"Eh? What was that noise?"
I was alone on the top floor of the school building, delivering a box of equipment to the third year biology classroom. No one was in there, since it was the first day of summer break, but that made it easier to handle the student council chores that had been left to me. Well, except for the problem of trying to open the classroom door while carrying a box full of old beakers and burners, but that was easily solved by setting the box down on the floor for a moment.
But then there was a strange sound from directly above me, and a brief rumbling that shook the building a little. An earthquake? I didn't think we could get those on the manmade island, but maybe I was wrong. Had there been rain in today's forecast? A lightning strike would probably shake the building if it hit something close enough.
I turned to look out the window at the end of the hallway, but the day was still bright and sunny. Huh, that was weird. What could have made that noise, then?
I felt vaguely guilty about abandoning the box of supplies, but no one was there to notice that I hadn't fully completed my job. And if there had been some sort of problem on the roof, I was sure that Kazuki would want to know about it right away. What if it was yet another attempt to mess with the school or get at the research data? My heart was pumping as I dashed up the stairs leading to the rooftop exit. Maybe it would be better to call Kazuki right away instead of rushing into what might have been a dangerous situation. But as I stood outside the door, considering it, I heard a voice from outside.
"Everyone, where did you go? Is this some kind of joke?"
The boyish voice sounded like it belonged to another student. Had someone planned on using the roof for an activity today? I didn't remember anything like that, but with all the time I'd been spending on helping out the King and Nakajima-san recently, I hadn't really had time to pay attention to what the clubs were doing.
That shaking... maybe someone's setting off fireworks on the roof to celebrate summer break?
In that case, they needed to be stopped! I shoved open the door, scowling, and stalked out onto the roof. "Hey, what's going on up here?"
There was a single boy standing in the middle of the roof, looking around as if bewildered. He turned toward me, and my first impression was that his tie was the same green as his eyes. A first-year, then, but not one that I recognized, which was a bit surprising. Between the MVP Battle and my work with the student council, I was sure that I'd at least seen all the other boys in the school at least once.
As the boy caught my eye, his worried look changed to one of relief. "Ahhh, Professor Ito, thank goodness! I was starting to get really worried! Do you know where everyone else went?"
"Eh?" I blinked at him. "Professor? I'm sorry, have we met?"
"Huh?" Suddenly the boy's expression became one of confusion. "Wait... Professor Ito, why are you wearing the school uniform? No, that's not it, why do you look different...?"
"Different?" My shoulders tensed; who was this weird boy, and what on earth was he going on about? "Listen, I have no idea who you are or why you're calling me 'Professor,' but if you're doing weird things up on the roof, I'll have to inform the student council."
"Student council? What are you saying?" His hand went to the unfamiliar black armband that was pinned to his left sleeve. "I'm the student council president...!"
What on earth was this weird kid going on about? I pulled out my cell phone and pushed the speed dial button for Kazuki's work cell. He answered on the first ring.
"Keita, what is it?"
"Kazuki, I need you to come to the roof of the school building right away! There's a weird first-year boy here claiming to be the student council president!"
"But I am the student council president!" the strange boy protested.
"Did you hear that? Maybe he hurt himself or something, there was some kind of explosion? I don't know, but hurry!"
"Calm down, Keita," Kazuki said, not sounding calm at all himself, "I'll be right there. Don't let him leave, no matter what you do."
He hung up before I could reply, and I stuffed my phone back into my pocket and stood firmly in front of the boy, blocking his path to the door behind me. "You stay right there," I said in a resolute tone, though I honestly felt like I could collapse at any moment. Why did weird circumstances always have to follow me around? I'd been hoping for a peaceful summer, not one filled with explosions and intrigue. "You should probably tell me what you're up to, or there could be trouble for you later, you know."
The boy, however, looked like he had no intention of trying to escape. His shoulders slumped. "I, I don't know what happened. I was just helping Okaken with one of his experiments, then Maro ran out in front of the machine, so I tried to get him back, but then there was a bright light and maybe an explosion..."
An explosion, I knew it. "So you made something explode up here."
"No, it wasn't me, it was the machine!" He shook his head. "Anyway, why don't you recognize me, Professor Ito? I'm in your history class! You gave me advice about the Bell One!"
"I don't know what you're talking about! Who are you?"
"I'm Asahina Yuki, the student council president! Please stop pretending you don't know me!"
That again. "I don't know any Asahina Yuki. Are you really a student at this school?" I almost wanted to ask if he was a spy from the outside, but I kept my mouth shut. If he was some sort of agent from a rival company, it would be bad to provoke him. My heart raced. What if he got violent, like the last guy who infiltrated?
The boy stepped closer, his eyes fixed on my face. I took half a step back, then stopped myself; I had to hold my ground until Kazuki arrived. Even if I was just pretending to be brave, that sort of attitude might be enough to keep anything dangerous from happening.
That boy, Asahina, if that was even his real name, looked at my face for a long time. I didn't feel any malice from him, and after a few moments, I felt my shoulders relaxing. Maybe he really was just another student, one I'd somehow overlooked in my short time here at Bell Liberty.
But whatever the boy saw in my face disturbed him, and he sank down onto the concrete with a shaky sigh, staring up at me with wide eyes. "You look a lot younger than I remember... but that's not possible..."
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"Um, this is going to sound really weird, but... what year is it?"
"Eh? It's 2010, of course."
The boy's eyes widened even further. "Was... was that the year of the MVP Battle?"
There was no way this guy was a student here if he was asking something so obvious. It was impossible for anyone to have forgotten already. But then... how did he know about the MVP Battle if he wasn't a student? "The MVP Battle just finished," I said flatly.
"Oh my god," the boy mumbled, staring down at the concrete. "This can't be happening."
"What are you talking about?" I had to keep him talking so he wouldn't think of running off.
"There was an explosion," he repeated, as if that meant anything. He looked up, eyes bright with the beginnings of tears. "But before that, I felt like my body was stuck, I couldn't move at all. It's like I was stuck in time or something..."
He really wasn't making any sense. "What about it?"
"Well... oh!" He suddenly reached into his pocket, and I felt my entire body stiffen. Was he going for a weapon? I silently cursed my stupid reactions; any of my friends would have been smart or strong enough to stop him, or at least brave enough to do something about it.
My blood ran cold as he produced a dark rectangle from his pocket, but as he unfolded it, I realized it was just his wallet, and I couldn't contain a sigh of relief. The boy pulled a small card from the inside and held it out to me. I eyed it warily, wondering if it was some sort of trap, but after a second I recognized the plastic card.
A Bell Liberty student ID! I reached out with one hand and took it, hoping he didn't notice the way my fingers were trembling. The card was a little different from mine, but it was a rather convincing forgery if you weren't intimately familiar with the look of a genuine ID. The border was different, and the plastic was thicker, but the rest of it was identical to my card. The proper school stamp was in the correct corner, and his name was at the top: Asahina Yuki, as he'd claimed. It listed a birthdate and blood type, and under that, it gave the information about his graduating class.
"Wait a minute..."
Did it really say that he was a member of the 28th graduating class? That was a pretty pathetic mistake to make on an otherwise high-quality imitation.
"Did you notice the part about the graduating class?" The boy, Asahina, was watching me intently.
What, he wanted me to notice the mistake on his fake ID card? "Yeah, it's wrong. This is a pretty good fake, but someone messed up on the date."
Asahina shook his head. "That's just it. It's proof... I know it sounds impossible, but it's a genuine Bell Liberty ID card! Look, I have more!" He fished a small handful of coins out of the compartment on the back of his wallet and rifled through them, picking out a few and handing them to me.
"Proof of what? I don't understand..." Honestly, I was more confused than afraid at that point, and I also sat down on the roof to look at the coins he'd handed me.
"I, I can't say it, it's too crazy. But if you can see it too, Professor Ito, then maybe... maybe I won't feel like I'm losing my mind."
"Please stop calling me 'Professor Ito,' I'm just a student," I protested.
"Please, look at the dates," Asahina insisted, eyes narrowed in determination, a blush high on his otherwise pale cheeks. His hands were curled into fists in his lap. Were they shaking?
I tore my eyes from his hands and looked down at the coins in my palm. They were ordinary coins, and I couldn't see anything special about them. I turned over a five yen piece and read the date off the back. "Heisei 26... what, 26?!?" My eyebrows rose, and I turned over one coin after another. "Heisei 25... Heisei 27... 24, 26 again... but that's impossible! These are all fake?!"
"They're not fake! I just got them as change this morning from the school store!" Those deep green eyes were fixed upon my face, pleading. "Please, you understand what this means, right?"
"No way, this can't be real." I poked at the coins. They seemed real enough, but... I was not going to say something as ridiculous as 'you must be from the future,' especially to a weird spy!
"Here, my phone."
A slim white device was pressed into my hand on top of the coins. It was a sleek, flat rectangle dominated by a large black screen, and I recognized it instantly as one of the incredibly fancy cell phones that some of the wealthier students carried. Even Kazuki carried an ordinary flip phone as his personal line, though he did have one of the smartphones for his actual work. But the one I was holding was much less bulky and a lot lighter than the fancy device that Kazuki used to check his email and keep in touch with his secretary during the school day. I turned the phone over in my hand, eyes going wide as I saw the logo on the back.
"There's no such thing as an iPhone 7!"
"Not in 2010," the boy agreed, biting his lip.
"Impossible," I muttered, but I couldn't help turning it on, and I was greeted by a photo of Asahina surrounded by other boys who wore the Bell Liberty uniform, though a few of them were in black instead of the usual red. The photo was incredibly clear, much more detailed than anything I'd seen on the screen of Kazuki's work phone. It was easy to make out the familiar building in the background; the students were gathered in front of the cafeteria for their group pose.
Suddenly my hand got sweaty. A student ID card wasn't hard to forge, and it probably wasn't impossible to get fake coins meant for use in magic tricks or something. But for someone to be walking around with technology that was far more advanced than anything even Kazuki owned... and that photo looked so natural, too. There was no way someone would have a group picture like that at the school if they weren't really a student. Just as I looked down at the phone again, the screen went dark, tired of waiting for my input.
"This technology doesn't exist yet." I could hardly believe I was saying it. If this boy was really some sort of spy, he'd gone to an awful lot of effort to try and seem like he was from the future. And why would a spy do something like that? It didn't make any sense that someone trying to infiltrate would do anything that would draw attention to himself. Was it meant to be some sort of cover story in case he got caught? But wouldn't it be better to have a normal cover story, not one that was so insane?
My head was starting to hurt.
"I know it sounds crazy," Asahina's tone was desperate, "but please..."
The door behind me burst open with a deafening creak, and we both jumped. "Keita!"
"K, Kazuki!" I somehow managed, thought I felt like my heart was going to explode. Thank god I'd managed to keep my grip on the phone; I couldn't even imagine what something that fancy must have cost!
Kazuki was at my side in an instant, kneeling to check on me. "Are you okay? Why are you on the ground? He didn't hurt you, did he? What are you holding?"
"Kazuki, don't ask so many questions at once," I protested, but before I could say anything else, an unfamiliar voice cut in.
"Suzubishi-san? And you're dressed like a student too..."
My heart froze. Kazuki's head snapped up, though his hands were still on my shoulders as he glared at the boy sitting across from me. "How do you know who I am?"
"Because I met you a few weeks ago when Tomo... oh..." The smile of recognition faded from Asahina's face. "That hasn't happened yet..."
"Hasn't happened yet?" Kazuki's expression was hard. I knew that look; thankfully, it had never been directed at me, but I'd seen it enough times when he was dealing with a serious work matter. But somehow, I couldn't let him glare at the frightened boy who sat on the concrete, hands shaking despite his efforts to hide their trembling.
"Kazuki," I began, showing him the items I held, "look at all of this. A student ID with the wrong date, coins that are dated in the future, and the cell phone... I thought it was a bunch of nonsense at first, but I don't know how anyone could fake the phone."
I thought Kazuki would reach for the phone first, but he took the ID from me, eyes wide. "This is..."
"The graduating class is wrong," I pointed out.
"No, that's not it. Just this morning, we finalized the design that will be used for the new student ID cards starting next spring. This is the exact design, right down to the thickness of the plastic and the position of the microchip." His eyes flicked toward Asahina. "This wasn't the one we chose initially. There was another one that was already sent to the printer so we could get a prototype, but those haven't come back yet. No spy is stupid enough to steal the files for a future ID card design, and especially not one that was in a folder with five other rejects."
"I'm not a spy," Asahina protested weakly, "I'm a real student, I just... I'm not from this time... My friends were doing an experiment on this roof, and then something happened. Please believe me!"
"Impossible," Kazuki muttered, handing the card back to me so he could examine the coins and the phone. He was quiet for a long time, testing the coins against the ones he had in his own pocket, and then playing with the functions of the phone. We both watched as his eyebrows rose and sank, brows drawing together and eyes widening as he fiddled with the screen and checked various things. Even though I was watching, I didn't really understand what he was looking for, since my phone was just a simple free model that had come with my parents' cell plan.
"Well," he finally said, offering the phone to Asahina, "if you're an agent, you're a terrible one, letting me look through everything in your phone without a word of protest. It really does look like nothing more than a student's phone, with a bunch of texts to friends and photos of other students. And the technology is incredible. This device may be more powerful than my work computer."
Asahina's face brightened. "So you believe me?"
"I wouldn't say that."
"Tell me what happened to you. Don't leave out any of the details, but don't embellish the story either." Kazuki stared directly into the stranger's eyes. "Is that understood?"
"Y, yes, of course!"
It took nearly an hour for Asahina to recount the story of what had happened on the rooftop seven years in the future. The more he told us, the surer I felt that he was telling the truth. Why would anyone lie about something so outlandish? But I could tell that Kazuki wasn't satisfied, and when the incredible tale was finished, he sat back, arms folded over his chest.
"That's an unbelievable story."
"But it's the truth, I swear it!" His wide, honest eyes were filled with tears. "I don't know what else I can do to make you believe me! I'm not a spy, all I want to do is get back home!"
"That's exactly the sort of thing a spy would say, though. You'll have to prove yourself."
"But how?!" A note of irritation had crept into Asahina's voice.
"Kazuki, don't be so rough with him." I shifted over, closer to Asahina, and placed one hand on his shoulder. "It must be terrible, being trapped in an unfamiliar place and time, especially if no one believes you. But that's not true. I believe you, Asahina."
He blinked, and a teardrop leaked from the corner of his eye. "You do?"
I nodded. "Yeah. Isn't there some saying about the simple explanation being the best one? Even if it's kind of impossible in this case... but isn't it just as impossible to think that someone would sneak in here with forged stuff from the future and then show it off? Plus, you don't seem like the kind of person who would lie about something like this."
"You really believe me?"
"Keita, you can't really--" Kazuki began, but I shook my head.
"Kazuki, sometimes you're too harsh with people. I guess that's part of being an adult."
He nearly choked on that. "Keita, don't say that!"
I couldn't help giggling a little at his reaction. Man, Kazuki really was touchy about his age, and I didn't even know what it was! I patted Asahina's shoulder. "So, Yuki... oh, can I call you Yuki? You can call me Keita."
Yuki's cheeks darkened. "B, but... you're a teacher..."
A teacher. I still couldn't believe that. "No, we're both first years. So we're equals, right?"
He shifted nervously, and it took a while before he responded, "O, okay... Keita-san..."
"No, I absolutely forbid you from calling me that. Just Keita, okay?"
"Okay," he reluctantly agreed.
"Good." I didn't want to push him too hard; after all, it had been kind of annoying when Shunsuke had insisted that I call him by his first name, without any honorific. "So, Yuki, what's your special talent? How did you get into Bell Liberty?"
That seemed to restore a bit of his cheer. "Oh, well, it was a bit of a lucky coincidence... I don't really like to brag about it, but I have better luck than most people. Just like you, right?"
"How do you know that?!"
"You told me... oh, in the future..." Yuki's smile faded a bit.
Before I could say anything, Kazuki cut in. "What, luck?" He leaned forward with an odd expression that was kind of scary. "Prove it. Play rock-paper-scissors."
"Kazuki, come on," I complained, "it's hot outside and I don't want to stay out here any longer."
"We've been outside for over an hour, one more minute won't make a difference. This is the ultimate test of Asahina's truthfulness." He glanced toward Yuki. "Go on, play against Keita."
"Um, okay..." Yuki held up one hand. "Then... one, two, three!"
We both put our hands out at the same time. Both paper. My eyes went round, and when I looked up at Yuki's face, I could see that he was just as shocked as I was. Even Kazuki leaned in, staring from my hand to Yuki's and back again.
"Amazing, a tie with Keita..." He met my eyes. "Do it again."
We continued for at least twenty more times, every single one a tie, until I finally lost my temper. "Kazuki! If I have to sit out here in the heat and humidity for one more second, I'm going to throw a pile of rocks, papers, and scissors at your head!"
That outburst prompted a snort and a giggle from Yuki, a warm sound that made my skin tingle. It was the first time I'd seen a genuine smile on his face since we'd met, and he was blushing slightly as he looked at my pouting face.
"Okay, fine," Kazuki sighed, but he was smiling too as he pushed himself to his feet, offering one hand to each of us. "Let's go to my office, I have a few more things to check with Asahina."