Dr. Ren Masumune crossed into Manchukuo, via the Chōsen railway, on the fourteenth of January, 1937. After switching onto the South Manchurian Railway in Feng Tien, he continued north to Harbin. The flat tundra stretching out to the horizon did not bother Ren, as it did many of his fellow Japanese, used to cramped quarters and cluttered scenery. The sparse vegetation and bitter, unblocked wind blew out the flicker of hope in many a traveler’s soul…but not Ren.
Ren hailed from Hakodate, the largest city on the northernmost island in the Japanese chain. Hokkaido was still considered a backwoods compared to the more-settled islands of Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku, but Ren loved clean, fresh air and open spaces. His father, a low-ranking samurai in service to the Matsumae clan, had paid for his son’s schooling through diligent savings and shrewd entrepreneurship. His father raised livestock, tended crops, brewed sake and soy sauce, and still had the time to perform his administrative functions. The ideal of a hard-working man remained imprinted in Ren’s mind, even after his father’s passing from influenza in the year of the Great Quake.
Tokyo had been nearly destroyed, the ramshackle wooden houses going up in flames in the aftermath of the quake. Ren, a recent graduate of Kyoto University, made his way to the disaster area to assist. He came to treat the injured, but after arriving, quickly found a greater purpose in digging through the debris. The soft cries of trapped people trickled up, tapping directly into the tender side of his personality. It was in this capacity, as a rescuer, that Ren came into contact with his future employer, one Satoshi Naito.
“Do I know you?” The tall, slender man asked. The man’s coat and pants were immaculate, in the midst of the churning dust. Ren wiped a thick layer of grime from his face, trying to focus on the peculiar features in hopes of refreshing his memory. The man took off his hat, revealing a cross-cropped, almost military-style cut.
“Toshi…” Ren said, his voice trailing off. He remembered his flamboyant classmate, but the passage of time had distorted his memory of the man. Always brash, but unquestionably intelligent, Satoshi had taken a liking to Ren early in their studies. While Satoshi was always at the forefront, Ren remained reserved, almost shy, in his manner. Ren was often teased by the other students, for his odd dress and strange dialect.
The constant ridicule nearly made Ren suicidal, but a chance encounter with Satoshi changed everything. Ren had made a habit of staying after class, and took the extra time to devote to studying animal tissue. Satoshi slipped into the room one night and quietly observed. The two young men shared an innate curiosity about natural bodies; one in the way that they healed, and the other by the processes by which they became ill.
The next day in class, after pressing Ren to join the discussion, Satoshi was impressed by his classmate’s precision and attention to detail. Satoshi’s endorsement was enough to bring reclusive Ren into the scientific fraternity. While this didn’t help make Ren any friends, his relationship with Satoshi kept the ridicule to a minimum.