Thursday, 21 December 2017

June 24, 2040, smoking in the dark

There was a night here. It wasn’t long, and it really wasn’t dark enough to merit being called night.

Urufu said it was a filthy habit, but Yukio had seen him smoke occasionally. Apparently he was a heavy smoker reformed.

Reformed. Only you would use an expression like that, Urufu. Transitioning into this world and a body that had yet to taste a cigarette.

In a few days Yukio would do the same. He and Kyoko.

What will it feel like? He drew a lungful and watched the tip of his cigarette grow brighter. With a flick of his finger he twisted ash from it and stared into the night.

A little closer to the shore someone spoke silently. Yukio strained his ears to hear better. Eavesdropping didn’t make him feel ashamed at all. Not any longer.

A few days more. After that almost everyone he knew would be gone. Or rather he would be gone.

Those aren’t words. Not even in Swedish. Then he understood what he was listening to. Someone sobbing.

One of the kids drinking too much? Yukio killed his cigarette and began walking down the hill to find out.

Halfway to the sobbing sounds he stopped in his tracks. It was Kuri. Well, he guessed she counted as one of the kids drinking too much. So you’re remembering what you did? What you both did. Because that was the problem. Both of them. Urufu and Kuri. So much effort spent scarring each other in an attempt to protect the other. And so many others hurt because of that.

Urufu might be his best friend still, but Yukio refused to place all blame on Kuri. For being so brilliant both had behaved like first class idiots.


Why, you two? Why make it so difficult? The question brought his thoughts to Kyoko. What’s so hard about falling in love with a wonderful girl and then stick to her no matter what?

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Prologue, 2014

Christina tugged her coat tighter around her. Last week in June and an already miserable attempt at summer surprised her by reaching an atrocious low.

The invitation to spend a weekend at a resort had been a welcome break in days filled with work, and as Chag’s Swedish main office ground to a halt after the Midsummer’s celebrations, just like most business in Sweden did, she decided she could afford herself a little luxury.

Afford referring to time. She had all the money she could ever wish for and none of the pleasures she once dreamt came with it.

I’m growing old.

Their last collection was a failure. She knew that. Only murderous marketing kept the numbers up, but she would have refused to wear most of it as a teenager herself.

And yet I gave the green light. Damn! Her fault. The collections were her responsibility. Billion Dollar Empress and corporate management be damned. Chag did fashion. Christina bloody Princess of Scandinavia Agerman did fashion. If she didn’t, who else would?

For once she had kept the axe hanging despite demands that heads rolled. At least this time she wouldn’t place the blame for her own mistakes on anyone else.

She was so lost in thought that she almost missed that trees had given way to grass. With trunks no longer protecting her wind caught in her clothes and she had to grab her coat with both hands.

A bit further ahead a cabin hugged the mountainside. It almost looked like it had been dug into the very bedrock.

Then a freak gust of wind tore at her hair and Christina let out a surprised shriek.

Of course we’ll have a Summer’s storm on top of all! This June’s breaking every bloody low score yet. She grinned and grimaced. Somehow the abysmal weather made her laugh, but as the wind grew stronger she decided it wasn’t the time for mirth.

Woods or cabin? Cabin!

Just as she made her mind up the wind caught strength with a sickening roar, and for the first time she felt fear running through her. Out here she was totally unprotected.

She dropped to her knees and started crawling towards he mountain side. Out of nowhere windy weather had turned into a hurricane and she couldn’t see anything at all.

Her world turned white.

One moment gusts of wind tried to rip her coat to shreds, the next her coat was gone.

So were the rest of her clothes, and any remnant of wind as well.

Christina stared at bony fingers. Then she stared again.

She vaguely remembered that hand. It was hers, but not hers any longer.

Standing up she felt earth welling up between her toes, and she looked down.

What the hell?

Naked wasn’t anything special to her. She spent fifteen years of her life without any privacy. Ten of them without any privacy even away from cameras.

Naked and young, very, very young, however, was.

The ugly me? I had forgotten! What’s going on?

Then the sound of engines grew closer and she stood staring in the direction from where they came. From the sound she guessed she’d see the vehicle in a few seconds.

She was surround by mountains seen nowhere in Sweden.

A flash of a thought begged her to do something about her nakedness, but years of experience firmly shoved that thought down into the nothingness it deserved. She was naked. She had no clothes around her. There was nothing to do about it.

When the military looking car popped over a crest a little later she decided to cover her private parts with one hand and her breasts with the other. There was something called modesty after all.

Feeling her breasts under her hand she discarded that idea. There weren’t much to feel anyway.

Whoever drove the car cut the engine, and in the distance she heard another vehicle driving somewhere unseen to her.

The doors opened and two men emerged.

Excuse me, but could you please tell me where I am?” she said to the one closest. English. English would do almost anywhere.

You have arrived in Japan. We will take you in,” he answered and offered her a blanket he had been carrying. “There are clothes back there as well,” he added.

Christina wrapped the blanket around her. The flimsy cloth partially covering her body strangely enough made her feel more naked than before and she averted her eyes from his.

What’s going on?”

Sorry, mz. We’ll drive you to a facility where you can get some privacy and change into better clothes than those we have here.”

That didn’t answer her questions at all.

We’ll answer your questions there as well.


That had to suffice.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Midsummer’s day, 2040, midnight

Midsummer’s day grew to a close, and while the last two days had mostly been filled with memories experienced and memories shared, some beautiful, some horrible and some just nostalgic, these very two days laid themselves to rest among other memories.

Christina grimaced.

We were so young back then. Even I were much younger than I understood at that time. Experiencing a second youth had been much more than going through the motions. She had been young once again, young and unprepared for the new life ahead of her. So many mistakes, so many regrets. Ulf, I hurt you so much. How could you ever forgive me? Did you ever really forgive me?

There would be reasons to remember again soon. Three more days. That was all they had. After that some of the would be gone, would transit to the downstream world. Not all of them. At least not now, and Christina suspected a few would live and die in this world by choice.

To become a teenager again sounded less appealing the older you got. To accept that you wouldn’t be treated like an adult, to actually partially regress into adolescence.

Better now, sure. Much better now when the dirty infighting was gone, if it was gone in the downstream world as well. That was the risk with transiting. You didn’t know exactly what that world would be like. Almost the same as this one, just like this one was almost the same as the one she left quarter of a century earlier. But there were differences, differences that tore her life apart because she tried to grab control over it.

Christina stared into the night sky and glittering stars. They shimmered through tears welling up in her eyes.

Ulf, even if you can’t for real, please pretend you’ll forgive me! U-kun, I wish I could call you that again.

She choked down feelings of misery. I lost the right to feel sadness back then.

Christina looked back at choices she had made. Some made her proud, some surprised, and the one she recalled most clearly right now, just disgusted with herself.


How could you ever fall in love with someone like me?

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Epilogue

You’re certain you can’t stop it?”

Kareyoshi-sensei, we’re saying we don’t have any interest in stopping it.”

Kareyoshi heard the emphasis on ‘sensei’, but there was no respect in it. If anything it sounded as if the man smirked.

The spring trimester was a memory since just a few days, but it never felt like it had ended for him. Especially since the summer of 2017 showed leniency when it came to temperatures. The last, lingering days of July offered weather better suited for late May.

Don’t want to?” Kareyoshi asked, more for confirmation than anything else.

Look, if the kids behave like some unruly gaijin you discipline them. As it is now those expelled got rewarded by an entry into Irishima High.”

He could growl, but it helped about as much as wiping dirt from his suit. Out of the three schools there had never been any question about which one had the highest status. Now there were effectively only two of them left, but even as Benibara High, or Akai Bara High School as it was formally named, was dissected last winter the students with the highest grades went to Irishima High and the rest entered Himekaizen Academy. Only those with pure Japanese hearts found no place in either school.

Benibara was left as a burned out shell of its former glory.

Kareyoshi-sensei?”

He left his thoughts and shifted his attention to the representative for arrivals in Japan. A dirty half blood at that!

As I said earlier. We’ve made an agreement with your superiors that the expulsions be rescinded.”

And if I don’t agree?” Kareyoshi stared at the woman who had spoken without being spoken to. Being half Swedish meant she was probably incapable of cleansing herself from the foreign taint clinging to every fibre of her being.

She returned his stare.

He could have sworn there was something condescending in her expression.

We emigrate. All of us.”

Why? Because you love Sweden that much?”

Her next stare sent shivers down his back. “No. We represent a little over a trillion yen. That gives us a lot more power in Sweden than in Japan. We’ll use it to shut down the business with arrivals.”

Kareyoshi shrugged. If a few dirty foreigners given overblown rights were to cease arriving in Japan, then what was the problem?

You don’t have to understand. I’m aware it’s beyond your mental capacity anyway. You just have to obey.”

Kareyoshi almost gave in to his need to discipline a woman who didn’t know her place, but a glare from the man beside her calmed him down. Whatever the reasons for the strange order given here Kareyoshi still trusted the people who worked with the arrivals but still aimed for a pure Japan.

Whatever is best for my home,” Kareyoshi said and made certain his voice was at its most formal.

Whatever is best for humanity,” came the immediate reply.

Kareyoshi didn’t even bother to answer. His hand forced he’d have to reinstall every student who wanted to come back to Himekaizen.


You’re right, of course. I’ll keep that in mind,” he said and smiled. His new orders were clear. He had to allow the garbage back inside his school. That was all. He could still make anyone stupid enough to return regret that decision for the remainder of their high school lives.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Chapter six, 2017, friends from far, segment ten

Noriko was just on the verge of joining their Swedish guests for yet another session in the sea when she noticed Urufu’s face a bit further up the beach.

One face among others lit up by the rapidly falling sun. One face a little too far away to recognise this easily, but it was Urufu. She knew that, and she knew why she knew.

By now her conviction that this time she’d hold on for all that she was worth was stronger than her friendship with Kuri.

That the tall goddess would hurt the day Noriko finally managed to reel Urufu in was a given. That Kuri would have a hard time forgiving as well. Kuri being a couple with Ryu didn’t have anything to do with it, and as Noriko gazed at the face she wanted close to hers more than anything else in the world she finally understood why Kuri would hurt.

Idiot. My idiot friend, Noriko thought. Crushes and lovers in high school might be nothing more than attributes of the spring of youth, and most often it probably was, but Kuri and Urufu. What they had had, and what they allowed to slip through their fingers was so much more.

Am I willing to take that risk? She knew the answer to that question, and somewhere deep inside Noriko understood she’d never have Urufu entirely to herself even if she made him hers. Would that be enough? That she didn’t know. She only felt how much the hole inside her would hurt if she didn’t even get whatever he could give her, and therefore it had to be enough, and for that reason she just had to take that risk.

With anxiety filling her she left the sand and walked toward Urufu. He sat facing two men, and Noriko saw she had to round the construction and enter facing his back.

More of a surprise that way, she thought and grinned. Grinning was something Urufu taught her. That wide open, defenceless expression of mirth which had captured her heart almost two years earlier.

That time, when he saved her, his face didn’t radiate rage despite the slap he gave her to make her run for safety. It was a grin filled with relief and satisfaction that sent her on her way in search for her brother while Urufu fought her battle behind her back.

Rage and despair came later, and while those expressions had scared her it was the memory of that first grin of his that stayed with her, and she fell in love with him before even understanding what falling in love was. That understanding didn’t come until he was expelled.

I lost him twice. I’m not going to let it happen a third time. And she had to make a move. Warning signals blared in her whenever Rika-sempai got near Urufu. He might be in love with Kuri, but Kuri would never do allow sanity to prevail and live out the love of her life together with the only mad she could share it with. Noriko knew she could trust Kuri’s insanity.

Rika-sempai, however, was a totally different thing. She had the financial muscle to find out what kind of beast Urufu was, and Noriko didn’t want to take that kind of risk. The day the classic beauty understood that Urufu didn’t act like the two year younger boy he might look like, well that day would see Rika-sempai turn into competition.

Maybe the love stories were usually right about younger girls having an advantage, but there was nothing usual about Urufu.

Noriko smirked and took the nearest path around the wooden deck where adults sat drinking sun and beer, one of them Urufu, even though Noriko suspected he didn’t join in on the beer.

Less than a minute later she entered the deck.

Oh! Nakagawa-sensei, and… it took her a few seconds to recognise the other man. Kuri’s father? No, grandfather. It was supposed to be a secret, but there were very few secrets between the six of them. Can you even say that we are still the six of us? They didn’t keep together like they did until Kuri dumped Urufu.

She waved to her former principal, and he returned a nod Urufu didn’t even notice, because his head didn’t move the slightest.

Then he must have noticed, because just as she came up behind him and made ready to cover his eyes with her hands he turned and shot her a nonplussed look.

Noriko?”

And then his face split up in the wolfish grin that made her heart tumble. For a moment every trace of the worries which had etched themselves into his eyes vanished and he looked just like a sixteen year old boy who had an innocent prank played on him.

Stronger, much stronger than the crush she had on him flaring up all inside her an intense feeling of gratitude grew in her. You changed me. You made me feel joy again.

Long gone, just over a year ago, but still long gone, were the cynical Noriko she had made into her persona. Now she only needed her own sixteen year old self. Standing in the shadow of her brother didn’t matter now when she could shine on her own.

So you’re Tina’s rival?” Kuri’s grandfather said?

Tina? Ah, yes he calls her Tina. Noriko felt a grin taking over her face, one she suspected could compete with Urufu’s. “Yes, yes I am.”

For once mentioning Kuri didn’t cast a shadow over Urufu’s features. “At least she’s trying the best she can,” he said.

I’m not just trying,” Noriko responded and placed a hand on his shoulder. “After finals, during our summer break. You’d better be ready. I’ll go all out for you.”

I’ll be waiting,” he said teasingly, but Noriko filled with pure joy at those words. The Urufu she knew was never false. He migt not have understood himself, but in those words lay the opening she had hoped for.


Summer break,” she repeated, and then she surprised herself with an audacity she never knew she had in her. “I’ll have you long for this before autumn,” she added and hugged him.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Chapter six, 2017, friends from far, segment nine

Ulf swore when his phone came alive. He’d spent half an hour discreetly comparing notes about his old school now and then, even though there was the barrier of a world between them as well. Still, for most practical purposes it was a matter of a stiff thirty years.

Those had been thirty perfectly enjoyable minutes in the sun chatting away with an absolutely adorable Jenny, who reminded him a whole lot of his first girlfriend from back then, and her boyfriend.

Rika hovered around them most of the time as well, even though she pretended not to. In the end Ulf silently agreed to pretend flirting with her to give her an excuse to stay with them.

He grinned at the memory. Two gave them ugly glares. Noriko and Alexander.

All in all Ulf would have preferred to stay another half an hour in the afternoon sun with something almost resembling a cool breeze rolling in over the waves.

But.

His phone rang and he felt compelled to fish it up and move away from his company.

Hamarugen Urufu,” he answered when he got far enough away to at least make certain Jun and Rika couldn’t hear him. Jenny couldn’t understand him when he spoke Japanese anyway.

Seaside café, behind you.” came an old man’s voice. Ulf was certain he had heard it before.

Excuse me?”

Get here young man. Nakagawa-sensei will treat you.”

Ulf heard a low murmur of protest in the background. “Fine, I’ll be there.” He licked his lips. They tasted salty, more from sweat than any sea water by now.” What is the old goat up to now?

First he returned to his company. He gave them an apologetic shrug and explained he had to take an interview, and after that he crammed his belongings into his backpack and shouldered it.

When he entered the wooden deck of the café he noticed how the teenagers had become scarce and were replaced by people in their twenties and thirties.

A quick glance told him covering his torso was probably a good idea if he didn’t want to be ejected. He wrenched his backpack off his shoulder and dug up a shirt with which to cover himself.

Show-off!” a voice to his left said.

He turned.

At least the kid’s got something to show. Wanna join us?”

The girls might have been in their early twenties, which made them his senior by at least five years in this world.

Picking up high schoolers are we?” Ulf teased. The situation reminded him a little of the winter evenings he had spent together with Yukio in the city while they were still middle schoolers.

High school? No way!”

Sorry, but yes way. I’m a junior.” Then he decided he didn’t have time for them. 
“Look, you’re cute and gorgeous and all that, and any other day I’d take you up on your offer, but I’ve got old people breathing down my neck right now.”

Two pairs of hands flying to their mouths was reward enough. Ulf grinned at them and threw both girls a mock salute before he turned and searched for the old goat. Nakagawa should fit in here like the proverbial snowball in hell.

He did his search from the bar, and just as he ordered a glass of juice and a bottle of mineral water to go with it, he found the table. Nakagawa wasn’t alone.

Crap! So Ina’s granpa is here as well? Some new shit or just complaints because I didn’t stick to her?

That was unfair. Ulf knew that, but anything Christina brought a sour taste to his mouth. Forgetting her was out of the question, and he silently cursed himself for hurting still. It was unfair in more ways than one. Noriko ate sharp jokes and comment from him just because she did what he himself hadn’t done for Christina – openly and consistently told him she loved him despite his repeated rejections.

He gasped, because with that thought came a new realisation. For the first time since he arrived here Maria didn’t tug at his memories. Sometime since he broke up with Christina his old life must have become just a memory, and pains and fears belonging to that world were just dulled memories.

He remembered loving his wife, but she was gone, as were his children, and for the first time he truly accepted that. Good bye Maria. I wish you a good life.

Sand in your eyes?”

Ulf balked. The voice belonged to Sano-san, Christina’s grandfather.

Yeah,” Ulf said and sat down. He put bottle and two glasses on the table. “Something like that.”

Tina, or memories older still?”

His lips stretched. Ulf guessed his smile came out as a smirk. “My family,” he admitted. “They’re really gone, aren’t they?”

Sano-san shook his head. A smile mirroring Ulf’s came to his lips. “No, they’re still there. At least I hope they are.” Then his smile was just sad. “We’re the ones who are gone.”

Blinking away tears Ulf reached for his glass. With a few gulps he downed the juice. For a moment the taste of orange mixed with salt when he swallowed tears and memories of a life lost to him.

It’s strange,” he said. “It hurts that it doesn’t hurt any longer. When did I betray them?”

Again Sano-san shook his head. “They’ll always be with you. You never betrayed them. If anything you were betrayed.”

Ulf met Sano-san’s gaze. “No, I betrayed them. I no longer regret arriving here. I’ve made this life more important that my old.”

Fool! The life you’re living at the moment is always the most important.”

Ulf flinched. He stared at Sano-san. The man was older than him by far. “What?”

We need our memories, but we can’t live in them. That’s not living, that’s just a shadow of a life.”

That philosophy would take some time to digest. “You know,” Ulf started to change the subject, “arriving here really was a transition.” Memories from the last two years shot through his mind. “And a restart,” he added.

What did you just say?”


Ulf stared at Nakagawa-sensei. The old man’s face was ashen. “Transition and restart,” Ulf repeated.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Chapter six, 2017, friends from far, segment eight

Late afternoon saw Nakagawa Akio, former principal of Himekaizen academy, walk along the beach a bit away from where his former students were still playing along with their foreign guests.

Less than half an hour earlier he’d had a thoroughly disgusting conversation with two of their fathers. At least talking with Uchida-san had been awful. Hasegawa-san was a decent person if Nakagawa could trust his ability to assess people.

So now, as much to feel clean again as to finish the first stage of planning, he headed for the seaside pub to grab a beer together with Sano-san.

Now Sano-san wasn’t the kind of person you wanted your children to associate with. At least not until you got to know him better, and while Nakagawa didn’t really know him all that well, he still remembered the boy from high school who never wavered in his loyalty to his two best friends.

And now your kids are in high school, and both of them dragged into this insanity.

That was a sobering thought. A quarter of a century since the old man in a boy’s body helped the Wakayama’s… no she had been Masuda back then, to play merry hell with school regulations. But they had been their twin kids inverted. Masuda Natsumi the tomboy with absolutely no regard for authority and Wakayama Tadao who followed his girlfriend in whatever she came up with.

You were both good kids. Then Nakagawa saw Sano-san waving from a table. All three of you were. Strange as it was Nakagawa still regarded the subjectively older man as the former student he had once been. It didn’t matter that he had been seventy when he arrived. Nakagawa had only seen the teenager, and Sano-san never behaved like an old man in a young body during his years at Himekaizen.

As Nakagawa came closer to the table Sano-san rose from his chair.

Sensei,” he said and bowed.

Yeah, I guess it’s that bad. Sano-san were only polite when trouble was brewing.

Nakagawa bowed in return and went to buy a beer. When he returned to the table Sano-san sat in his chair gazing at the kids on the beach.

Irishima High, almost all of them,” Nakagawa said and sat down.

I made a call.”

Who?”

Sano-san lifted his glass to his mouth and drank. Wiping off foam from his lips with the back of his hand he turned to face Nakagawa. “I called their principal.”
Nakagawa nodded. He’d just wait for Sano-san to continue.

Summer break. I’ll do the dirty preparations before then, but as soon as the kids leave for the break I’ll have a nice mine-field ready for the bastard.”

I doubt we can have Kareyoshi kicked out. I’m gathering dirt on him, but it’s not enough yet.”

You know,” Sano-san started, “back in Sweden the dirt you have would have been more than enough.”

Nakagawa grimaced. “No such thing as a ‘back in Sweden’ for my part. I’ve never been there.”

You should visit.”

Some day,” Nakagawa agreed. “What’s your goal,” he said to steer Sano-san back on topic.

There was another drawn out moment of silence as Sano-san emptied his beer. “I’m pretty certain I can have the expulsions voided. I doubt all that may of the students will want to transfer back though.”

How so?” Nakagawa knew the answer, but he still needed to hear it.

You old goat,” Sano-san said and grinned. “I’ll surprise you yet.” The grin became predatory. “Objectively Irishima High is a better school than Himekaizen. There’s little reason to downgrade.

Didn’t think of that aspect. Fine, you surprised me. “Go on.”

We don’t want the Swedish embassy involved with this. Neither faction wants that, because that means the Swedish section becomes directly involved with the arrivals on this side.”

Which was the answer Nakagawa had been waiting for.

So you expect the other faction to start kicking around their own people just because you ask them to?”

As a matter of fact, yes. Or rather...” Sano-san hesitated for a moment. Then his eyes shifted into something that had Nakagawa back away a little. “Or rather because we will ask them.”

We?”

Yes, we. Not as in you and me, but the other we?”

Stop being cryptic!”

For once Sano-san reacted like the student he once had been, and he immediately wiped off that frightening smile from his face. “We, as in us arrivals. There are quite a few of us, and together we wield considerable power.”

Nakagawa gasped. “You couldn’t possibly organise...”

Sensei, you forget that all of us have a past in Sweden. We’ve learned to be very good at silently organising ourselves. We just don’t parade down the streets.”

A sudden suspicion flared through Nakagawa’s mind. “For how long?”

The smile he got in return was anything but comforting. “It was all in place when I arrived here. I suspect it has always been in place.”

A third faction. I should have known!”

Sensei, you really believed us arrivals wouldn’t contact each other as soon as we had an opportunity?”

Nakagawa shook his head. “Contact, yes, but you make it sound like a club or something.”

No, not a club. That’s Ulf’s thing. He’s the first who got a lot of non-arrivals involved. Anyway, rather think of it as a corporation. Really do, since in ways it is one.”

What kind of pressure could you apply to the goons behind Kareyoshi?”

Really, I thought you had guessed. If they don’t get their shit in order we’ll emigrate. There won’t be a need for factions, because there will be no arrivals in Japan.”

Three dozen arrivals moving to Sweden. Three dozen people who shared the ability to change their surroundings. The Swedish side would accept them gleefully.

Do you really think you can pull it off?” Nakagawa wondered.


I don’t have to,” Sano-san said. “I just need to make the other faction believe I can.”