Ulf smiled at the people in the café, or at least he hoped it looked like a smile. Then he went behind the counter and followed Yukio into the inner room in hopes his best friend hadn't caused an uproar.
One look inside told Ulf he had. Nakagawa's creepy but happy smile combined with the unhappy ones from the two Japanese men from Sweden said just about everything Ulf didn't want to hear.
"What's the fallout?" Ulf asked Nakagawa just as Yukio turned to se who had followed him inside.
"Your friend here just told us you'd bring in the big guns if we didn't act according to your wishes."
'Nothing worse than that?' Ulf nodded. He stared at the men from Sweden, the Japanese men from Sweden. "You're not making things easier by being who you are," he said. "Back home, if a student is raped on school grounds you start by setting off a nuke. Things can escalate from there." He kept staring at them. "I don't bloody care if you grew up with **** laws from the eighteen hundreds. I don't even care about them still being practised here today. Kareyoshi's going to jail or shit's really going to hit the fan."
Nakagawa just kept smiling, but one of the men, Ai's father averted his eyes. That left Rika's father who met Ulf's stare with a cold glare of his own. Ulf decided to pour petrol on the flames.
"I guess you'd both be fine if Kareyoshi had Ai and Rika done over by some of his goons as well," he suggested in his most vulgar Gothenburg accent. Switching to Swedish had the effect Ulf wanted.
"Don't you dare compare Rika with..."
"… the daughter of a US ambassador," Ulf interrupted. He'd already guessed where this was going. The man was Japanese and not Swedish after all. The social status of an assault victim was of equal importance as the severity of the crime. That he had to use this kind of argument at all made bile rise in him, but Ulf was here to secure the victory Yukio had prepared for him.
To his surprise it was Ai's father who interceded. "It's not that easy, so please hear me out," he said in Japanese.
Ulf decided to listen and sat down beside Yukio.
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"We absolutely need to get as many of them as possible," Ai's father continued.
"Of Kareyoshi's goons?"
"No," Rika's father said. "Of those who are pulling the strings."
Ulf smirked. Another excuse to do nothing.
"Listen to me! It's imperative we get them all. There are some very powerful people involved."
"What would you know?" Ulf said and snorted. He was sick and tired of people playing his visual age against him and treating him like a kid.
There was no retort. Both men looked at each other, and then at Nakagawa who just nodded.
"They have a runner in Sweden," he said when none of the other two wanted to explain.
"I don't know how much you have already guessed, but there seems to be more than two worlds..."
Behind them the door opened.
"... and sometimes an individual doesn't live out a full life after arriving but keeps transiting from world to world," Noriko's voice interrupted Nakagawa as she closed the door.
"So you had him or her extracted from Japan," she continued. "But that person shouldn't be holed up in Sweden now unless you had a need of extensive interrogation. Am I right?"
'What? Oh! Oh crap!' Ulf stared at Rika's father. "Kareyoshi's involved with this shit in the upstream world as well?"
Ulf looked at Yukio. "His suggestion," Ulf said and pointed a finger sideways. "The world I transited from," he said.
Nakagawa nodded approval, and Ulf noticed how Ai's father even jotted down a few notes on his phone.
"Upstream is a good word for it, I guess," Rika's father said. "Yes, yes he is, or rather his alter ego there. Principal Nakagawa got kicked out of office there as well."
It felt strange listening to how there were multiple versions of individuals who hadn't transited. Ulf knew there was only one version of himself in this world, of Christina as well, but this version of himself was different than the one who had transited. The thought of more or less identical people living parallel lives was somehow disturbing.
"Why is it so important that anyone associated with Kareyoshi gets punished?" Ulf asked.
Ai's father grimaced. "We're transferring Principal Nakagawa to Sweden."
"Oh," Noriko said. "Oh!"
'Damn, I'm supposed to be the bright one! Why the hell…' Ulf felt all colour leave his face. "When?" he started.
"Not now," Nakagawa said. "Maybe never, but if I transit one day I'll arrive in a world where I never spent my life sabotaging the work of Kareyoshi and the likes of him."
"How bad is it?"
"If we understood our runner correctly it's even worse in... ah what did you call it, upstream. They don't have you or Ageruman-san playing merry hell with their plans there."
It wasn't just him and Christina working to make Himekaizen a decent place, but maybe gathering friends in the club made a difference. The club created a network of fairly powerful people, and for that reason it acted as a counter weight.
"Shouldn't things be better downstream?"
"Hopefully, but we can't take that risk. However, according to interviews with previous runners it seems that actions taken in one world carry over to the next."
It made sense. Otherwise the worlds wouldn't be so similar. "How bad?" Ulf repeated.
"All the way to the diet. We need all, or at least most of them removed before we dare transiting our own people downstream."
'Our own?' Ulf glanced at Nakagawa. 'Ah.' Then a thought struck him. 'So there's some kind of club for the big guys as well. Seems we'll have a shot at helping you and Kyoko after after all.' He looked at Yukio and grinned but only got a nonplussed smile in return.
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