Nakagawa Akio sat outside the tent in his foldable chair. As a man in his mid thirties he would normally not have been left in charge of handling arrivals from a transition, but early April 2040 wasn’t a normal transition event.
“Sure they'll transit this year?” the woman to his left asked.
Nakagawa nodded. “Last year's arrivals said they planned to gather everyone originally involved for a midsummer's party in Sweden.”
He stared at the hillside ahead. A few more minutes and he would know if he had interpreted the planned party correctly.
“Seems awfully early to me. They'll be around forty years old. Wouldn't they have children to care for?”
There was that of course. Those who were parents couldn't blithely transit and leave their children behind in an upstream world. As far as scientists knew the transition event only allowed for downstream transitions. “I wish I knew,” Nakagawa admitted. “Of all the arrivals since they broke the code I guess I'm the one closest to them.” He sighed. “But I can't really say I was that close. By the time I transited I was retired from active service.” He grinned and turned to look at her. “Seventy years old, you know and they were university students so there was a minor age gap.”
She shuddered. “It's not natural. Well, I guess it is, but it doesn't feel natural.” She looked at him with a question in her eyes.
“Almost twenty years ago. I arrived here 2021,” he answered. “So I'm almost 90 subjective age. What about it? I feel like my 35 objective. You get used to it after a while.” Nakagawa smiled at her. “You know I was the principal of Himekaizen?”
She nodded. “Yeah, in the upstream world. You never existed in this one. Said it wasn't natural.” She was visibly sulking by now. “I know you're called Principal Nakagawa out of courtesy, but there's never been a Principal Nakagawa of the Himekaizen Academy here.”
Nakagawa rose from his chair and enjoyed the spring breeze for a few moments before he sat down again. “I could apply for the job, you know. I know the school after all.” He reached for a cup of tea and sipped it a little while he waited for the event.
A bit below them a lone sakura bloomed its promise of a restart as befitted the occasion.
“Well, I arrived here close to twenty years ago. I wouldn't know which of them are parents now. They've lived those years upstream and the arrivals we've had since my transition didn't have any information about their family lives.” He rose again. It would happen any moment now. “I've staked my reputation on this. I refuse to believe they'll go to such lengths without a reason. The upstream world is almost identical to this one and you don't move a lot of people from Japan to Sweden late June just so that you can have an obscure party a continent away.”
The voice of a government agent reached him from his right. “Sensei, we have incoming arrivals!”
Nakagawa grabbed his binoculars and scanned the hillside. One, two, no five bodies materialised on it.
“Incoming! I count five arrivals. Move vehicles and collect them!”
Yes, I was right! I know at least one of those faces. They look so young!
And they should. All of them fourteen years old objectively, no matter how old they were subjectively. Nakagawa knew that, but it still surprised him to see the kids pop into existence on that hillside even though he had spent the entire day waiting for it to happen.
“Agent Carlfeldt, I'll join the ride and welcome them personally. After that we split them into different middle schools and gather them together in Himekaizen next year.” Just like in the old days. In the upstream days.
The transition event had occurred. Now the arrivals had a restart waiting for them. Nakagawa and Hammargren had finally agreed on that, even if it took some head butting first. The age reset was just too great to allow a fourteen old child to take his or her place in society as an adult, no matter the subjective age.
A transition had to be followed by a slow reintroduction to society.
Ulf, you really coined a good expression for it. Transition and restart.
Midsummer's Eve, 2040, preparation of the traditional garden party.
Ryu fastened the last line. “Like this?” he asked.
Kyoko flashed him a satisfied smile in return and nodded. “Perfect! Party tent done. Now we're only missing tables and chairs.”
Ten hours flight from Japan to spend a vacation that's not a vacation. Well, you got your Midsummer's party in the end. Only took you twenty years. Ryu grinned at the memory. That last attempt had been a horror.
“Should I go and get some help?” That was his sister Noriko asking.
Ryu looked at her. With the memory of a disastrous dinner party followed an older and darker one. “No,” he said. “I don't think you have go looking for help any longer.”
“What? Oh, you're thinking of that time again.”
So it showed in my face what I thought. You're too perceptive by far, sis.
“What time?” Kyoko asked.
“Before senior high,” Ryu said. “Last year of middle school. The first time we met.” Do I really want to talk about this?
“You never told me.”
With Kyoko delivering that line he felt caught in a trap. One that he had sprung on himself.
Ryu looked at Noriko, even though it was Kyoko who had spoken. “It's a bad memory,” he finally admitted. Guess we're telling her then. Should have told her a long time ago.
“I'm not even certain who scared me the most at that time. The gang, or that boy.” Noriko turned and looked at Kyoko. Then she nodded at her twin brother and shuddered. “But Ryu made his mind up from the start.”
“Urufu,” Ryu whispered.
Prologue, 2015, September, Ulf.
The summer heat had abated and given way to early autumn. Ulf Hammargren, or Urufu-kun as his closest classmates preferred to call him, hugged the gym wall, turned around the corner and made for the entrance to his junior high school. He gained a few steps towards the main courtyard and was just about to shoulder his suitcase when the muffled sound of a cry reached him.
He retracted his steps and listened closer. It sounded like a girl, and she was scared.
What the? Someone's bullying a girl. It sounded like bullying anyway. He couldn't be certain as he didn't understand what the boys he heard were shouting. Boys? Aw shit, make that several someones. He started running just in case.
There was a park behind the gymnasium, a bit too unkempt and dark for being a safe short-cut to school. And of course the sounds of what definitely was a struggle had to come from there.
He quickly climbed the fence. The hole at the bottom most of the school kids used as a short-cut was already beginning to be too small for him to use. After landing on the other side he darted in the direction of frightened shrieks strangely muted.
What he saw made bile rise in him.
Ugly. Disgustingly ugly.
What the fuck! They're going to rape her! She was lacking a shoe and some of her clothes were already torn off her.
Ulf rushed in, grabbed her arms and tackled the boy who was covering her mouth to prevent her from screaming. Hugging her close Ulf rolled twice and got both of them up on their feet. No time! I don't have time. She'll hate me, but who cares. I'm just a foreigner anyway. He slapped her face and roared in English: “Run, you idiot!” Then he shoved her into the sand beside the swings and turned. Behind him he could hear her stand up and then the sound of running feet grew fainter.
It was at that time he recognised the school uniforms from their own high school.
Four of them. Older, but I'm still taller. OK not taller than that guy. He's dangerous. Damn to Japanese teens he's a bloody ogre! Gotta take him out first. Ulf walked a few steps, then he twisted and came up beside the smallest of the assailants. Dance with me you shit-head! Ulf locked one arm across the elbow and pushed hard. He didn't wait to see the boy falling into another but ran straight for the main target. They'll never expect a fifteen year old nidan karateka. A feint to the face, a quick kick to the balls and then he grabbed the neck and brought the face down on his knee.
My seniors. I'll show you senior you bastards!
Dropping the now limp body Ulf side stepped a punch from behind. I left you standing for a purpose you moron! Coming at me one by one you're just making this too easy. Having side stepped the punch he let his body continue its movement and slid inside the guard of his target. An elbow and a follow-up backhand strike left Ulf's opponent staggered, and a brutal kick to the inside of one knee disabled him, possibly permanently.
Then there were problems. The two remaining boys had armed themselves with knives and were already spreading out.
“Help him!” someone shouted. Ulf backed away to avoid being stabbed and looked around. What the hell? Why's she back? There was a sound of something breaking, an ugly sound. She's not alone and that guy just cracked the head of one of them.
Ulf knew he didn't need the unexpected help, and now he had another problem to take care of. “Give me that jo! Now!” He ran to his rescuer and forced the staff out of his hands. “I'll finish this. You run! You were never here!” I hope they understand English.
There was a glimmer of adoration in her eyes, then one of disgust and last one of fear.
Shit how did I end up like this? Rapists! Who cares? Three strikes, two crushed knees one caved in rib cage and it was all finished. Behind him Ulf heard the girl throwing up. She'll hate me. But who cares? I'm just a foreigner anyway.