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 year 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'sEve, 2040, preparation of the traditional garden party


Ulf fastened the last line. "Like this." he said.

They were erecting party tents. For shade; there would be no rain this evening.

He looked at the other five. This was their own moment, the six of them together before the guests arrived.

"It's April over there," Kyoko said. At forty she'd gained a little weight, but he could still remember her face from when they became friends.

"Feels strange, doesn't it?" Ulf gazed at the sea glittering in the afternoon sun. The June afternoon sun. "I wonder if he knows."

"He knows." Ryu looked up from where he sat on his feet fastening a line of his own. "I made certain last year's transits knew we planned to gather everyone here this year."

Ulf smirked. He might have misunderstood, but Nakagawa was a sly and calculating bastard.

"He knows," Christina said. "Ryu," she looked at the man who slowly got back on his legs, "can be very convincing. He probably filled them with thoughts about how unusual it is for a bunch of Japanese people to travel all the way to Sweden this time of the year." She turned her head and looked Ulf straight in his eyes. Fifteen or forty, it didn't matter. She was still the most beautiful woman he had seen in his entire life.

In response Ryu grinned, and a handsome grin it was. A quarter of a century had done nothing to his good looks and charms. Ulf knew how women turned and stared after him, just like they had done back then when they were high school girls.

"Let's hope this midsummer's party turns out better than the last one," Ulf said. He shuddered silently. That one had been a disaster.

He was rewarded with guffaws from all five of them. Even Noriko allowed a slightly hysterical laughter to escape from her lips.

"Summer of 2016. Yep, best forgotten." Then she laughed again. Her small body carried a surprisingly strong voice, but then it always had.

"And now?" Yukio asked.

Ulf turned and looked at his best friend ever since they met as school kids. "We party, I guess."

"For a week?"

"For a week," Ulf agreed. A week was all they had. After that the six of them would be separated by a chasm a world apart.

"I wonder if the sakura is blooming."

Ulf looked at Noriko. Sakura were months behind them, in this world. "Maybe," he said. "Let's hope they do, to celebrate new beginnings." New beginnings in that other world, where it was still April.

"To think it all began in high school," Kyoko mused.

"Actually," Ulf began, but he fell silent. With something like panic in his mind he sought confirmation in the eyes of the others. When they nodded he found strength to continue. "Actually," he said again, "it began earlier than that."



Prologue,2015


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.

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