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Prologue

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Prelude, 2040


Nakagawa Akio sat outside the tent in his foldable chair. As a man in his mid-thirties he shouldn't be in charge of handling arrivals from a transition, but early April 2040 wasn't a normal 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. Always the same time shift, he thought. Transit late June and arrive early April.

"Seems awfully early to me. They'll be around forty years old. Wouldn't they have children to care for?" The female voice from his left recalled him to the here and now.

And 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 so to say."

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," he said when she kept her silence. "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."

Nakagawa rose from his chair again. It would happen any moment now. "I've staked my reputation on this," he continued, more a monologue now than anything he needed to tell the woman. "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." Especially not that close to the transit point.

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!" the agent said.

Yes, I was right! I know at least one of those faces. They look so young!

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