Another Allison update. Enjoy!
Chapter 2: Kidnapping, Arson, and Theft
“Now… where to begin… Hm?”
Just as the old man began to speak, they heard the sound of a vehicle coming to a stop in front of the house. Then, they heard a car door opening and closing.
The old man stopped and looked at the door. There was a knock.
“What is it? The door is open.”
“Please excuse me.” Said a suit-clad man in his thirties as he entered the house.
The man froze for a moment at the sight of Allison and Wil staring at him. Then, he cleared his throat and politely addressed the old man.
“Pardon the intrusion, but are you the owner of this house?”
The old man nodded.
“I’m from the tax office. I’m here to discuss something about your property tax…. And who would these two be? Your family?” The man asked, gesturing at Allison and Wil with an open palm.
“No, they are my guests. Don’t be alarmed, now.”
“I see. I was told that you lived alone.” The man said with a nod. Wil paled slightly. The man’s eyes grew ever-so-slightly sharper. “I’m terribly sorry about this, sir, but I’m going to have to ask you to accompany me to the office. There’s some technical details I can’t get into here…”
“Wait! We haven’t finished talking yet.” Allison butted in. The man’s expression hardened.
“Do I have to go today? What if I say no?” The old man asked.
“I was told to bring you to the office by today. I’ve even got the proper documentation, if you’d like to see.” The man shook his head reluctantly and reached into his jacket. The old man sighed, his shoulders dropping.
“All right, I understand. I’ll go with you. I suppose you can hear my complaints at the office.”
“Thank you for your cooperation.” The man said. The old man stood up, and the suit-clad man put a hand on his back.
“I’m very sorry I have to cut things off here, young man. Young lady. I’ll have to tell you the story some other time. Stay awhile and relax. You don’t need to lock the door; there’s nothing to steal here, anyway.” The old man said, looking a little sour. He began heading for the door.
Allison tried to stop them, but the old man and the suit-clad man walked away. They stepped outside.
Allison followed them out. Wil also stood from his seat and joined her. There was a black car parked outside the house. It was the latest model with white lace curtains draped over the windows of the back seat.
The old man sat down in the back, as the suit-clad man instructed. At that moment, the old man looked at Allison and Wil and waved at them with a smile.
“If you’ll excuse us.” The suit-clad man said, taking the passenger seat. The driver started the car. It departed along the left side of the narrow road. Then, it veered heavily to the right and disappeared.
“Who was that guy? I don’t care if he’s some official from the tax office. That was just plain rude.” Allison spat angrily. The car was now a tiny speck in the distance, occasionally dipping in and out of sight each time it hit a bend in the road.
Allison looked up at the sky to estimate the time based on the position of the sun. She glanced at her wristwatch for confirmation. Afternoon was already half over.
“Let’s lock the door and go back, Wil.” She said, prepared to leave, but the gravity in Wil’s expression stopped her.
“Something’s strange.” Wil said, eyes on Allison.
“If that man really was from the local tax office, why was he so surprised to see us? Why did he ask if we were the old man’s family?”
“What do you mean?”
Will pointed at the school motorcycle parked next to them.
“Anyone from Neit would have known from the motorcycle that someone from our school was in here with-”
Before Wil could even finish, determination rose to Allison’s face.
She rushed into the house and came back outside, pulling on her jacket and carrying two bags and Wil’s jacket. She tossed Wil the latter, threw the bags into the sidecar, and produced a pair of goggles from her own pocket.
As Wil came up to her in confusion, Allison climbed onto the motorcycle and cried,
The motorcycle was racing down the road.
Driving the vehicle was Allison, wearing her jacket, aviator hat, and goggles. And sitting in the sidecar was Wil, hanging onto the handle for dear life.
Through the roar of the engine, the whooshing of the wind, and the bumping of the motorcycle, Wil shouted loudly,
“Allison! What good is chasing them going to do?”
“I’m going to talk to them!”
“…And then what?”
“And… and… I’m just going to get their story! From that official guy! I’m going to ask for ID, too!”
Wil was about to say something, when Allison sped up even more. The shaking intensified.
“Slow down, Allison!” Wil cried without thinking, holding tightly onto the handle. Allison complied.
“Thanks.” Wil said, relieved. At that moment,
“There!” Allison yelled.
Wil asked where ‘there’ was. Allison pointed at some point ahead of them, to the left. But no matter how much Wil squinted, he could not see them.
Allison slowed down and swerved left onto an even narrower path. She sped up again. Wil could finally see a little speck driving in the distance. It was the same car from before.
“I wonder where they’re going.”
“Definitely not Makkaniu. That’s the opposite direction. That way… there shouldn’t be anything but farmland.”
“That’s even more suspicious.” Allison said excitedly.
By the time the motorcycle caught up with the car, the car began to slow.
About ten meters behind the car, Allison sounded the klaxon several times. The car slowed down even more, but it continued to cruise, not stopping.
“What’s he up to? I’m going to overtake him and make him stop.” Allison declared angrily.
“You can’t. The road’s too narrow.” Wil pointed out. The road was about the width of a car and a half. The shoulder led down a slope to an unused patch of farmland about a meter below.
Allison angrily sounded the klaxon once more, but the car continued cruising at minimum speed, as though taunting her.
“I’ll chase you down as far as this fuel tank takes us!”
“Don’t be so ra-”
The moment Wil spoke, the car suddenly veered into the middle of the road. Up ahead was a narrow bridge.
Allison continued to sound the klaxon, following the car into the middle of the road.
Wil noticed something sticking out of the rear window on the right side of the car. It was a person’s hand. It was gripping something black, small, and thin.
The round cylinder of the object was pointed in their direction.
“…! Allison! They’ve got a gun!” Wil cried, getting to his feet in the sidecar and pulling Allison over to him by the jacket.
Allison moved across into the sidecar, taken by surprise. The motorcycle without a driver began to tilt off-balance. Wil tightly held Allison and leapt onto the shoulder.
They tumbled down the hill through overgrown weeds. The blue of the sky and the green of the earth spun in their vision in turn.
The riderless motorcycle continued, leaning away from the sidecar, before the sidecar hit the railings of the bridge. The motorcycle spun from the impact, flipping over halfway and landing on its side, scattering Allison and Wil’s belongings everywhere.
The hand disappeared back into the car. The car sped off.
Allison was lying on the boundary between the shoulder and the farmland. Grass covered her goggles, filling her vision with green.
She tried moving her arms and legs. Everything seemed to be working, and she didn’t feel any pain.
Suddenly, she realized that there was something on top of her. Her jacket had come undone, and there was something pressing down on her chest.
Allison slowly brushed away the grass.
Her vision was clear again. Allison raised her head and looked over her body.
With a disappointed look, she pushed away her bag from atop her chest.
Allison leapt to her feet and called for Wil. She looked around. He was nowhere to be seen.
“Over here… I’m over here, Allison…”
She could hear Wil’s feeble voice. Allison walked over in his direction. He was in the creek, sitting in the water as though he had landed that way. His lower body was soaked.
“Are you all right, Wil? You’re not hurt, are you?”
Wil looked up.
“I hit my leg on something, but I think I’m fine. What about you, Allison?”
“I’m all right. Thanks for asking.”
“That’s a relief. Did you see the gun they were aiming from the car?”
Allison shook her head.
Allison held out her hand. Wil took it and rose to his feet, dripping wet. He sat on the bank of the creek.
“What about the car?” He asked.
Allison leapt onto the shoulder and looked into the distance. The car was long gone.
“Damn it!” She swore.
* * *
The student dormitories of Lowe Sneum Memorial Secondary School were a distinctive structure in Makkaniu.
On the edge of the village of narrow roads and wooden buildings was a long, large, three-story building made of reinforced concrete, something straight out of the streets of the capital. Four such buildings were clustered together in two lines. In the middle of the structures was a large cafeteria, the dormitory office, and lodgings for visitors.
During the school year, over a thousand students lived in these dorms; it was constantly lively and brimming over with energy. But now that the break had started, only one of the buildings was in use.
It was evening. Wil’s room was dark. Only dim light filtered in through the glass pane on his door.
Wil had moved to this room from another building for the break. This room in particular was technically a double, so it was rather large. There were two desks, chairs, and closets. Inside one of the closets was Wil’s leather suitcase. It was a large traveling case, where Wil usually put most of his belongings.
In a corner of the room was a hot-water pipe used for heating (which was not currently in use), which ran along the wall. There were two beds. One was bare of its mattress, its pipe structure and springs exposed to the air. On the other bed lay Wil, dressed in his pajamas.
But Wil was not asleep.
In the dark, he lay with his eyes open, deep in thought.
It was afternoon, jus after they had lost the car.
Wil borrowed a towel Allison had on hand to dry off, and wrung out his clothes.
The motorcycle’s handle was slightly bent, and the sidecar was dented. But it still worked without issue.
They headed for the village with Allison driving, and made straight for the police station. Of course, the station was a single humble building, and there were only three police officers in the village (barring unusual circumstances). One was currently on vacation, and another was on patrol at the time. The middle-aged officer who greeted Allison and Wil was initially shocked by their claim of an old man being kidnapped by a fake official. Allison explained the situation, leaving out the part about the treasure.
But the officer seemed to have decided that this kidnapping plot with the fake official and the gun wasn’t very credible. His reacted with disinterest.
“That was no help at all!” Allison complained as she returned to Wil, who was waiting outside because he was still wet. In the end, the officer had asked Allison for her name and the address of her lodgings for the night. He was laid-back to the end, telling Allison that he’d call the tax office and speak to the old man’s housekeeper tomorrow.
Allison and Wil returned to the old man’s house and left a note for the housekeeper. They didn’t know what to tell her, so they wrote, ‘he left somewhere with someone from the tax office’.
It was already well past sundown and dinnertime (which doubled as a curfew) when they finally made it back to the dorms. Wil’s clothes were completely dry.
The infamously strict dormitory matron scolded Wil, demanding to know why he had broken both the curfew and the motorcycle. Because Wil could not tell her the truth, he claimed that he was late because he had ended up going too far, and that the sidecar was dented because he swerved to avoid an animal that had leapt into the road. The matron expressed her disappointment in him. And for the first time in his student life, Wil was forced to write an apologetic essay reflecting on his actions.
Allison confidently strode up to the visitors’ lodgings and rented a cheap room as a guest. And as for dinner, they had to make do with bread with jam and milk in the only lit corner of the cafeteria.
“This isn’t too bad.”
Wil reluctantly bit down on his food, while Allison commented that she had eaten worse during training.
In the dorms, it was not permitted for boys and girls to meet past dinnertime. Allison and Wil said goodnight at the cafeteria and returned to their own rooms.
“There you are Wil you’re finally back seriously who was that girl—I mean, pilot—and what kind of relationship do you two have and what were you doing all this time you’re going to tell me because we’re buddies right?”
Wil shook off his friend, claiming he had to work on the essay he was assigned, and returned to his room. And he really began to write his essay.
It was nearly midnight when, with lingering guilt, he finished organizing these unfamiliar sentences conveying made-up excuses.
Wil looked up at the ceiling.
“A treasure, huh.”
The moment he mumbled to himself, there was a gust of wind. His window rattled in its frame. And again. And again.
When the window rattled for the sixth time, Wil finally got off his bed and turned on a small lamp. He went up to see if the window was slightly ajar, and found his jaw dropping.
Overlapping with his reflection in the window was Allison’s smile.
She gestured at him to unlock the window. The moment Wil pushed up the pane, she poked inside and slid into his room without a sound. Just like that afternoon, she was wearing her jacket. Around her waist was a belt made with a small canvas bag sewn into the back.
“Hey, Wil. Were you awake? I needed to talk to you about something.” Allison said, putting her index finger to her lips.
“Allison, this is the third floor.”
“As if a pilot’d be scared of heights.”
“That’s not an answer…”
“I used the rain gutters. They drive rain gutters into reinforced concrete buildings to strengthen them, you know.”
“Are we okay to talk here?”
“Hm… We won’t be okay if someone hears your voice from the halls.”
“Right. Can we go to the rooftop, then? Let’s go someplace higher up.”
Wil nodded slightly, before remembering something.
“I’m not using the rain gutters.”
“Then take the stairs. Make sure no one sees you. And get changed before you come.”
On the flat roof of the dormitory building stood laundry hangers used for large quantities of bedsheets.
Allison and Wil were standing by the railings, which were about as tall as they were. Wil was dressed in long pants and a button-up shirt, and he was carrying a light jacket.
Ahead of them was an empty building—a black mass over the dormitory office and the visitors’ lodgings.
“That’s me.” Allison said, pointing at one of the rooms. The curtains were open, and the desk lamp was turned on. There was something in the bed, under the blankets, as though someone was lying there.
“…Is that a rolled-up blanket?”
“Yeah. The trick is to shape the legs and waist to make them look thinner instead of just rolling up the blanket into a cylinder. And also to half-cover the pillow with cloth the same color as my hair. It looks just like a person in the dark.”
“Where’d you learn how to do this stuff…?”
“The Air Force Academy. For training after lights-out… But most people use this trick to sneak out for some fun. You can’t graduate until you master it.”
“Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?”
Allison pulled out a flat cylindrical tin from her bag.
She opened the tin, took out a blackish chunk of food, and held it in front of Wil’s mouth. It was too dark to make out what it was.
“What is this?”
“You’ll know once you try. Try it. It’s not spicy or anything.”
Wil, who disliked spicy food, put the chunk into his mouth. He grimaced.
“Urgh… What is this? It’s really sweet…”
“Dry chocolate. I bet you’ve never tried it.”
“So this is chocolate? I’ve heard about it before, but I didn’t think it’d be this sweet. The inside of my mouth feels all sticky…”
Allison watched Wil’s reaction with amusement. She also helped herself to some chocolate and licked her fingers.
She then held out a small water bottle to Wil.
“Thanks.” Wil said, after taking two gulps.
“You’re welcome.” Allison also drank some.
“Isn’t this expensive?”
“Who knows? They give this stuff to pilots. In case we get tired or we have to make an emergency landing.”
“I guess it’s really nutritious.”
“That’s what they say. Anyway, we can save the chocolate discussion for later. I want to talk about the treasure.”
“If some mysterious armed group is involved, that story has to be real.”
“You mean you really believe the old man?”
“Yeah, but not until he was kidnapped. And then that guy tried to shoot us when we followed the car. I mean, until then, I just wished it was a real story.”
“It’s a bit weird to say this, since I was the one who pulled you off the motorcycle, but I can’t say for sure if that was a real gun or not. Maybe I just saw it wrong. Maybe I just made a bad guy of someone who has nothing to do with any conspiracy.” Wil said, cradling his head in his hands. Allison gently put a hand on his back.
“It’s all right. I trust you.”
“So I know that treasure’s got to exist.”
“Let’s find that old man and ask him where the treasure is. And we’ll discover it before anyone else does. You and me.”
“…A treasure that can end the conflict, huh.” Wil mumbled, and looked into Allison’s indistinct face.
Allison, meanwhile, could clearly see Wil’s grave expression.
“What do you say?”
A moment later, Wil shook his head.
“I’m really sorry, but there’s a few reasons I can’t go along with your idea.”
“The first reason is that old man. He might have been lying to us like the usually does, or maybe he’s gone so senile he can’t tell if he’s telling the truth or not. Another reason is that the treasure he’s talking about is too incredible. Something that can help Roxche and Sou Be-Il get along? Do you really believe something like that could exist?”
“No way.” Allison said, shaking her head. Then she added, “Maybe he was just using a metaphor?”
“Maybe. But… my last reason is that I can’t believe someone would really believe his stories and go so far as to kidnap him under a disguise.”
“But that man was really suspicious, weren’t they?”
“Then it’s decided. We have to at least follow them.”
“…All right. But what are we supposed to do? We can’t go after them if we don’t know who they were or where they went. And we can’t even ask-”
Allison held up a finger.
“Exactly, Wil. I had an idea.”
“Sounds great, but-”
Wil was cut off by an ear-splitting alarm. The sound grew louder and louder, as though it was traveling from the ground floor up. Allison turned to Wil.
“What’s going on?”
“The fire alarm.”
“A fire? Today’s just full of excitement, huh? …Hm? Wil, look over there.”
Allison was pointing at her room. Someone was inside.
“I can’t tell.”
‘Are they there to evacuate her’, Wil was about to say, when the figure tossed something onto Allison’s bed. The bed burst into flames.
The flames lit up the entire room, and the figure. It was a man, who was dressed in a black coat despite the fact that it was summer. The man turned away and left the room.
“What…? That’s arson.” Wil said blankly.
“Wil!” Allison cried, “it’s him! That useless officer I met this afternoon!”
Wil turned in shock. Allison’s face was clearly visible now, lit up by the flames.
“He must be trying to kill me because I witnessed the kidnapping. Erasing the evidence. Now I’m even more sure about this. Perfect. We’ll go ask that man.”
“Allison… If you want to smile or get angry, please don’t do both at the same time. You’ll scare people.”
There was a parking lot next to the dormitories, used by guests and people dropping off luggage. Because the building right next to it was currently not being used, there were no lights around and no streetlamps were turned on. Only the faint sound of the fire alarm rang in the darkness.
There was a car parked in the lot.
Soon, a man appeared, accompanied by the sound of rushed footsteps. He stopped beside the car, out of breath.
The moment he placed a hand on the door of the car, a beam of light illuminated him. The man was middle-aged, wearing a police uniform, and holding a rolled-up black coat under his arm. The car in front of him was the village police cruiser.
“Wh, wh?! Wh, who are you?!” He cried in a panic. Wil, holding a flashlight, answered him.
“Sorry if I scared you, officer. I’m a student at this school.” He said, turning the flashlight to illuminate himself.
“O, oh. I see. Young man, the fire alarm’s gone off. Y, you have to evacuate. I’ll go contact the fire-”
“I’m sure you already know that arson is a felony.”
“Why would you do something like this?” Wil asked calmly.
Next to the car, Allison quietly snuck up to the officer from behind.
“I, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
She pulled down the officer by his legs and kneed his back as he lay face-down in the gravel.
As the officer writhed in pain, Allison grabbed his arms and took his handcuffs from his belt. She bent back his arms, put the handcuffs on his wrists, and sat him up.
“Hello there. I’d like to ask you a few things.” She said. The officer’s eyes turned to dinner plates at the sight of his victim talking to him.
“Who was the one who kidnapped the old man? Considering the scale of this cover-up, I’d guess it was some very powerful-”
“I, I, I don’t know!”
Allison reached for the bag behind her back and drew something.
Wil did as he was asked. In Allison’s hand was a small handgun. It was a 6-shot automatic pistol, issued to pilots and officers in the Roxchean Air Force.
The officer and Wil cried at once.
Allison showed to Wil, but not the officer, the base of the black gun.
There was no magazine. Wil sighed uncomfortably.
Allison deliberately lowered her voice and threatened the officer.
“I didn’t tell you this earlier, but I’m actually a soldier. And like my friend just told you, arson happens to be a felony. I’m sure they’ll give me a medal for catching a-”
“W, wait! Wait, please! Ouch…!”
The moment the man tried to stand, Allison went around his back and stomped down on his handcuffs.
“But even though I’ve found the culprit behind this awful crime, there’s just no way to prevent him from escaping…” Allison whispered coldly into his ear, “so it looks like the reason behind this police officer setting fire only to a single bed is going to be lost forever-”
“I, I, I’ll talk! I’ll talk! So please, don’t shoot me! I’m begging you, please!”
“Really? Tell me, then. You weren’t trying to do something bad, were you? Who told you to do this?” Allison asked, quickly switching to a gentler voice. The officer nodded to her over and over again.
“Y, yes. That man told me he had something to talk about with the old man. Th, that he’d take him away in secret, so I shouldn’t investigate. I, I didn’t do anything wrong…”
“Why did he take the old man? Who was he?”
“I, I don’t know…”
“How did he know about the old man?”
“P, probably… probably at the village gathering two months ago… All kinds of people were there from all kinds of places. One of the other officers was telling everyone about the headache of an old man we had here.”
“What did he say?”
“Everything the old man always said. About how he used to be part of some royal family, how he’s actually an author, how he became rich overnight through a mining business, how there’s an incredible treasure hidden at the border-”
Allison and Wil exchanged glances. The officer went on to list more of the old man’s lies, but neither Allison nor Wil were listening. Allison only mumbled, “I knew it,” to herself.
“About ten days ago, someone I don’t know contacted me. Said he wanted to look into something, and that he needed to take the old man along.”
“And they told you to ignore anyone who came to you about a kidnapping? And they paid you in exchange?” Wil asked. The officer was silent.
“That’s the most logical answer. You were so shocked because I happened to see it. Did you contact that man this evening? They must have told you to cover up what happened, or risk having your dirty secret exposed. So you committed arson and made it look like an accident. Am I wrong?”
“You must have been in a very tight spot. So where did those kidnappers take the old man? The next village?”
“I don’t know…”
“You might want to start knowing.” Allison said, poking the man in the head with the barrel of her gun. Each time metal met his skin, the officer shook.
Wil, cringing at Allison’s actions, suddenly remembered something.
“Officer, is there something northwest of the village?”
“What? Th, there’s nothing-”
The moment Wil heard the officer’s answer, he opened the door of the police cruiser and went inside. He pulled out several maps lying next to the driver’s seat, and scanned for a map of the vicinity of the village.
“There,” he said, unfolding one of the maps next to the car.
With their eyes, they followed the road heading northwest. There were several small lakes, and farmland labeled with the names of their owners. Eventually, the road hit a vast tract of land filled in one solid color. Written in large letters over it were the words ‘Private Property’.
“I get it.” Allison declared. “They didn’t take him to the next village; they went to this piece of land here.”
“N, n, n, n, no! Th, th, they didn’t!”
At the officer’s panicked reaction, Allison said triumphantly,
“Apparently they did.”
Bright headlights and wailing sirens approached the dormitory parking lot. They were the village fire trucks, painted red and carrying tanks of water.
One of the four trucks came to a stop in front of the police cruiser. The two firefighters hanging from beside the driver’s seat leapt onto the ground and approached the police car. They were shocked to find a man handcuffed and bound to the car door. They were floored when they realized that the man was a police officer.
The firefighters approached the police officer, who stood hanging his head. Next to his head—on the doorframe—was posted a note.
[I set fire to an empty room and decided to arrest myself. I’m sorry for all the trouble. I must have gone crazy for a moment. I’m very very very very very very sorry.]
The firefighters silently exchanged glances.
Opposite the parking lot.
The students were lined up at the main gates to the dormitory, having been loudly woken by the matron and the dormitory manager. The students chattered excitedly at their midnight evacuation and the rare sight of the fire trucks.
The flames in the visitors’ lodgings were extinguished by the firefighters who first arrived on the scene. They already confirmed that there was no one inside the burning room, and now the matron and the dormitory manager were counting all the students.
Soon, they realized that fifth-year student Wilhelm Schultz and his friend were gone. A small commotion broke out.
As everyone raised their voices, Wil’s friend mumbled to himself,
“You’ve gone and done it now, Wil. Or are you just getting started?”
There was a lone headlight illuminating the darkness.
The motorcycle was moving along the road headed northwest. Allison was driving; Wil was clinging to the sidecar.
Allison had abandoned the officer and headed for the motorcycle parking lot. When Wil asked her what she was planning to do, she replied that she would borrow a motorcycle for a while. That she would take it to the private property to rescue the old man.
Wil pointed out that they didn’t have a key. Allison replied,
“That’s not a problem.”
The moment she stepped into the deserted lot, she began tapping on fuel tanks. She picked out the one that made the dullest sound—in other words, the one with the most fuel. She checked the two wires sticking out of the keyhole, and cut them with a small knife. She then stepped down on the kick start lever and started the ignition at once.
Wil asked her if this was another trick from the Air Force Academy.
“No, I learned this from a sergeant in my unit who knows a lot about stealing cars. It’s a technique for stealing vehicles in case we have to make an emergency landing. I learned a lot of other things from my unit, too.” Allison said matter-of-factly.
“All right. Let’s go!”
Allison slowed down the motorcycle.
“Okay, that’s five kilometers. Which way now?”
“There should be a bridge ahead. If you turn right, we’ll hit a narrow road. It’s almost parallel to the river.” Wil instructed, looking at the map with a flashlight. Allison spotted the road he was talking about and made a turn.
The motorcycle drove along a narrow gravel path. Allison had to drive carefully at minimum speed.
“Allison.” Wil said.
“Didn’t they teach you that you should never aim a gun at someone? Even if it’s not loaded?”
“No,” Allison answered, looking ahead. “Maybe that’s how they taught you, but when I was learning to use a gun, they said I shouldn’t hesitate to shoot if it meant protecting myself or my comrades.”
“…To protect someone, huh.” Wil said, falling into thought. The sound of the engine and the crunching of gravel echoed in the darkness.
“I wonder which one is the right answer, Allison.” Wil said.
“What do you think, Wil?” Allison asked.
“I… don’t know.” Wil replied. Allison chuckled.
“Keep going down this road. About ten more kilometers.”
The moon came up.
The eastern sky began to glow a faint white. The half-moon peeked above the horizon and silently rose higher and higher into the air.
The moon was this planet’s only satellite, making a full orbit around the planet once every eight days. It was quite close to the planet, and its surface was white in color. It reflected a great deal of the sun’s rays. When the moon was full, it became so bright that it was possible to do farm work in the middle of the night. In the past, people did, in facts, do farm work at night as a career. And on snow-covered landscapes, a night under the full moon was little different from daytime. One could supposedly even read books in such conditions.
At the moment, the moon was only half-full. But it was large enough that a person had to raise a fist to just cover it. The moon rose higher, illuminating the world in pale light.
Allison turned off the headlight. The white gravel path was clear under the natural light.
Soon, they spotted a coniferous forest ahead. Because everything around it was a flat plain, the dark woods looked rather like an island floating in the sea.
There was a wooden gate in front of the forest. On either side, metal fences stretched along the edge of the property.
“‘Property of Mr. Terreur. No unauthorized entry’.” Allison said, reading off the sign posted on the gate. “Who’s Mr. Terreur?” She wondered.
“He must be the owner of that steel company. He’s really rich—I heard he’s got a bunch of vacation homes in Raputoa.”
“Oh, that evil greedy rich guy. He really made a killing thanks to the war, right?”
“Allison. Do you ever not call a rich person evil and greedy?”
“What, am I wrong?”
“…Anyway, what should we do?”
“I don’t know…”
Allison froze. She held up a finger in front of Wil’s mouth. Wil realized what she was trying to say. They could hear the faint roar of an engine in the distance.
It grew louder. The sound was coming from the woods.
“Is that a car?” Wil whispered. Allison shook her head.
With her hands cupped around her ears, Allison focused on the sound. It was moving through the forest. And then it rose.
She looked up at the sky. A grey mass was lit by the moon. An aeroplane.
It was an amphibious plane with a short, streamlined fuselage designed for water landings and a set of landing gear jutting underneath. It had one main wing, atop which were two engines.
The aeroplane flew off with the moon at its back. The roar of the engines grew fainter, until they passed out of hearing altogether.
“I knew it…” Allison muttered.
“You knew it?” Wil repeated, shocked.
“This area is completely undeveloped, so I was pretty sure they came by aeroplane. And if this is private property, the Confederation Aeronautics Board won’t care that they made themselves a personal airstrip. It’s perfect for moving around in secret.”
“You’re right. That didn’t even occur to me.” Wil said, impressed.
“They must have waited for the moon before they took off. I’m sure they took the old man on that aeroplane.”
“What should we do?” Wil asked. Allison held up her fist before her mouth and thought for ten seconds. Then, she looked up.
“Let’s head for their airstrip.”
“But this is private property.” Wil said.
“This is an emergency.” Allison replied immediately.
Allison and Wil jumped over the fence and stepped into the property. They walked at a hurried pace along the edge of the road so that they could dive straight into the woods if they saw someone coming.
They followed the winding road. Once they had turned two or three bends, they emerged into an open space. It was a long, flat piece of land, cut clear of trees and flattened carefully. It was an airstrip built in secret.
“This is really well made. You wouldn’t even know this was an airstrip unless you flew right overhead.” Allison said, honestly impressed. “And there’s electricity running, too.”
She pointed at a small hut in the distance. Next to the hut was a large building that looked like a warehouse with closed shutters and a tin roof. The structures were diagonally across from Allison and Wil, with the airstrip between them. They could see light faintly seeping from the hut.
“Let’s check it out.”
“Someone might be inside.”
“So we’ll sneak over.”
They rushed across the airstrip and slowly approached the hut. Parked beside it was a car. It was the same one that had taken the old man away earlier that day.
Allison threw a small rock. It hit the car with a small noise, but no one stepped outside. They could not see anyone around, either.
Before Wil could even respond, Allison ran over to the hut and slowly raised her head, peeking in through the window. She then gestured Wil over.
Wil hesitated for a moment, before following her to the hut.
“It’s all right.”
He peeked into the window, just as Allison instructed. Hanging from the ceiling was a bare lightbulb with a lonely shade over it. The hut was furnished with a bed and other pieces of necessary furniture, and set up in the middle was a table and some chairs. There was a middle-aged man in work wear sleeping there with his face on the table.
Wil ducked down again.
“He must be working here.” Allison said.
“Why’s he sleeping? The plane just took off a few minutes ago…” Wil wondered. Allison agreed enthusiastically.
“Good question. Something’s off here. Let’s wake up that man and get some answers.”
“I have an idea.”
Allison took off her jacket, rolled it up, and handed it to Wil.
She then walked around the hut to the entrance, and opened the door without a moment’s hesitation. Wil followed her, confused.
“Hey! You!” Allison said loudly to the man.
“Uh…” The man moaned, and fell back asleep.
“Wake up!” Allison cried, hitting the man in the back over and over again. The table shook so much that some tea left over in a mug on the table spilled slightly.
“Ahh… Sorry, Mom…”
The man finally raised his head. Allison shook him even more violently. His eyes opened slightly. With fatigue still clear in his expression, he looked at Allison and Wil.
“Wh, who’re you…?”
“That’s my line. What are you doing here? This is Uncle Terreur’s property!” Allison said confidently. Wil froze for a moment, but the man quickly replied in a panicked voice,
“Wh, what? I, uh… Mr. Terreur put me in charge of managing this place. Um…”
Wil breathed a sigh of relief.
“But why were you asleep on the job? I wonder what Uncle would say if I told him about what I saw just now.”
“P, please, Miss! Wait! Please hear me out.” The man said anxiously, looking up at Allison. He shook his head a few times to clear his mind of sleep.
“Fine. Tell me.”
“I, I… I’m a mechanic. I mainly do car maintenance. Three days ago, I was ordered to bring a car here and remain on standby. I was sure Mr. Terreur would come by aeroplane soon. But no matter how long I waited, he never came. And that’s when a police officer from the village came up… And…”
Allison exchanged glances with Wil at the mention of the word ‘police’.
“Well, you see… That officer said that he was finally off patrol duty, and… He just kept offering, and it was the middle of the night… So…”
The man shrank.
“…So I drank.”
“You did what?! On the job?!” Allison cried indignantly. The man clasped his hands in desperation.
“Please, Miss… I’m terribly sorry. Please… Don’t tell Mr. Terreur. I… I can’t lose my job now…”
“…Fine. We didn’t tell Uncle we were coming to visit, anyway. We’ll call this a mutual secret. We never came to this place. Okay?”
“Yes! Of course! I… I got some tea from that officer so I’d sober up, but I suddenly felt drowsy, and…”
Allison’s eyes fell on the cup on the table.
“I understand. So you ended up sleeping all day. Without keeping an eye on Uncle’s property.”
“I’m so sorry, Miss! But I still don’t understand why I became so sleepy all of a sudden…”
The man yawned loudly. He coughed.
“So we have no idea if someone’s trespassed or not. You should have been more careful.”
“I’m terribly sorry… Oh! I, is the aeroplane safe? Is it still there?!”
The man paled instantly. Allison smiled so no one would see.
“There’s a Hewels Model ‘84 in the hangar next door, ready to take off. If someone’s stolen it, I wouldn’t be able to face Mr. Terreur…”
“I see… That’s unfortunate. It looks like someone’s already taken it. We just checked outside; the door was open and there wasn’t anything in the hangar.”
Wil looked taken aback.
“No…” The man cradled his head in his hands.
“I suppose I don’t have any choice. It wasn’t completely your fault. I’ll talk to Uncle and see what I can do.” Allison said gently.
“Th, thank you, Miss! W, we have to call Mr. Terreur right away! We have to tell him what happened!”
“But first, here. You’ll feel better after a sip.” Allison said, holding out a cup to the man as he got out of his seat. The man drained it without a moment’s hesitation.
“You have to settle down. It’s not good for you if you get to your feet too suddenly. Close your eyes.”
“R, right… Oh… I’m feeling… drowsy again…”
Once more the man flopped over the table and fell asleep.
Allison brought a blanket from the bed and covered the man.
Wil watched silently as Allison celebrated with fists clenched.
They were in front of the hangar next to the hut. When they opened the door, an aeroplane was revealed.
It was a biplane with one wing above and another below the fuselage, just like the one Allison had arrived on earlier. But it was a little brighter than the air force plane. It had two seats, and two wheels at the front and one in the back. The aeroplane shone gold under the moonlight.
Allison brought a leather jacket, an aviator hat, and a pair of goggles that were hanging on the wall. She handed them all to Wil.
“Put these on.”
As Wil watched blankly, Allison circled around the fuselage and inspected the main wings, the tail, the engine, and the pilot’s seats. She looked into the fuel tank to see how much fuel was left.
As Allison shut the cover over the engine and connected the batteries, Wil asked,
“What are you planning to do?”
After connecting the batteries, Allison shut the cover and looked at Wil. She took out her aviator cap and goggles from her bag.
“Isn’t it obvious? I mean, it’d be a shame to leave something so nice sitting here like this.”
“You mean… We’re going after them on this aeroplane?”
“We’d better hurry, or we’ll lose them.” Allison said matter-of-factly.
Wil was lost for words.
“It’s going to be fine. I’ve piloted this model a few times before.”
“Right. Wait, no! That’s not the problem here!”
“Wil. Someone’s just been kidnapped. By an armed group we know nothing about. And they escaped on an aeroplane. Is it so bad to tail them to their hideout and then report them to the city police force or the military police? If you think about it, this is the duty of all good citizens of Roxche. And it’s not every day you have an aeroplane and someone who can pilot it at just the right time and place. We can’t let this chance slip by.”
“Besides, the plane’s supposed to have been stolen already.”
“We’re just going to tail them for a bit. Just for a little while.”
“Your ‘little while’ is different from everyone else’s ‘little while’. And you say we’re just going to tail them, but-”
“I can go after them on my own, but it’s always best to have as many witnesses as possible. Come with me, Wil.”
“…We’re really just going to tail them and come back, right?” Wil asked, meeting Allison’s eyes.
“Yeah. Let’s go.” Allison said with a nod, holding out her hand towards Wil.
“All right. But don’t do anything rash.”
“Don’t do anything rash. Got it.”
Allison smiled. Wil found himself doing the same.
He then sighed to himself, shaking his head.
“Then again, this is already rash enough…”
“If you’ve sat yourself down, put on your seatbelt. Lock this belt, that belt, and the one over your waist into this buckle and adjust their lengths. Careful not to press the button; that releases all of the belts at once. Don’t touch it until we get off.”
Allison rattled off instructions to Wil from atop the lower wing as Wil sat in the back seat.
Two simple seats were built into the aeroplane. The skeleton and the metal plating of the fuselage were exposed from the seats, and at the seats were a control stick and a mind-numbing panel of instruments.
Wil was wearing the jacket Allison handed him, and had a muffler wrapped around his neck. He was strapped to his seat by the belts.
“Belts not too tight? Everything good? All right. You’re probably even safe to fly upside-down.”
“Yeah. But only if we have to. That control stick between your knees, the front rudder pedal, and that throttle lever on your left are connected to the controls in the front seat, but don’t touch them. If the smoke gets heavy or if you get cold, pull up your muffler some more. And put on gloves if your hands are cold. And hold on to this.”
Allison handed Wil a satchel. It looked like a long shopping bag with a handle, and inside were several cylindrical objects with string tied around them. Wil asked what they were.
“They’re smoke canisters. If you pull on one of the strings, they’ll activate all at once. So don’t drop them.”
Wil pulled the satchel close, uncertain. Allison pulled a leather aviator hat over his head. There were headphones over the ears, and in front was a mask that looked like a respirator.
“It’s something like a telephone. With this, the people in the two seats can talk to each other while they’re flying.”
Allison taught Wil how to use it. She told him that the mask was the microphone, and the button was by the handle. That his voice would only carry to Allison when he was holding down the button. That he should keep the cable connected to the machine next to his seat.
“Any questions?” She asked. Wil looked up at Allison, the microphone in front of his mouth, and said quietly,
“No. …It’s a little stuffy in here.”
“Then let’s get going. It’ll be cooler once we take off.” Allison said, jumping off the wing. She pulled off the restraints from the two front wheels and tossed them into the distance. Then, she returned to her seat and buckled herself in with a practiced hand. She pulled on a headset she had picked out earlier, and put on her hat and goggles over it.
The engine began to rumble. Then, ignition. Black smoke spewed from the exhaust pipe on the side of the fuselage as the aeroplane started. There was a loud noise as the propeller began to spin and generate wind. A faint tremor began to run up their backs.
The aeroplane began to taxi as though sliding. When they reached the airstrip, Allison stepped down on the right rudder pedal. The tail responded, and the nose began pointing to the right. The aeroplane continued at a slow speed.
<Can you hear me, Wil?> Allison asked through the communicator.
<I hear you. …Say, does the engine always sound so loud when you’re sitting inside an aeroplane?>
<It’s only going to get louder. Right now I’m just warming up the engine.>
Each time they cruised over a bump in the airstrip, the fuselage shook.
<Th, the plane isn’t going to break, is it?>
<It’ll be fine.>
The aeroplane reached the edge of the airstrip. This time, it began to go backwards. They could see the man sleeping in the hut.
<Just a little longer…>
Once they reached the opposite edge of the airstrip, Allison turned the aeroplane around once more. The nose was now pointed straight at the center of the airstrip.
<Here we go. Don’t touch the controls.>
Before Wil could respond, the lever to his left slid as far forward as it could. The engine’s rumbling turned into a roar. The wind of kicked up by the propellers raced overhead more powerfully than before. As the aeroplane began to move faster and faster, his body was pushed backwards by an incredible force.
The sound and shaking of the wheels grew more pronounced. Wil’s expression stiffened.
Allison gently pushed forward the control stick. The back wheel left the ground, and the fuselage was now parallel to the airstrip. They picked up speed.
Without warning, the deafening noise and the trembling stopped. The engine continued to roar and the plane continued to shake very slightly, but it almost felt as though everything had gone silent. Like a balloon released from a child’s grip, the aeroplane gently left the ground with wind in its wings.
The coniferous trees that covered Wil’s line of sight like a pair of walls on either side suddenly disappeared. The dark forest and the farmland and the roads around it were below them now. The fields around that scene came into view. It was as though the world was sinking below them.
<I’m swerving right.>
At the sound of Allison’s familiar voice, the aeroplane began to turn to the right. Wil, who was looking to his left, found the ground disappearing from his eyes, replaced by a pale blue sky. He looked to his right in surprise, and saw fields and trees slowly passing by his eyes.
The plane flew parallel to the ground once more, and then ascended slightly.
Wil looked ahead. He could see the fuselage, and the wings on either side. Over the windshield, just out of arm’s reach, was the back of Allison’s head.
<What do you think, Wil?> She asked. Wil answered her honestly.
<I’m a little scared. This is really high up. I can’t believe there’s nothing under my feet. Although there really is nothing there. I can’t calm down. Whenever the plane swerves, I feel like I’m going to fall off. But it’s not a bad feeling. The view is beautiful. I’ve never seen the fields from so high up before.>
<Wil, you said you wanted to ride on a plane before, right? When did you send that letter again?>
<Around this time last year. The fourteenth line on the second page. It was just wishful thinking back then, but now that I’m actually on an aeroplane…>
<How do you feel?>
<It’s even better than I imagined, Allison. So this is the kind of world you experience every day.> Wil said cheerfully. A smile rose to Allison’s lips.
<Welcome to the sky, Wil.>
<All right. Let’s follow that seaplane.>
<About that. Do you know which way they went?> Wil asked. The seaplane was already long out of sight.
<We just have to go in the same general direction. We’re in the sky, after all; there aren’t any obstacles in our way. Aeroplanes fly in straight lines to save fuel. We just follow the compass. We’ll catch up to them if we speed up; this model’s faster than theirs.>
<Don’t worry. Just enjoy the view for now.>
Just as Allison told him, Wil turned and looked down at the ground below. The ground seemed to glow white, slowly but surely flowing beneath them. The engines were still roaring at a constant volume, but Wil had already forgotten just how loud it was.
Wil continued to gaze upon the moonlit fields, forests, rivers, and lakes. He did not get bored. When his neck ached because he looked to the right for too long, he switched sides and looked to the left. Then right again.
“Beautiful…” He mumbled, without pressing the call button.
Wil was taken by surprise by Allison’s sudden cry. The plane was still flying.
<What? Oh, right.>
<They’re ahead. Can you see?> Allison asked, pushing the right control stick. The nose slowly began to point down. Directly in front of the upper wing Wil could see a distinctive curve. It was the seaplane that had taken off from the woods.
<I see it.>
<We’re going to tail them from below and behind.>
Allison lowered the nose even more. Wil could feel the belts pulling his body back into his seat. He held tightly onto the satchel of smoke canisters so it wouldn’t float away.
The control stick returned to its original position. This time, Wil’s backside was pressed against his seat. They descended, then flew level again. The seaplane was above and ahead of them. He could see it when he tilted his head upwards. Its black shape was clear in the pale blue backdrop.
<We’re good now. Anyway, I’ve never seen that model before.>
<Won’t they spot us from there?> Wil asked anxiously.
<We’re clear. This is their blind spot.> Allison replied, confident.