Chapter 1: Just in (and out of) time

A prologue, really. In which the black cat uncrosses the road, and soothing music denies all knowledge of savage breasts.

Most people think of deja-vu as a personal thing. Not quite as personal as some bodily functions, but still something that really only concerns oneself. So even if more than fifty people have a deja-vu at the same time and at the same place, they are not likely to find out. Especially if there is a distraction.

And in the Norwegian town of Fjordheim, there was a distraction as good as any. The driver who had tried to cross on yellow but did not quite make it, suddenly slammed the brakes. He was already safely through, and if you asked him later, he would swear that he had no idea why he braked. It was as if his body was acting on his own. The loud screech of tires on the dry road turned every head and made them forget whatever strange feeling they had just experienced. Every head except one. But nobody looked twice at the slender, black-haired young man who walked rapidly away.

Nobody looked twice as he walked down the alley where cherry trees had lost so many petals during the night before. The ground was almost covered with them. Those who had managed to hold on were still up there, having no intention of giving in to the soft breeze when they had resisted such a buffeting only twelve hours ago. Spring was always unstable here, going from rain to sun to rain again, if you were lucky and did not get late sleet or hail. But the ever changing weather seemed to make no impression on the young man, who looked like he might have seen at most twenty springs yet. Right now he seemed lost in thoughts, and not happy thoughts either, such as young people may sometimes find themselves thinking on a spring day.

The road took him out of the town proper, and after a while he arrived in a neighborhood where most of the old houses were either small or haphazardly expanded with new parts, and even the trees were old and gnarled. Tall hedges surrounded the smallest of these homes, near the very end of the poorly kept road on which he now walked. A heavy wrought-iron gate creaked as he passed through it. He did not go to the front door of the old house, though, but instead passed by it on the left side, where there was already a path leading to the simple rock garden beyond. Passing behind the house he also passed out of view for anyone who might accidentally be passing by on the road. No one would see how he stopped behind the house, turned around, and disappeared.

And of course no one would see him appear inside at the very same moment, in the living-room. After kicking off his shoes and throwing his jacket over a chair, he immediately started to look over the bookshelf with considerable interest. A few times he muttered to himself in a low, gruff voice. But when he was finished, he had picked three paperbacks from the shelves and stacked them on the table. He did not do anything about them right away, though, but rather moved on to a collection of compact disks. He was more than halfway through them when he suddenly made an exclamation of disgust and pulled out one CD. "Dolly Parton! Frelling DOLLY PARTON! What kind of moron have I been in this timeline to deserve this?"

He seemed to speed up his search, moving almost feverishly. Then he straightened, his face a mix of disappointment and outright anger. "Dolly Parton instead of Enya! Am I nuts?" Nobody replied. The house was empty except for this one young man. He threw the offending CDs at a wastebasket in one corner of the room. Then, shrugging, he walked over to the desk near the basket. On it stood various computer equipment, and on a shelf plastic binders in different colors. With a heavy sigh he turned the computer on and sat down. His work had barely begun.