Prologue, 2000

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Midsummer's day, 2040, morning glory

"It's not very warm," Yukio complained.

Ulf pushed up his sunglasses and looked at his friend. "Yeah, you're right about that. We get a lot of sun this time of the year, but it's not as hot as in Japan." He laughed at the comparison and recalled the bleak winters from his previous life. "We don't get as much sun during winter, so it evens out."

"You mean light's out during winter?"

That question came just a bit too close to the memories Ulf had played along with before Yukio joined him in the morning sun.

"Yeah, and we don't even get much snow to mitigate the darkness."

Yukio must have noticed something, because he coughed, lit a cigarette and looked into the sky. "But right now the sun's getting warmer, the air is crisp and we're enjoying the outdoors in its full glory," he said after letting out a lungful of smoke.

Where did you get that string of melodramatic drivel from? It mattered little. Ulf was grateful his friend had changed the topic. His two first winters in Japan had really been mental light's out.

Prologue, 2000

"Do you love her?"

"Yes, yes I do, but it's not like when I met Kerstin."


Mitsuo cringed when Natsumi mauled the name of his first wife.

"Please, I was born and raised here in Japan just like you, but I made an effort to get her name right," he said and turned to Tadao. "Could you please ask your girlfriend not to do that again? She's doing it on purpose."

Tadao just grinned. "Wife, she's my wife now. Wakayama Natsumi. What do you like the sound of that?"

"What? Since when did you get married?"

The grin grew wider. "Since we found out just how special Valentine was."

Mitsuo watched as Natsumi hid her face in her hands.

"Wakayama Tadao, you're a pig!"

His best friend since ten years ducked the backhand fist that flew in his direction and promptly hid behind Mitsuo's back. "Sorry my love. Just gloating."

What the? Oh. Oh! "Congratulations! When?"

Two things registered in Mitsuo's mind. First how all the conversations around the tables closest to them died abruptly, and then how perfect strangers near them grew knowing smiles in an instant.

"He's a pig and you're an idiot. What did I do to deserve the two most important men in my life to develop this way?"

Just to make sure she wasn't angry for real Mitsuo studied Natsumi's face. Wakayama Natsumi, not Masuda Natsumi any longer. What he saw behind those eyes was gleeful joy hidden behind a show of aggravation.

"When?" he repeated.

Natsumi smirked before she answered. "November. Twins, we'll have twins."

"You're worth it," was all Mitsuo could say. He knew how much Natsumi had longed for a child. Already during their last year in high school she started talking of getting married and raising children. That Tadao filled the position as father was a given, not that Tadao had been asked or really had any say in the matter.

"And don't you try squiggle out of my question! Do you love her?"

Mitsuo grimaced. "As I said. I do. We'll marry next year or the year after that. I know you treasure your childhood friend, but she's my girlfriend now. Quite frankly it's none of your business."

For the second time during their dinner Natsumi flew her hands to her face, but this time in mock surprise. "Fine, I can respect that."

"You understand we'll move, do you? I just can't stand this version of Tokyo any more. I'm too old."

Natsumi nodded in response. "Where, and what do you plan to do?"

"I've found a run down onsen near Ise. I think I could develop an impressively accurate taste for what retired couples want from an overnight stay. Especially given my youth."

Beside him Tadao groaned at the joke having grown stale long ago. "Given your youth, yeah. You're what, eighty now?"

"Yeah. That's why we're moving south. I remember whom we sided with during the last great recession. I can see what's happening here now, and I don't like it."

"What do you mean?" Tadao asked. Suddenly there was no trace of his usual inane jokes in his voice.

Mitsuo gave his reply a thorough thought before he spoke again. Both his friends were much too young to understand, and they only knew Japan as an economic juggernaut. If the current recession didn't break soon the optimistic and open-minded Japan Mitsuo had grown to love could very well revert back to something much uglier, something he had spent most of his life trying to atone for.

"I'm afraid we'll see the section handling arrivals split in two. I'm afraid the arrivals will land in the middle of a power struggle. Basically I'm just afraid." He looked at his friends, and waited for them to say something, but none did. "I'm not like you two. I taught you how to fight, but I don't have the strength to do so myself again. I'll sit this one out by the side-lines."

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