogs dared to enter?


It seemed that Haruhi had finally noticed, as with Asahina-san too, for she had abruptly stopped chanting the verses. In her shocked state, all she could say was:

"Impossible... How..."


With a puzzled look in his eyes, Koizumi eyed the guy walking with his dog.

This Shiba Inu definitely didn't share the same reaction as Sakanaka-san's Scottish Highland White Terrier. In fact, it looks happy, as if enjoying this walk with its owner. It was panting steadily as it followed its owner on all fours.

By rough estimation, I'd say the dog's owner was a university student. He eyed us suspiciously, before continuing on his walk with his dog.

"Wait a second! Wait!"

Haruhi yelled as she jumped forward to block his path.

"I'm sorry, but can I ask you something?"

Haruhi eyed the Shiba Inu with a gaze so terrifying that it would halt anything in its tracks, before saying:

"Can I borrow a bit of your time? Why is your dog able to pass through this area? Because you see... Erm, well... It's a long story."

With that said, Haruhi grabbed me by the collar, and dragged me towards the Shiba Inu's owner. The guy stood there with a bemused look on his face, as if wondering,'who are these people?' Even the Shiba Inu rolled out its tongue, as if saying that it didn't understand what was going on. Haruhi shot a slanting glance at them, before saying:

"Come on, you tell them, Kyon!"


As I was about to drag Koizumi here, I found myself unable to move, undoubtedly shot by Haruhi's terrifying glare. Seeing that she had already dragged me along, I have no choice, do I?

Beginning with a simple "I'm sorry for interrupting your walk", I slowly began to explain to them what was happening. I heard that about a week ago, the dogs in this area begin behaving strangely, apparently refusing to come here for a walk. After hearing about this from one of my friends, this struck me as highly unusual, hence I came here to investigate. The same friend I mentioned earlier came here with her dog, and indeed it behaved as if it didn't want to approach this place. That merely deepened my suspicion, and I decided to come here to investigate once more. Just as I was beginning my investigation, I suddenly saw you having a stroll with your dog, which is seemingly unaffected. That's why I was wondering, could you shed some light on this?

"Oh, so that's what it is,"

Said the guy, who was probably in his twenties. As he spoke, he curiously eyed Asahina-san, who was still clutching the ceremonial staff in her hands.

"It's true that sometime last week, this fellow," he said, pointing at the Shiba Inu, "suddenly hated his original route, which was supposed to be from here to further upstream. No matter what I did, he just wouldn't budge. Even I was stumped at that point."

This athletic guy shifted his gaze to a spot between Haruhi and Asahina-san, and continued:

"However, in my opinion, this place was still the most suitable place to have a walk. A thought suddenly struck me then. Why not try pulling him along by force? About three days ago, I decided to give it a try, as I forcefully pulled him along. Even though I met some resistance initially, after a while, he eventually began to get accustomed to this place again. Now we're able to take a stroll here like we always used to."

While I know nothing about animal psychology, this dog looks perfectly healthy to me, as it sits obediently by its owner's side. It has its eyes opened wide, with a relaxed look on its face.

"I'm guessing that if your friend pulled his or her dog along by force, they'll be able to recover instantly. Even though I'm not sure what happened, I definitely feel that there's something unusual about it. Maybe it's a scent left behind by a hibernating bear or something."

As expected of a university student. Even his deductions were the same as Koizumi's.

"So can I go now?"

"Oh yes, thank you so much for your time and valuable information!"

Haruhi thanked the guy sincerely, as he once again looked at Asahina-san's outfit. For a second there he looked as if he was about to say something, but in the end, all he said was "Well, take care then", before he continued his walk with his dog.

And so the only ones left were Haruhi, who was still holding the Mahayana Sutras in her hand, Asahina-san, who resembled a miko who got lost on her way to the shrine, Nagato, who was still looking at the river, Koizumi, who was busy scratching his chin, and me myself. We look more like the Five Stooges of the SOS Brigade here.

"What's going on here?"

It's just like you just heard.

"What about the spirits? I was really looking forward to spirits materializing!"

I told you from the start there wouldn't be such a thing.

"Then what's going on here?"

No idea.

"...... You seem to be happy about this. I wonder why, because I for one am not happy about this at all!"

Are you trying to pick a fight? I've been serious all this time. I'm not happy that something you wished for didn't come true, and I never once wished against you either.


With that, Haruhi took off with great strides, leaving before my startled eyes.

The SOS Brigade once again gathered, and left for Sakanaka-san's house, leaving the row of cherry-blossom trees far behind us. Not only did we need to report our findings to Sakanaka-san, we also needed to retrieve our bags, which we had left in her house before we departed.


Trying to avoid everyone else's gaze, I lowered my voice, and said quietly to Asahina-san.

"What do you think the real reason is? Rousseau seemed to hate this place."

Before Asahina-san could reply, Koizumi abruptly butted in, and said:

"According to what that guy said, his dog had been wary of this place until three days ago. That means that there was something here that would arouse suspicion in his dog then, something that no longer exists now. From what Sakanaka-san said, other dogs, including Rousseau, dared not approach this place, even till now. My best bet is that there is something in their memory that scares them from coming here. If that Shiba Inu's owner hadn't dragged him along by force, I'd say that it would still be afraid of this place. Rousseau, on the other hand, clearly refuses to enter this place. Maybe he's got a better memory than that Shiba Inu."


Nagato walked silently without saying anything. This made me happier, though. As long as she didn't mention anything, chances were that nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I could rest assured that no bear had recently awoken here three days ago.

It was already dusk, and our surroundings became cooler. All of us tried to match Haruhi's swift footsteps, as we hurried back to Sakanaka-san's house. It was rare to get a client, and having everything end so abruptly without a conclusion was somewhat disappointing. If we were to hand in such a report to our client, I'm afraid that it'll shatter Haruhi's pride as a Brigade Commander. But even so, I know that she'll get over it relatively fast. Even though she had an angry scowl on her face, I'm sure that she'll forget everything in a while. Haruhi wasn't that kind of person that would obsess on lost opportunities. If something didn't turn out well in the past, then so be it. She would immediately focus her attention on another matter.

As we arrived at Sakanaka-san's house, we could finally enter as guests. After being served delicious treats hand-made by Sakanaka-san's mother, Haruhi softened up a little, as she began eating in big bites.

"This is amazing! It's really, really delicious! You could open a restaurant with these! I'm sure they would sell very well!"

In such a luxurious mansion, even the treats appeared exceptionally high-classed and the sofas exceptionally comfortable. If I put Shamisen on one of these sofas, I'm sure that he'll be able to sleep for 12 hours straight. Rich people are really different after all. With such a beautiful mother, and such a high-classed dog, even the atmosphere here seemed different. If Haruhi had been brought up in such a place, she might have even ended up like Sakanaka-san.

As we were busy indulging in our treats, Koizumi reported our findings to Sakanaka-san, who was cradling Rousseau in her arms, and nodding as Koizumi went on. After Koizumi had finished explaining everything though, a peculiar look appeared on her face.

"I understand what you mean, but there's still something that's bothering me."

Sakanaka-san said as she looked at Rousseau's little, fluffy ears.

"Rousseau still seems to dislike that place. Until the day where every other dog will have a walk there without being forced, I won't be bringing Rousseau along that route. It just seems too pitiful."

That's up to you to decide then. What a good owner you have Rousseau, even though I think she's spoiling you too much.

Seeing Haruhi and Nagato eating non-stop, Sakanaka-san's mother continued to prepare more and more treats for us. For some reason, our topic had suddenly shifted to Sakanaka-san's dog, and we laughed as she told us about Rousseau's past antics. Rousseau was slumped by Sakanaka-san's side, as he cocked his ears, as if trying to understand what we were saying. In the end, however, he seemed to lose interest, as those black eyes of his began drooping. Asahina-san was looking tenderly at Rousseau, her eyes full of affection.

"You're such a good owner, Sakanaka-san. Your dog must be really happy now."

Maybe humans weren't allowed to keep pets in the future? But to tell you the truth, I would choose Asahina-san over a pet any day. Clad in a maid uniform, and greeting me every day, from "Good morning" till "Good night", wasn't that better than having a pet? Plus, wasn't that what a maid was supposed to do, as opposed to brewing tea in club rooms?

Ah who cares. It's all just a part of my fantasy anyway.

So in the end, all we did today was visit Sakanaka-san's house, play with her dog, take him out for a walk, let Asahina-san recite some Buddhist Scriptures while clad in a miko outfit, and taste the delicious cooking of Sakanaka-san's mother before returning home. In other words, it was just like visiting a friend's house to play.

After that, I thought that what really happened would remain a mystery, as the incident slowly disappeared from my mind and Haruhi's...

However, a few days later, something unexpected happened.

It was Friday. Everything had ended, including the dreaded end of term exams and intramural sports. Now all that mattered was to wait for the class distribution and spring holidays. The graduation ceremony had already been held back in February, and one third of North High students had already left, making the school seem more peaceful than before. After the holidays, however, the new stressful term would begin, and many things would change.

The first thing that would change would be my status. I wonder if I'll have anyone to call me senpai? But come to think of it, I doubt anyone would join the SOS Brigade. I wonder what Haruhi thinks of this?

After the second period, I found myself looking out of the second window from the back, as I enjoyed the warm, spring sunlight. I was beginning to stretch my arms when:


The person sitting behind me said as she jabbed me with her mechanical pencil.

"What is it?"

If you want me to persuade new members to join the SOS Brigade, you can forget it.

"That's not it. There's something else I have to tell you."

Haruhi said as she pointed her mechanical pencil towards the front of the class.

"Sakanaka-san didn't turn up for class today. Didn't you notice?"

"I didn't... Is that so?"

"Yeah. She's been absent since this morning."

That was really shocking, hearing Haruhi talking about our other classmates! The only others she had ever talked about were the idiot Taniguchi and Asakura Ryouko.

"She's one of our clients, remember? I had originally wanted to ask her if she had resumed her original route, and how Rousseau was doing. Didn't you notice she wasn't here at all? Don't tell me you've forgotten all about her and her adorable dog, and those delicious treats too!"

Normally, I would have been glad that Haruhi had finally shown some concern for a female classmate, but if she hadn't told me about this, I wouldn't have noticed at all. Sakanaka-san had indeed asked for our help to investigate a certain 'forbidden area' where dogs dared not approach near her home, but what's that got to do with her being absent? Sure, we did leave the whole case unsettled, but I don't see any connection between that and being absent. After all, being absent once in a while is hardly out of the ordinary.

"Maybe it's because of the change in seasons that she caught a flu or something? Besides, it's almost the end of the school term now. Skipping a few days of class is hardly surprising."

"Maybe you're right."

Faced with my solid deductions, Haruhi can only agree.

"The same goes with me. If it weren't for the SOS Brigade, I would have skipped school entirely. But, that doesn't strike me as something Sakanaka-san would do. She's not the type to suddenly turn the calendars red – or at least that's what I think."

For someone who uses our holidays for SOS Brigade activities, I don't think you follow the calendar too strictly either.


Haruhi said as she bit her pencil.

"Let's go check that place out one more time, shall we? We'll have Mikuru-chan dress as a nurse this time."

What's the point of having someone dress up as a nurse when they don't even have basic first aid skills? Why don't you just admit that you want more high-class treats?

"That's not it, you fool. I want to see JJ. Haven't you ever wondered if his fur will grow back after being completely shaved, like a sheep?"

Haruhi began twirling her pencil in her hands in a bored fashion, as the bell for the third period rang.

School progressed as usual, with nothing eventful happening. Soon school was over.

Koizumi and I were once again playing chess in the clubroom, while Asahina-san, dressed in the maid uniform that was much more suitable for her compared to the miko costume, was busy brewing tea.

Just then Haruhi, who was supposed to be late due to class duty, barged in the room and shouted:

"Kyon, it's exactly as I thought!"

Even though Haruhi said so with a smile on her face, I could detect an aura of anxiety radiating from her. I had a bad feeling about this.

"I finally know why Sakanaka-san is absent from school. She says that she's not really well today."

"But the truth is, the one who's not really well is JJ. She even brought him to a vet, but even they couldn't diagnose what was wrong with him. Sakanaka-san was really worried about him, and therefore decided to skip school. When I talked to her over the phone about it, it seemed that she was on the verge of tears. She hasn't eaten anything since this morning, since JJ didn't, and that made her feel even worse---"

"Calm down."

That was all I could say, faced with Haruhi who was talking non-stop, but my comment seemed to further anger her. She glared at me as if I were someone who refused to save a dying person, and said:

"What's wrong with you? JJ's sick, and yet you can still sit down here peacefully and continue drinking tea? JJ hasn't drunk a sip of water so far today, and that has further weakened him!"

If drinking tea is an offence, then Koizumi and Asahina-san should be equally found guilty. Furthermore, how was I supposed to know you would come barging in here, and that so many things had happened in the Sakanaka residence?

"As I was doing class duty, I suddenly had the urge to phone Sakanaka-san, and when I did---"

I am shocked. That's the second time Haruhi has said something that surprised me. I wonder when had they exchanged cell phone numbers?

"Now's not the time to be doing class duty."

Haruhi said as she withdrew her cell phone from her pocket.

"There really is something there! I bet that it's this thing that caused JJ to fall sick! Didn't Sakanaka-san say that before? Other dogs in the neighborhood have also mysteriously fallen ill."

Now that you mention it, there was something I wanted to confirm.

"If it's the same disease they're having, then ---"

"It's the same sickness all right."

Haruhi interrupted shakily.

"I just heard from Sakanaka-san that when she brought JJ to the vet, he said that he had treated dogs with the same disease a few days ago. Curious, she pressed on, only to find out that the dogs in question were Higuchi-san's."

Who's Higuchi-san again?

"Oh, you're such an idiot, Kyon! Didn't Sakanaka-san tell us about her the day she came to visit our clubroom? Higuchi-san's the one who has many dogs. She lives near Sakanaka-san, and one day one of her dogs fell ill. Weren't you paying any attention then?"

Well, pardon me for not being attentive enough! I bet that you forgot all about her until you just made that phone call minutes ago! Why are you blaming me then? And, even though Rousseau is sick now, why do you seem so excited about it?

"What sickness is it?"

"Didn't I say earlier? It's an unknown sickness."

It seemed that Haruhi had forgotten all about the Commander's chair, as she continued to talk while standing upright.

"Even the vets are baffled. Physically, he's perfectly fine, but it seems that he's too unmotivated to do anything. The same goes with Higuchi-san's Michael! They won't even budge to eat!"

Haruhi shot her glance straight at me, as if suggesting, "it's all because of you that they're sick now, you moron!" I avoided her glare, and checked what the other Brigade members' reactions were.

Asahina-san had apparently freaked out after learning that Rousseau was sick, because she was tightly hugging the tea tray in her hands. Nagato had lifted her gaze from her book, and was quietly listening to what Haruhi had to say. Koizumi had already put the chessboard back in its box.

"We need to investigate again."

Koizumi said while revealing a smile that resembled a vet trying to persuade a sick pet's worried owner not to worry.

"This is, after all, something that Sakanaka-san asked us to help her with. Now that things have taken such a turn, I don't think we can just ignore it."

"T-that's right! Why don't we go visit Rousseau?"

Upon hearing Koizumi's suggestion, Asahina-san furiously nodded her head.

Nagato merely closed her book and stood upright.

Every Brigade member was worried about Rousseau's well-being. Even though we had only been together with him for a day, each member seemed to be fondly attached to him. I'm afraid that this is one of the qualities that only dogs possess.

"What about you?"

Haruhi said as she glared at me, as if picking a fight.

"What about me?"

Even if it was lazy old me, upon hearing that cute, doll-like dog fall sick, I couldn't just sit down and do nothing. Unlike Shamisen, this was a dog born with a silver bowl in its mouth, a high-class, pure-bred Scottish Highland White Terrier. His health shouldn't be that bad.

I ignored Haruhi and looked at the other members.


The girl who had assured me there was nothing wrong with that place had an unusually weird expression on her face. It was as if Nagato Yuki was in deep thought.

After Asahina-san had finished changing, the five of us ran out of school, as if competing in a race to the station. After reaching the station, we found the train about to depart, and after running at full speed, barely managed to get on it. Once Haruhi put her mind to something, her battle capabilities easily exceeded that of a Mongolian cavalry captain.

It didn't take us long to arrive at the high-classed neighborhood, as Haruhi anxiously pressed Sakanaka-san's doorbell.

"I'm coming..."

Sakanaka-san came to get the door. From what I could tell, it seemed that she had thinned down a lot, as her face was full of worry, and her eyes red from crying.

"Please come in, Suzumiya-san. Thanks for everything..."

The five of us entered at Sakanaka-san's invitation, and proceeded towards the hall. We immediately saw Rousseau sleeping lazily on the elegant sofas. Maybe it was due to his bad mood, but the glistening luster that used to be present on his snow white fur was gone. As he slid down the sofa, he passed us without bothering to lift his head for a glance, nor did he bother to wag his tail or move his ears.


Asahina-san was the first one to approach Rousseau. She knelt down and patted Rousseau's small nose, which in turn caused him to look back at her with his little black, sad eyes. After that, he laid down on the floor, as if too lazy to do anything else. Even when Asahina-san placed her hand on his little head, Rousseau merely responded by flicking his ears. There was something very wrong with him, all right.

"When did he start behaving like this?"

Haruhi asked. Sakanaka-san wearily replied:

"Around yesterday evening. At first, I thought that he was just tired and wanted to take a nap, but when I woke up this morning, I found him slouched on the same spot, not moving at all. He even ignored his dinner. That's why I didn't bring him for a walk this morning, and instead took him to the vet..."

Everything had happened just like Haruhi had said in the club room. Right now, we could confirm two things: One - the reason of the disease was unknown, and two – it was the same disease some other dog had earlier.

"Yes... Higuchi-san's Michael is good friends with Rousseau..."

Asahina-san slowly patted Rousseau's head, as if comforting a patient using her tenderness. Her sadness seemed infectious, as even I was beginning to feel sorry for Rousseau. In order to stop it from spreading, I secretly punched myself in the chest.

"Oh yes, there's something I would like to ask."

Said the shameless Koizumi.

"If I'm not mistaken, Higuchi-san's Michael should have been infected by this disease five days ago, right? If so, how is his condition now?"

"I gave Higuchi-san a call this afternoon. According to her, Michael's still as weak-spirited as before. Because he refuses to eat anything, Higuchi-san is forced to bring him to the vet for nutrition shots. If the same thing happens to Rousseau, what am I going to do?"

If things go on like this, he'll become weaker and weaker. Thinking back about the energetic Rousseau I had met just days ago, compared to this lifeless dog lying on the ground, I suddenly realized how big the difference was. I also thought about Shamisen lying down on my bed lazily, without moving at all, but I guess they're totally different circumstances, huh. This is worrying, all right.

"There's another thing I would like to ask." Koizumi continued. "Are Michael and Rousseau the only dogs who are infected with this particular illness? You seem to know many friends who have dogs in this neighborhood."

"I haven't asked anyone else, but it was only when Michael fell ill that the rumors spread. If other dogs had fallen ill too, I'm sure that I would have heard about it somehow."

"Then where does Michael's owner, Higuchi-san, live?"

"Erm, just opposite my house, three houses away... Why?"

"Nah, it's nothing."

Koizumi said as he finished his questioning session.

Sakanaka-san lowered her head and said:

"Spirits are really behind everything, eh? Even the vet didn't seem to know what was going on..."

Haruhi replied with her face full of anxiety:

"There's always a possibility... But it's definitely strange. Plus, we can't be sure if spirits are really the cause. Now's not the time to be playing around though."

From the look on Haruhi's face, it seems that she may regret wishing for how spirits would come flying, and how she made Asahina-san dress up as a miko and start chanting some weird Buddhist Scriptures. Now you know that it's impossible to exorcise spirits by merely dressing as a miko, eh? Haruhi is really troubled, all right.

"Yuki, did you notice anything odd?"

Even though it's rare for Haruhi to ask Nagato anything, upon hearing her request, she politely put down her bag, walked towards Rousseau and knelt down beside a worried Asahina-san, before staring at Rousseau straight in the face.

I stood beside her and watched, not daring to even take a breath.


Nagato placed her finger beneath Rousseau's chin, lifted his head, and looked straight into Rousseau's small, black eyes. She had a very serious look in her eyes, like a sensor trying to read data off a DVD. She brought her head closer to Rousseau, until they practically touched each other, and stared like that for 30 seconds.


Nagato slowly stood up like a drifting spirit and redirected her gaze at the original spot she was standing before. Very slowly, she shook her head.

Haruhi sighed loudly.

"Even Yuki can't tell anything, huh. Sigh..."

I don't know what she expected from Nagato, but it seems that the current situation is out of Nagato's simple healing powers. Even aliens had no cure, eh? Just as I was about to despair, I suddenly felt a strong gaze penetrate my back.

I turned to look back, only to see Nagato staring straight at me. Her eyes could probably see things smaller than a microscope; she suddenly nodded, then drifted away again.

Haruhi, Asahina-san and Sakanaka-san must have missed Nagato's actions, seeing that they were too occupied with Rousseau. But there was one person I knew who would always be watching Nagato-san's every move.

"I think it's time to head back."

Koizumi whispered into my ear.

"There's nothing we can do even if we remain here. That includes you and me."

Koizumi gave me a soft laugh before continuing. Don't keep on whispering in my ear. It's gross.

"Even though Suzumiya-san has yet to explode in fury, from the looks of it, she can't calm down either. You know what Suzumiya-san does when she's enraged. If she does go on a rampage, I'm afraid that even I'll be terrified. We need to end this soon, and the only one who can do that would be ---"

Koizumi elegantly turned his head towards Nagato, then turned back to wink at me. Ugh. That's disgusting.

'What do you mean?' was what I was about to say, but I had a feeling that Koizumi knew that I understood what he meant perfectly. Maybe it's because I'm a smart person overall. Why is it that I can be so smart when it comes to reading Nagato's facial expressions or Koizumi's hidden clues, but fail to answer every single test question? Sigh. All right then, but please note that I'm not doing this for your sake, Koizumi. I just don't want to have Rousseau and Sakanaka-san dragged into all of this.

I may get beaten up for that.

After leaving Sakanaka-san's house, it seemed like Haruhi and Asahina-san had each left part of their soul there with Rousseau, as they continued lifelessly towards the station. They were silent all the way to the station, in the station, and even after leaving the station, just like breathing corpses. It seems that Sakanaka-san's depression has infected them as well.

I understand these feelings of depression well. Seeing something so lively and energetic become so frail and sickly is a painful process. But instead of being cooped up in depression, we would be better off taking a stroll to soothe our minds. Besides, there's nothing we outsiders can do. After all, we aren't dog experts --- That was Koizumi's icy conclusion.

"The only thing we can do is standby and watch. But don't worry. The vets aren't idiots. They must be formulating a plan now, right?"

If only they could find out what the cause of the disease was via research. But what if they couldn't? I don't want to attend Rousseau's funeral, for certain.

"It's a good thing I know a few vets. I'll try giving them a call. Maybe they've got leads on this."

Even though Koizumi was trying his best to cheer the girls up, it didn't seem to be working on Haruhi and Asahina-san at all. They remained silent aside from the occasional 'Oh's and 'Hmm's.

Since it was pointless continuing on in this somber mood, the five of us decided to call it a day. If we hadn't done so, we would all probably still be stuck in front of the station, staring blankly into space.

As Haruhi and Asahina-san shuffled forward, Koizumi and I stayed behind. We usually take the same path as Haruhi, seeing that it was closer to our homes, but Haruhi didn't seem to notice this. After a while, the two of them gradually disappeared from our sight.

How I wish Asahina-san had stayed behind! It's a pity then. It seems that she won't be able to step up on the stage this time.

After witnessing the two girls head home, Nagato turned and started towards her own apartment. However, all she did was face the direction of her apartment. She herself remained rooted on the spot.


As the short haired, sailor-suit clad girl turned back to face me, I wondered if she had predicted I would call her name?

Upon looking at the expression on her face, I was sure that she knew something. Without wasting any time, I asked her:

"What's up with Rousseau?"

Nagato hesitated a while, before answering:

"Data lifeforms."

After listening to her 'explanation', the only thing I could do was remain silent.


Is she aware that I'm not sure what she's saying? Sensing my confusion, Nagato added:

"Paragenetic silicon-based data lifeforms."


As if sensing that I was still lost, Nagato opened her mouth to say something. However, she abruptly shut it, and fell silent once again, as if not wanting to add anymore.


And so the both of us looked at each other in silence.

"In other words, Rousseau is infected by some other-worldly being, am I right?"

Koizumi suddenly interjected, as if attempting to create a shortcut of his own. Nagato paused for a moment, as if seeking confirmation from someone, before replying:


Nagato then nodded her head.

"So that's how it is. These 'data lifeforms' are actually things that humans aren't capable of seeing. Or to be more precise, things that human beings can't possibly see, since they don't have an actual physical form. They merely 'exist', am I right?"

"Does that mean that they are beings similar to the Integrated Data Sentient Entity? Much like the kind that infected the Computer Society President's computer and spread via the Internet?"

"Compared to the Integrated Data Sentient Entity, they are of different status. They are classified as a more primitive being."

"So are there any similarities between them? If the Integrated Data Sentient Entity decided to latch on to a human being, just like the 'Paragenetic Silicon-based Data Lifeforms' decided to infect Rousseau, would there be a similar result?"

He's really something special, that Koizumi. How he managed to remember that long, complicated name after hearing it just once I have no idea. Faced with Koizumi's incoming barrage of questions, Nagato calmly replied:


"What do you mean by 'viral'? The dog's body, no, the dog's mind, was the first to display any irregularities... Does that mean that these symptoms are caused by the 'data lifeforms' breeding rapidly in Rousseau's body, just like viruses do?"

Koizumi asked this as he flicked his hair with his finger.

"And one more thing – What are these 'data lifeforms' doing on earth? Why are they infecting dogs?"


Nagato replied simply.

"Because of the silicon that is present in their data composition, they are attracted to the Earth's gravity, just like how meteors are. The silicon compositions were destroyed due to friction with the Earth's atmosphere, leaving behind only the data composition. Even if their physical silicon bodies were destroyed, their data compositions weren't. This is why they can continue to remain on the Earth."

"They happened to be scattered around the area where the dogs frequently had walks. As the unsuspecting dogs passed by, they took the opportunity to latch onto them."

"Maybe it's because these 'Silicon Lifeforms' have nervous structures similar to those of dogs."

"But since they are an external lifeform after all, they have caused the dogs to weaken after infecting them."

During this endless Q & A session with Koizumi, Nagato opened and shut her mouth rapidly. After Koizumi's questions had apparently ended, she opened her mouth again and said:

"These 'data lifeforms' are planning to expand their memory circuit."

What does that mean---

Even though I was lost in the dark, Koizumi seemed to have understood perfectly.

"One dog wasn't enough to perform such a feat, and I don't think two are sufficient either. In order to expand their brains to the sizes of the 'Silicon data lifeforms' memory capabilities, how many dogs would that take?"

"According to the minimum estimations of the 'Silicon data lifeforms' memory capabilities, it would require at least every single dog on the planet to perform a large scale data transmission..."

"Wait a second."

I had a very bad feeling about this.

"Rousseau and some other dog are infected by some cosmic virus, this I understand. These viruses originated from outer-space and are like meteors, this I understand too. But the one thing I want to know is, in the wide universe, aside from humans like us, and these 'data lifeforms' which are made up of an accumulation of data as you said, Nagato... What else is out there?"

Nagato fell silent, as if in deep thought, before she blinked once and said:

"The answer to this question would be incomprehensible to organic lifeforms like you."

She stared at me with her clear eyes, as if trying to draw me into her pupils.

"But as these 'Silicon-based data lifeforms' have thought processors within their composition, it is very likely that other similar lifeforms exist."

That's easy for you to say. I know that I'll never sleep well after learning the answer to this question.

Since I've already come this far, I might just as well ask her more.

"What is this 'silicon' you keep mentioning?"

Sorry about that. I don't get along well with my chemistry teacher, and my chemistry grades have never been good either.

"Simply put, it is the silicon element, Si,"

Koizumi answered.

"It's a very famous semi-conductor."

Koizumi then threw Nagato another deep smile.

"I think what Nagato-san mentioned earlier is what we call a 'Mechanically Subconscious being'. It's another form of Artificial Intelligence we humans have yet to discover. Somewhere in the huge universe is a type of 'Mechanical Sub-consciousness' that is not artificially manufactured. In other words, it is a non-living thing that has the ability to process thoughts on its own. Or maybe I should say that throughout the entire universe, these beings are fairly common. It's just us humans that are different."

Nagato, on the other hand, was totally ignoring what Koizumi had to say as she continued to stare at me. It was as if she were trying to tell me the key to everything.

I suddenly recalled the first time Nagato lent me a book. There had been a single bookmark in it, and from the instructions written on the bookmark, I had gone out to meet Nagato for the first time. It was then that she told me---

--- It is impossible for organic lifeforms, who have limited data collection and transmission ability, to be able to acquire knowledge.

Koizumi scratched his chin instinctively.

"Maybe these 'Silicon compositions' are no more than ordinary materials. Only after the 'Data lifeforms' latched onto them did they gain knowledge."

Nagato looked up at the sky, made a gesture that suggested she was acquiring permission, before assuming her original pose and saying:


She made a brief pause, before continuing:

"Is based on how much data one has collected and accumulated based on one's current data handling abilities."

Nagato hasn't spoken for so long in quite a while. The last time I remember her ever talking for so long was when she revealed to me her identity as a humanoid interface for the Integrated Data Sentient Entity. It seems that if a topic catches her attention, she'll go on talking on and on about it.

"The 'Data composition' resides in the 'Silicon composition'. Through mutual interaction, they are able to assist one another in thought processes. These 'Data lifeforms' are nothing more than isolated data clusters. In order to obtain new data, they attach themselves to any suitable material present. Both parties form a mutual interaction for their individual benefit."

But what about these so-called 'Silicon lifeforms'? Lifeforms that can survive even after immolation within the Earth's atmosphere?

"They are lifeforms that have reached an evolutionary dead end,"

Nagato said simply.

"They are capable of nothing else save thought processes. The universe is very, very wide. These lifeforms constantly drift around the universe, because they are capable of processing nothing more than thoughts of self preservation.

Then what are they doing, drifting all around the universe?

"Their thought pattern is not something that organic lifeforms like you can relate to, because of the inconsistencies between basic thought patterns."

So it seems that we can't interact with them. Then I guess there's no point of calling in NASA to investigate. Even though contact was made, it would serve no point.


How in the world did Sakanaka-san's 'spirits' turn into cosmic beings? Isn't this exaggerating too much? And forget knowledge or thought patterns. I couldn't even understand one of Nagato's science fiction novels.

So it's hard to put this to an end, eh. It wasn't something modern science could explain, philosophers could understand, or religion could solve. Unseen 'Data lifeforms' composed mainly of 'Silicon'... A simple way to put it would be 'spirits', eh?


A weird thought suddenly struck me. The first time Sakanaka-san approached us, she had told us some rumors about spirits.

"Do spirits really exist?"

'Data lifeforms' without any physical being that came from outer space. Even though their 'physical silicon compositions' were destroyed, they continued to live on by depending on their 'data compositions'. After landing on Earth, they would latch on, or possess, any suitable host they found. Would these qualify as spirits?

"What about humans? We have our own thought processes and consciousness too. Do you mean to tell me that even after I die one day, my soul will continue to live on?"

Oh whatever --- No wait, on second thought, I couldn't take things so lightly this time. This was something important, after all. To know whether I continued to exist after my death was an important thing I needed to know. I dare say that Nagato's answer here will influence my entire life.

Nagato didn't reply. She had a very weird expression on her face. I couldn't tell what it was, but I knew that something was off. Even if no one were to notice it, I would always be able to read Nagato's emotions. After all, I've been together with her for almost an entire year now. All the time spent observing her this past year has been sufficient to read her emotions, I dare say. Plus, there were many incidents last year that practically forced me to read her emotions. So, I don't think that I'm wrong on this one.

Nagato ---


Was still not willing to say anything. And her expression was definitely weird. It was as if she was trying to tell me something ---


Nagato looked at me, as if I had just cracked a lame joke. Can't you at least smile?

Nagato's response finally came. Needless to say, it was very short and simple.

"That's classified information."

I heard a very loud sigh, before realizing that I was the one who had emitted it. Classified information, eh. Now where have I heard that before? The next time someone asks me a question I don't understand, I'm going to reply 'Classified Information'. I think I'll try it out the next time a teacher asks me something in class.

Has Nagato ever cracked a joke before, ever since the day she was born? This was another question I had in mind, but let's ignore it for the time being. Now we should be focusing on Rousseau, and how do we rid him of that pesky cosmic virus.

"Just think of a way to get rid of that virus, okay, Nagato?"


Nagato seemed very reliable whenever she said that.

"First we have to force the 'data compositions' into submission, before attempting to compress them into the smallest size possible. We will then need to render their activities to zero, and this can only be done using a working network interface."

Even though I had no idea what she was talking about, I could tell that it was very troublesome. Can't we just exterminate them altogether?

"We cannot exterminate them."


"Because it is not allowed."

Your bosses aren't allowing you to exterminate them?


Don't these 'Data lifeforms' pose a threat towards the universe?

"They are actually beneficial towards the universe."

They seem more like lactobacilli or Escherichia coli to us humans though.

I think it's time to pass this annoying soccer ball to Koizumi. Seeing him standing there with a bemused look on his face made me angry, for some reason.

"Why don't we just stuff these Silicon beings into a container, and shoot them back into outer space with a rocket? Your 'Organization' should be able to handle such a simple feat, no?"

Koizumi gently shrugged his shoulders, before saying:

"First of all, we would need a silicon casting container to place them in. After that, if we organize some big scale economical or political activities, we should be able to amass enough funds to purchase a Hydrogen Rocket. The only problem lies in capturing these Silicon lifeforms."

So you can't do it after all. No... Wait a second...

Something suddenly flashed in my mind. Not long ago, Tsuruya-san had dug up something strange from the mountain behind her house, and it was probably dated back the Genroku period. Can't we use that now? That mysterious object from the past?

According to Tsuruya-san, that rod was made out of titanium-cesium alloy. If her ancestor had unveiled such a device during the Genroku period, even Yamataikoku would become a peaceful place to live. Since he had no idea how to use it, or how to dispose of it, the only things he thought of were to seal it up and preserve it for the future. I really don't want to stumble upon one of those things again. Let's just hope that this is pure coincidence.

As I was lost deep in my thoughts, Koizumi's voice drifted by my ears, forcefully pulling me back to reality.

"It's a good thing the current situation isn't too urgent. We only know of two dogs that have this current sickness, the first being the one mentioned by Sakanaka-san, and the second being Rousseau. There is a margin of five days before Rousseau was affected, so if we think of something these few days, we should be able to prevent more similar cases from happening."

But time on Earth is different from time in the Universe, right? Should we be happy that these viruses had decided to adopt Earth's time?

"We'll go visit Sakanaka-san again tomorrow. Even though it's a weekend, I think we'd better think of an excuse before visiting her. It would seem very suspicious if we were to visit her two times in a row. Oh and we'll have to think of an excuse to see Higuchi-san too..."

That was as far as I listened to. You should be the one to take care of such excuses, since we've already troubled Nagato with the task of finding a cure.

"So we'll meet tomorrow. I'm sorry to trouble you, but we're counting on you, Nagato."

Just like how Haruhi and Asahina-san seemed to have left their souls in Sakanaka-san's house, I too seemed to have lost my spirit. My head was spinning with thoughts of other-worldly beings and cosmic lifeforms. As I was ready to leave for my house, I suddenly felt as if someone was pulling me strongly from behind. What was it now?

I turned around, only to find Nagato pointing at my belt, not saying anything. If you want to get my attention, Nagato, couldn't you have at least said something? Or tug my sleeve or something. However, seeing that I had asked her for a favor, I decided to remain silent about this matter.

Nagato moved her lips, without a change in facial expression.

"Preparations need to be made."

"What do you need?"

"A cat."

Just as I was about to utter out an astonished 'Huh', Nagato quickly opened her mouth, as if she had expected it, and said:

"I would like to use your cat."

After Koizumi, Nagato and I had finished planning our battle strategies, we each headed back to our respective houses. As I was on my way home, I took out my cell phone and gave Haruhi a call.

"Hello, Haruhi? It's me. Now about Rousseau, after you had went home just now, Nagato said that she had read about Rousseau's condition somewhere in a book before... Yes, there was even a cure for it. They even guarantee that he'll recover... Oh, yes I understand. Should we give it a try? Nagato says she knows what to do, so I'm hoping that we can go to Sakanaka-san's house again tomorrow... What, now? That's too demanding, don't you think? We haven't even done the necessary preparations yet. We'll head there after gathering tomorrow. Don't worry, Nagato says that his condition won't worsen... Yea, so I'm asking you to inform Sakanaka-san about it. Oh and by the way, there's another dog with the similar illness right? Higuchi-san's Michael... Tell Sakanaka-san to bring him along to her house tomorrow. I'll inform Asahina-san about this. So, we'll meet at 9 tomorrow, at our regular spot before the station."

When I arrived at the station the next day, all the members of the SOS Brigade had already gathered. Even though I had arrived 20 minutes before the scheduled time.

However, the only ones who looked normal were Nagato and Koizumi. Asahina-san had a very worried look on her face, while Haruhi looked like someone who had invested all her money into purchasing the day's lottery, and was eagerly looking forward for the winning number to be revealed.

"You're late!"

Haruhi said while giving me a very weird glance.

This was one of those rare days where I wasn't required to treat all Brigade members for a drink. Haruhi grabbed my wrist, and pulled me towards the train station.

"I heard everything from Koizumi-kun before you came," Haruhi said as she bought tickets for everyone. "But is it true that Yuki knows an obscure folk remedy for that illness, Hinekobyou?"

Hinekobyou? What's that? Some kind of new species found in Polynesia?

"It's the disease that Yuki suspects is infecting Rousseau."

After receiving my ticket from Haruhi, I hurried over to the automated gates. Trying to cover up for my previous slip, Koizumi said:

"If an active dog suddenly loses all its motivation and lies down lazily like a cat in the sun, they're suspected to have this particular disease. It's a very rare disease that isn't even recorded in medical books. Some experts say that it isn't a disease but merely over-tiredness."

Koizumi shot me a glance, as he continued:

"--- That's what I heard from Nagato-san, who seems to have read about it in an old book."

Abruptly, as if agreeing to everything that had been said, Nagato slowly nodded her head. So they discussed this earlier on, eh.

Nagato looked at the plastic bag in Koizumi's hands, which bore the infamous supermarket logo, before shifting her gaze to the cardboard box in my hand.


Shamisen purred as he began scratching the walls of the cardboard box with his claws, as if trying to say 'hi' to Nagato.

Haruhi gazed strangely at the box in my hands.

"To think that you'd require a cat to cure a disease, what a strange sickness indeed. Are you sure this'll work, Yuki? Can we trust that book?"

From the way things seemed, exorcising Rousseau may be a better word to substitute for 'cure'. But of course, I couldn't say that to Haruhi. For once I appreciated Nagato's silence.

Without uttering a word, Nagato nodded her head lightly, as she stretched her hand towards me. That's too bad, Nagato. Even if you offer me your hand, there's nothing I can give you. Even my hands are full carrying this Shamisen in this lousy box.


Nagato said in an emotionless monotone.

"Lend him to me."

After entering the train, I placed the cardboard box on Nagato's lap, thus freeing my hands of their burden. Maybe it's because we're in the train, but Nagato sat eerily still without saying anything at all, as if she were trying to tell me something. Shamisen too quieted down, as he laid down still in his box.

As if trying to sandwich Nagato in-between, Haruhi and Asahina-san each sat beside Nagato. It was then that they finally noticed the box, and that Shamisen was lying inside. However, compared to him, I think the plastic bag in Koizumi's hands is more suspicious.

"Don't worry. All necessary preparations are complete."

Haruhi shouldn't be able to listen to two men chatting by the train door. Koizumi shook the plastic bag, and said:

"Since I only had one night to prepare this, I must say that it's not really good, but it's the best I can do. The rest is up to Nagato-san."

I had faith in Nagato's abilities. I believed that she could cure Rousseau, all right. What I'm worried about, however, is what she's going to do with those cosmic viruses.

"That's where I come into play. Even though I'm saying this based purely on intuition, things shouldn't turn out to be too complicated. Just look at Suzumiya-san. The most important thing for her now is to have Rousseau cured. Once this is done, my mission will be accomplished."

Let's hope that things go so smoothly.

I avoided Koizumi's glance, and tightened my grip on the handrails, as the train picked up speed. There were only two stations left to Sakanaka-san's neighborhood. There wasn't much time left to think.

The Sakanaka-san that came out to welcome us today was completely similar to the one who had greeted us yesterday, but maybe it's because there was a sliver of hope that I detected a faint aura of determination in her eyes.


Sakanaka-san sounded as if she was about to cry. Haruhi's expression turned serious, as she nodded her head, before turning back to face the most outstanding member of the SOS Brigade, who was dressed in a school uniform that seemed to be specially made for her.

"Just leave it to us, Sakanaka-san. Even though she may not look like it, Yuki's actually a very knowledgeable and capable girl. I'm sure JJ will be fine in a moment."

We entered the living room once again, only to find Sakanaka-san's mother and another woman waiting for us there. Based on her looks alone, I'd say she's a university student. She's probably Higuchi-san, whose dog was also infected by the same disease – this I guessed based on the worried expression on her face. The little terrier in her hands should be Michael.

Rousseau was still as unhealthy as he was yesterday, as he lay still on the sofa, not moving at all. Even though his eyes were open, he seemed to be spacing out, as if staring straight into something no one else could see. The same went for Michael.

I think it's about time we began. I looked at Nagato and Koizumi.

The three of us had decided yesterday that we would leave Nagato in charge. I would serve as her assistant, while Koizumi was to prepare all the needed equipment. Even though I have no idea where he got it, I was relieved that I could rely on him at times like this, because I had no idea where we were supposed to get a silicon container from.

The first thing I did was draw the curtains shut, blocking all forms of sunlight from entering the room. I then proceeded to turn off the lights, so that in the end the room was almost pitch dark. I retrieved a big, thick candle from Koizumi's plastic bag, before placing it on a big altar. I lit the candle, then lit some joss sticks, also placing them on the altar. As I did so, the living room was filled with all sorts of weird smoke and aromas. After that, I gave Nagato a signal.

Nagato took Shamisen from the box, and cradled him in her arms. Truth to be told, Shamisen detested being carried this way, and he would normally scratch and claw his way out of it. However, seeing him remain totally still and silent made me realize that even he couldn't hope to stand against the prowess of the alien Nagato.

"Excuse me... Is it alright if you place that dog beside Rousseau?"

I asked to the young, tastefully dressed Higuchi-san who, upon seeing us set up everything as if it were a ritual, had begun eyeing us suspiciously. But in the end, she followed what I said, and soon there were two lifeless dogs lying on the sofa, looking as if their spirits had been extracted out of their bodies forcefully.

Carrying Shamisen in her arms, Nagato headed towards the sofa, before kneeling down.

Seeing that all preparations were now complete, I pressed the 'Play' button on an electronic tape recorder. Pretty soon, a piece of weird, eerie music filled the air. To tell you the truth, I was beginning to wonder if we had gone too far; but as Koizumi said, if we're going to do something, we might as well go all the way.

In the midst of flickering candlelight, mysterious aromas and weird music, Nagato began her strange ritual.


Even in this dark room, Nagato still appeared as pale and emotionless as ever. She slowly placed her left hand on Rousseau's head and stroked it a few times, then put her right hand on Shamisen's forehead. Even though he was in a totally unfamiliar room with two dogs, Shamisen still lay down quietly without making a sound.

In the midst of flickering candlelight, mysterious aromas and weird music, Nagato began her strange ritual.
In the midst of flickering candlelight, mysterious aromas and weird music, Nagato began her strange ritual.

Nagato even placed Shamisen before Rousseau's nose, until both their nose tips touched. Very slowly, Rousseau's black, beady eyes began to move, as Shamisen's wide opened eyes began to slowly close. As if trying to transfer something from Rousseau into Shamisen, Nagato frequently stroked their heads alternatively with her hands. The same thing was happening to Michael, as Nagato's lips moved silently, as if she was chanting something. We couldn't hear what was she chanting, but it did make me wonder if she did this on purpose. I think the only ones to realize this were Koizumi and I.

Finally, Nagato pressed Shamisen's forehead firmly upon both dog's nostrils, before standing up, and, without uttering a word, placed Shamisen back in his original cardboard box. She then picked up the box, returned it to me, and finally said:

"It's over."

Of course, everyone present could only stare at her without saying anything. Even I, with the cardboard box in my hand, didn't know what to say, never mind Haruhi, Asahina-san or Sakanaka-san.

Haruhi stood there with her mouth opened wide, as if wanting to say something, but didn't know what to say. After a while, she finally managed to choke out:

"It's over? Right now? Yuki? What did you do just now?"

Nagato turned her head, and looked at both dogs, as if telling us 'These are the ones you should be looking at'. Taking a hint, I turned towards the sofa.

And on the sofa---

Even though the two dogs appeared pretty confused to me, I could tell from their eyes that they had already regained their energy. The looks on their cute faces suggested that they were looking for their owners...



Sakanaka-san and Higuchi-san immediately ran forward and hugged their beloved dogs tightly. The two dogs let out a simultaneous "woof~" and began licking at their owner's faces. They wagged their tails rapidly, as if in response to their owners' sudden actions. Even Asahina-san wept tears of joy.

After a few minutes, this living room finally reverted to its original lively state, as if a dark, depressing curse had finally been lifted.

As Rousseau and Michael were in the kitchen busy indulging in the cooking of Sakanaka-san's mother, we of the SOS Brigade sat on the sofa, together with Sakanaka-san and Higuchi-san.

"What you just witnessed was Nagato performing an old folk remedy by using cats as a form of treatment."

Even though I could tell that Koizumi's story was a lousy one, it seemed that his charming smile and fluent speech had everyone else fooled.

"The candles and joss sticks contain special spices that dogs are especially sensitive to, thanks to their superior sense of smell. The weird music we played earlier apparently helps them relax."

Even though I felt that crap should only be spouted to a certain degree, for this once, I let Koizumi spout as much crap as he wanted to. All that mattered was that Rousseau and Michael were back to normal, and everyone was happy. Higuchi-san should be happier than the whole lot of us, seeing that her dog was now fine, and Sakanaka-san's mother should have been even happier, now that both her beloved dog and her daughter were back to normal. In order to show us her gratitude, she prepared more high-class treats for us, which Haruhi had no qualms about devouring.

But of course, the happiest of us all was undoubtedly Sakanaka-san.

"You're really something, Nagato-san. You managed to cure a disease that even professional vets know nothing about!"

"That's to be expected of Yuki! She's the most capable member of the SOS Brigade after all."

Nagato said nothing, but instead continued to devour the treats. Haruhi, on the other hand, was busy talking non-stop.

"Yuki reads a lot, that's why she's so knowledgeable! To top it off, she's also really good with the guitar, baking, and sports too!"

"It's a good thing Nagato read about this disease from an old book of hers,"

Koizumi added as he elegantly sipped his tea.

"It seems that even modern science can't prove why traditional folk medicine have such healing properties. Maybe old folk remedies aren't such bad things after all."

If you continue on like this, Koizumi, everyone will know that you're nothing but a liar.

Having served their purpose, the candles and joss sticks were carelessly thrown back into the plastic bag. I had initially thought of taking Shamisen out from his cardboard box, but decided against it after considering the fact that he might leave a few claw marks on Sakanaka-san's expensive furniture. He had begun meowing madly ever since he left Nagato's arms, and was frantically scratching at the walls of the box. If he were to scratch any of Sakanaka-san's furniture, I don't think I'd be let off the hook with just a few stern warnings. Having this in mind, I ignored him, hoping that he would eventually go back to sleep.

To tell you the truth, the various equipment there were purely for aesthetic purposes only. The one who played the biggest role in this was Shamisen himself, but this was something only Nagato, Koizumi and I knew.

All Nagato had to do now was freeze the data lifeforms solid. That was all she needed to do.

We had originally planned for Nagato to just freeze the data lifeforms within both dogs. However, even though it was the simplest approach, it could also produce nasty side-effects. Even if Higuchi-san's Michael or Sakanaka-san's Rousseau one day died, the data lifeforms would still remain in their bodies. There was also a possibility that the data lifeforms would suddenly unfreeze and infect their hosts once again. That's why the best way we could think of was to transfer these lifeforms into another organic host and closely monitor them. Any organic host would do --- even Haruhi and me. However, Nagato had specifically requested that Shamisen be the host, because the lifeforms wouldn't be of any harm to Shamisen apparently. This was a cat that once had the ability to speak in human tongue, even though only for a short time. I don't think inserting a couple of cosmic lifeforms in him would do him any harm. Even if there might be nasty side effects, we wouldn't have to worry, since I would be the first one to notice. That's what we decided.

'Oh well,' I thought, 'I don't mind being a sacrificial goat for this operation too much,' as I stuffed another high-class treat into my mouth.

Even though this had begun as an unfortunate disaster for Sakanaka-san, the perpetrator behind the disaster had been transferred into my cat. Can someone here please feel sorry for me?

If Nagato's apartment doesn't forbid keeping cats as pets, maybe I should just give Shamisen to her. But if I really did that, I'm afraid I'd have to console my sister for a very long time. Plus, even I seem to have taken a liking to Shamisen. Oh just forget it. You live as long as Puss in Boots for me, you hear, Shamisen?

Seeing Sakanaka-san liven up once again, I think that even Shamisen wanted to open his mouth and say something.

As we left Sakanaka-san's house, Rousseau and Michael had already recovered with unbelievable speed, and were now as healthy as ever. Needless to say, Haruhi and Asahina-san cheered up too, as they took turns hugging the two little puppies, with big smiles on their faces of course.

Sakanaka-san's mother had prepared several gifts and treats for us to take home, Nagato's goody bag being the biggest of us all. But that's to be expected. After all, she did help out the most. As we were chatting earlier, we found out that Higuchi-san was a university student after all. She had also planned to give us something in return, but Haruhi politely refused.

"You don't have to, honestly. This was something Sakanaka-san asked us to help her out with after all. I'm already satisfied with hugging Michael. Furthermore, the SOS Brigade isn't some organization where we absolutely need money in order to survive. I think that seeing the both of you happy over JJ and Michael's recovery is already the best reward. Isn't that so, Yuki?"

Nagato didn't say anything but merely nodded.

Koizumi was still as composed as ever, as he said to Sakanaka-san:

"If any other dogs are infected with the same disease as Rousseau, please do let us know. Even though the possibility of that happening is low, it's still better to be safe than sorry."

"Alright, I'll ask around the next time I take Rousseau out for a walk,"

Sakanaka-san said, nodding earnestly.

"So, see you in school then!" Haruhi said as she waved to our classmate happily. As I followed her from behind, I suddenly thought:

If Haruhi and Sakanaka-san could be classmates again next year, that would be a good thing too.

Haruhi seems to have already forgotten all about the 'spirits' incident, as she chats merrily away with Asahina-san about dogs while we walk towards the station. That's a good thing for me. At least I don't have to think up an excuse for the whole incident.

When we reached the station, we decided to call it a day. Haruhi, Nagato and Asahina-san decided to get off the train one stop earlier, since it would be closer to their houses that way. Even though it was already noon, perhaps it was due to having consumed so many treats already, I didn't want to enter a restaurant. Either that or I didn't want to bring Shamisen into one. So with that, today's SOS Brigade activities came to a close.

Koizumi and I passed through the automated gates, and exited the station.

Since the normally noisy girls of the SOS Brigade had already left, things seemed unusually quiet as the esper and I walked on the streets.

"What a day."

Even though Koizumi said so while facing me, I had a feeling that he was actually saying it to himself.

"Since this was a pretty difficult problem to handle, we had no choice but to ask for Shamisen's cooperation. Nagato-san is really something, eh? Come to think of it, something like this happened last year too, when Kimidori-san came to us for help. It was thanks to Nagato-san that we were able to rescue the Computer Society President from those data lifeforms... It seems that Nagato is connected to each of our clients, don't you agree?

"What are you trying to say?"

"That Nagato-san has truly become an irreplaceable member of the SOS Brigade. However, this is merely my opinion. Compared to this, I think you're the one with something to say, am I right?"

Unfortunately, I'm not someone who loves to talk as much as you. The only thing I wanted to know was why kamadoumas and cosmic viruses alike were so attracted to our planet, as if it were a magnet or something. Maybe Nagato knows the answer for this. But nah, Nagato only came to Earth a few years ago to observe Haruhi---

I suddenly froze on the spot.


That couldn't possibly be the answer, could it? Because of a massive 'data flare', the Integrated Data Sentient Entity sent Nagato here. So does this mean that the kamadouma in the Computer Society president's case, as well as the cosmic viruses this time, were actually attracted to Haruhi? But that can't be so, can it? After all, Nagato said that the former had already come to Earth millions of years ago.

Now if Haruhi's powers could unconsciously break the boundaries of time, then that would be too extreme, wouldn't it? However, Asahina-san is a time traveler... Someone from the future who had crossed the boundaries of time and arrived in our time plane...

I began thinking seriously, like the time when the concept of time was messing around seriously in my head.

"Do you think it's all a coincidence?"

Be quiet, won't you? Koizumi resembled a waiter that was reciting his customer's order again and again. I had a feeling that I knew what he was going to say.

"Stop beating around the bush. I've got no time to be playing mind games here with you."

"Those cosmic life forms happened to land on this street near our houses, and even attached themselves onto a North High Student's dog. The said student then consulted the SOS Brigade, and had us take action... The truth was finally uncovered by Nagato, who in turn cleaned up the entire mess. For everything to happen so smoothly as I outlined to be a coincidence, the only time it'll ever happen is when it's the plot of a fiction novel."

Even though he had a point, this was one time where I couldn't just let laziness get the better of me and not make a retort. This doesn't mean that I'm on Haruhi's side, though.

"To hell with fiction probabilities. We do have two different cosmic entities appearing before us at the same time. What's the probability of that happening? If you're not going to label it coincidence, what else are you going to call it? Just like how you came up with your own detective script last winter, why can't you let Nagato come up with her own script once in a while?"

"That should be impossible. I think the one that's truly scripting everything is probably the Information Data Sentient Entity, or some other cosmic entity we haven't met till now. And I can guarantee this is not something Suzumiya-san wishes for."

What are you trying to say actually? Why are you still overworking your mind thinking about these pointless probabilities when it's almost spring break now? Plus, everything's over for the moment. Just let it rest.

"I've said it before, haven't I? Suzumiya-san's mind is gradually stabilizing. As happy as I am about it, there are also others who are undoubtedly disappointed with the current state of affairs. This is where the problem lies."

I remained quiet, signaling for Koizumi to go on. Koizumi placed a finger on his lips, and said:

"There may even be some who think that things would be meaningless if Suzumiya-san continues to stabilize. Be it a data flare, a time quake, or a dimensional disruption, I think that there are people who are secretly manipulating things in the shadows, trying to evoke Suzumiya-san's unbelievable powers.

I suddenly noticed that Koizumi's smile had begun to look very odd, eerily resembling the one Asakura Ryouko had on her face the day she tried to kill me.

"That's why, what I'm saying is, this incident may only be the prologue to something even more sinister."

What are you talking about? If everything could be predicted, as you seem to suggest, someone would undoubtedly run a predicting service, and become the next Nostradamus.

Koizumi's smile suddenly turned bitter.

"These cosmic entities suddenly landing on Earth, and right before our eyes too – I don't think it's something you can dismiss with a mere 'coincidence'. You should know the truth better than anyone. These 'aliens' could actually be hidden right before us. There might be other cosmic intelligent lifeforms here on Earth aside from human interfaces."


I didn't want to mask my words any longer. You know Koizumi, it's hard for me to accept what you're saying after you've occasionally revealed to me that deceptive side of yours. If you want to call Nagato a human interface, then do so right to her face. I don't really mind, seeing that it's the truth anyway, but:

"What I do mind are these 'other aliens' you just mentioned."

"There have been reports from within the 'Organization', that is why I know a little more than you do. Even though I don't know everything about them yet, I think it's sufficient to say that I know them quite well."

Koizumi's smile finally returned to normal.

"Let's just leave the other aliens to Nagato. I've decided that my priorities are to help the 'Organization' in combating its rivals. Similarly, if there are any rival time travelers, then I leave it to Asahina-san. I have a feeling that something is about to happen."

From Koizumi's expression, I could tell that he was serious, because his thoughts were exactly the same as mine. The only thing I disagreed with him was to leave the fighting to Asahina-san. That should be left to the other Asahina-san in the far future. I didn't worry about Nagato at all, since I was sure there was nothing that had greater willpower than she did. Oh and Koizumi, I hope you haven't forgotten the promise you made during the snow mountain incident.

"Of course I haven't. It's always been in my mind. But even if I do forget, I'm sure you'll be there to remind me, no?"

Koizumi laughed as he waved goodbye.

"Then, we'll save the chatting for another day."

"Ah, you're back Kyon-kun!"

When I reached home, I found my sister sprawled on my bed, happily reading my manga.

"Where did you take Shamy to?"

I didn't say anything, as I lifted Shamisen out of the box. Upon being released, the tri-colored cat immediately leapt onto my sister's back, and began walking up and down her spine, as if giving her a massage. My sister laughed as she waved her legs in midair.

"Kyon-kun, get Shamy off me, I can't stand it!"

I gently picked Shamisen off my sister's back, and placed him by her side. The fifth-and-soon-to-be sixth grader put down the manga in her hands, and proceeded to stroke Shamisen's back, while playfully tickling his nose.

"I smell something yummy --- What is it?"

I gave my sister the bag of treats Sakanaka-san's mother had prepared, before going to pick up a thick, hardcover book on my desk.

About a week ago, after the end of the end of term exams, I had borrowed this book from Nagato. "Are there any interesting books here? Books that suit my current feelings?" I asked her. Nagato stood before the bookshelf for approximately 5 minutes before slowly picking the book that now lay before me. After reading about half of the book, I found out that it was a simple high school love story between a boy and girl. There were no traces of science fiction, nor were there any annoying deductions – just a normal story set in a normal world. However, because of various unexplainable reasons, I found this novel to be extremely suitable for me. That's why I don't think Nagato should become an astronomer or a vet. She should become a librarian instead.

I lay down on my bed, and started to pick up where I had previously left off. My sister had already brought the treats downstairs, and was probably busy finding something to drink.

I had no idea how much time had passed when ---

I suddenly noticed Shamisen scratching at the room door. He was probably signaling for me to open it up and let him out of the room. I usually left my room door half open for his convenience, but I suppose that my sister had accidentally closed it tight when she left my room earlier.

I inserted a bookmark into the novel I was reading, then got up to open the door for Shamisen. Shamisen immediately darted out of my room, and all of a sudden turned back and meowed at me. Is this his method of saying 'thank you'?

However, when Shamisen began looking over my shoulder, I felt uncomfortable and too turned around.

All I saw was a corner of the ceiling. There was nothing else.

Shamisen's round eyes were locked on the ceiling, before they slowly moved, finally landing on the wall outside my room. His eyes seemed to trace a path in the air, as if trying to tell me that something I couldn't see had traveled from the ceiling to the outer wall.


Even though I called out to Shamisen, he remained in that pose for a couple of seconds, before waving his tail in midair and strolling off. He was most probably headed to the kitchen to find something to eat. I left my door half closed, just wide enough for a cat to squeeze in, before giving Shamisen's actions more thought. Animals would usually pay attention to things that humans would mostly ignore. Even small noises outside would sometimes distract them.

But what if Shamisen had seen something I couldn't just a moment ago? What if something invisible had attached itself to my ceiling, before slowly floating past my wall and out of my room?

--- A spirit?

--- I think it's better not to think about it.

What if some data lifeforms had arrived on Earth billions and billions of years ago, and chose humans as hosts instead of dogs? What if humans had a totally different reaction to them? Is this how the early humans gained their huge intelligence leaps?

If that were the case, then all Nagato's bosses needed to do to overcome their evolutionary dead end would to be to attach some of these lifeforms onto themselves. Of course, this would mean that they hadn't achieved evolution on their own, but rather through the help of some other worldly beings.

I wonder if the Information Data Sentient Entity had actually considered that possibility before. Even though it would be against the way of nature, maybe some cosmic entities had actually infected primates billions of years ago, which in turn caused them to develop their superior intelligence and evolve to the modern human now. If that was the case, then all queries regarding evolution would have been solved.

"What am I saying?"

I was already mumbling to myself. How could something as preposterous as that possibly happen? We should not think about things that exceed our brain capacity. I should just leave all these difficult scientific questions to Koizumi, just like how he wanted to leave aliens to Nagato. When the day that I finally understand what his sentences mean comes, I'll be sure to prepare a suitable counterattack.

Even if Koizumi was really occupied with his 'Organization', to the point that he couldn't spare me some time, I would still have others to turn to. The first person I would ask help from would be Tsuruya-san. If I manage to sway that cheery senpai to our side, I'm sure even the higher ups in the 'Organization' would be in a fix.

What should I do if such a situation ever arose, or what new situations would be brought into play, these I had never thought of before. You know what they say. 'We'll cross that bridge when we come to it'.

"... Ah forget it. Thinking's not my specialty, after all."

All I needed to do was to focus on being good old me. I was I, no more, no less.

Actually, if the time ever comes, I guess I'll contribute a little to thinking. But that's in the future. If you tell me to think any more before that happens, then I might just as well ignore you.

Just as I was in the middle of these random thoughts, my cell phone on the desk began to vibrate. Would it be from some unknown entity from an unknown time? As I picked my cell phone up, I saw it display the caller as 'Haruhi'.

"What is it?"

"I forgot something important, Kyon!"

Cutting straight to the chase without bothering to even say 'Hello', that was exactly what Haruhi would do, all right.

"Even though I'm happy that JJ and Michael are all right, don't you think the illness is kind of strange? I believe that they were scared stiff after seeing a spirit!"

Now do you understand why I'm so frustrated when it comes to thinking, Koizumi? Haruhi is one very annoying girl who likes to think about pointless stuff, and to top it off, share those thoughts with me.

"I think it's due to that path that we took a week ago. According to my deductions, they may still be lurking there, floating around like wandering shadows."

"Even though I'm not sure what kind of spirits they are, we should exorcise them as soon as possible!"

"So all members are to gather in front of the station again tomorrow! I'm going to take a photo of the spirits this time for sure!"

"How in the world are you planning to take pictures of spirits?"

"Since it's impossible to take them in the morning, we'll just have to take them at night! We'll sniff out those spirit-infested areas, and take a couple of photos of them! If we're lucky we may even manage to net 2 or 3 photos!"

Haruhi then proceeded to tell me the time and venue we were supposed to meet, and promptly hung up. It was as if she had never once considered whether I had any plans for Sunday. I assumed that a few seconds later, some other brigade member got the exact same call from her. I had a feeling that the next day's 'city-wide search for mysterious events' would turn out to be a 'close-encounter with midnight spirits' event.

I put down my phone, glanced at one corner of the room, and was soon lost in thought.

Sakanaka-san's 'spirits' case had finally been solved thanks to Nagato. I believe that spirits don't exist in this world, and I'm sure Koizumi is of a similar opinion. The problem was that Haruhi did believe in them, and indeed hoped that they would come to pay her a visit every few hours. It seems that our brigade commander's wishes have escalated from aliens, time travelers and espers to spirits now.

The task of mapping out 'spirit hotspots' I leave to Koizumi. Oh and if we do snap any pictures of spirits, Koizumi, do me a favor and whip up some scientific excuse on the spot. What was I going to be in charge of, you ask? That's simple. I'll be the one in charge of hugging Asahina-san if she ever screams out in the dark.

Walking about in the dark while mysteriously snapping photos, that seems mighty suspicious all right. I'm sure it would seem weird if we were to tell some bystander that we were trying to take a picture of a spirit that we didn't even know what it might look like. And if we did really run into an emergency, all we needed to do was have Asahina-san put on a miko costume and start chanting out some Buddhist Scriptures. Maybe that will satisfy Haruhi's 'exorcising mission'.

But even if spirits really do exist in this world, I'm sure that we won't bump into them simply by taking a walk in the dark. Plus, I don't think Haruhi really wants to run into any spirits either.

After being with her for almost an entire year now, I'm sure that everyone understands, right? What that girl wishes for is not spirits, but rather the process of trying to find them together with everyone.

Then, what do I think about it, you ask?

"Oh well, let's just treat it as a night outing."

I looked at the ceiling Shamisen was looking at not long ago while talking to myself. After that, I continued reading my book, which was set in a world that was much more normal than the one I was currently living in now. Even so, I didn't envy that normal world one bit, or at least that's what the current me thinks now.

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