(Download the updated version in PDF/epub format here.)
Finally, the fourth and last volume of Allison. I'll work on Gakuen Kino 5 after this, then Lillia and Treize.
“What is it, Wil?”
“That girl’s a fairy, isn’t she? He eyes and hair are so shiny. She must be a fairy.”
“Oh my. How romantic of you, Wil. You should tell her yourself. I’m sure she’ll be very happy to hear that.”
“No. I’m scared.”
“Oh? Why might that be?”
“If she really is a fairy, she’ll take me away to Fairy Land. Don’t pretty fairies steal kids away?”
“Dear me, that does sound very scary, Wil. I don’t want to have you stolen away. Then why don’t you tell her once you’ve grown up?”
“Well… okay. But—”
“What if she still wants to steal me away then?”
“Since you’ll be an adult, you’ll be able to decide for yourself, Wil.”
“Now, I’m going to introduce her to everyone, so go wait in the auditorium. Sit at the very front, like you always do.”
“Yes, Madam Mut?”
“Please, call me ‘Grandma’. That’s what everyone calls me here.”
“I need to tell you something very important. When I introduce you to everyone today, there’s going to be a brown-haired boy in a green shirt sitting in the front row.”
“Remember, that boy will definitely be your friend. You should go and talk to him—there’s no need to be shy.”
Allison Whittington: 17 years old. A staff sergeant in the Roxcheanuk Confederation Air Force. She is part of an aircraft transportation unit. Allison has blond hair and blue eyes, and is extremely athletic. However, she is not a morning person. Allison often acts without thinking. She lost her father in battle when she was eight years old, at which point she was brought to the orphanage where she met Wil.
Wilhelm Schultz: 17 years old. A sixth-year student at Lowe Sneum Memorial Secondary School in the Republic of Raputoa on the east side of the river. Wil is a laid-back student with an excellent academic record, who was abandoned at an orphanage at the age of three. Since the age of eight, he has been Allison’s friend, underling, trustworthy subordinate, and maybe even her—
Carr Benedict: 24 years old. The youngest major in the history of the Allied Kingdoms of Bezel-Iltoa. He is known as a hero who made a historic discovery. Benedict is extremely popular with women, but he is less than pleased with his newfound stardom. ‘Carr’ is his family name.
Fiona(Francesca): 20 years old. A princess of the Kingdom of Iks, which is a part of the Roxcheanuk Confederation on the east side of the river. She is the only surviving member of the Royal Family of Iks, and is set to become the queen. She revealed her survival to the people of her country with the help of Wil, Allison, and Benedict.
Chapter 6: Fire and Explosions
“I bet Wil and Mom and Dad are enjoying their trips right about now. So why do I have to be stuck here, fishing with my stupid brother?” Eumie grumbled.
Wil’s friend and Euphemia were sitting on a bridge. They were both wearing brown corduroy pants and hunting jackets.
The sky was a clear blue. Underneath the classic Raputoa weather lay a large lake. Brother and sister sat side-by-side at the edge of a long bridge, fishing poles lowered into the water. The soles of their shoes were reflected on the calm surface. The lures did not so much as twitch.
“There’s days like this in life, y’know.” Her brother said, relaxed. There was nothing but water in their bucket. Next to it was a small bottle of water and a paper bag filled with raisins.
Eumie pulled up her rod; the bait was still there. She lowered it again.
“I hope he comes back soon.”
Her brother glanced at her.
“Come to think of it, I haven’t told you yet, have I?”
Some time passed. As her brother explained the situation, Eumie took to her feet in shock.
“He’s with a girl he grew up at the orphanage with?! You’re supposed to tell me these things before he leaves!” She fumed.
“If I said anything, you might’ve ended up beating him half to death so he wouldn’t go.”
“What’s she like?!”
“Well, let’s see…”
He gave his sister his opinion. Eumie was, for a moment, at a loss for words.
“At least, that’s what I think. Although Wil didn’t say that himself. But think about it. This is Wil—the honor student who never misses a class and even cleans out his room every day. He wrote two essays reflecting on his actions in one year. And both times, it had to do with her. In other words, Wil either can’t or won’t go against her.”
Eumie was silent.
“If she asks him to move in with her, he probably would.”
“I had no idea… How could there be someone like that?” Eumie whispered, her fists trembling. Her brother, sitting next to her, remained as relaxed as ever as he checked his bait.
“Well, that’s the gist of it. Thought you should know.”
He cast the line again. The tip of the lure shook as it dipped into the water, then went still.
“So does that mean… I’m in unrequited love?”
He did not answer. He turned and looked up at Eumie, who was on the verge of tears.
“Well, I guess that’s the most appropriate answer.”
He did not lie or sugarcoat things to avoid upsetting his sister. Eumie closed her eyes at his honest answer and slowly hung her head.
“I see…” She whispered. Her brother turned his gaze back to his lure. Then he added,
“Don’t get too down. I’ll do whatever I can ‘til you get back on your feet. In other words, I won’t do anything that I can’t.”
She gave a short word of thanks. He felt her hand on his shoulder. And her forehead on his back.
He could her her murmuring.
With a cry, Eumie kicked her brother in the back.
With a loud splash, he fell headfirst into the lake. Waves formed on the water and the lures shook violently.
He raised his head out of the water and spat water from his mouth, complaining,
“I have faith in you, Wil. If you fail again, that’s strike three. Not gonna help you anymore after this one.”
* * *
The transcontinental express train, reduced to eight cars, continued through the mountain range.
Stone mountains had been chiseled to create room for the tracks, which led in a sharp incline. The diesel locomotive at the very front spewed black smoke. To the left of the rails was the stony mountain, and to the right was a gentle downward slope.
Wil and the others were in the now-second-to-last car—car 7, the second dining car. To be specific, they were sitting on the dining chairs lined up against the left wall near the middle of the car. From the front, it was Benedict, then Fiona, then Allison, then Wil. Wil had not returned Benedict’s gun, and Benedict did not ask for it back.
It had been over an hour since they left the supply base. On the table were the remnants of their makeshift brunch, which they had brought from the galley. An empty breadbasket, bottles of butter and jam, a string for tying ham, and several empty bottles of water.
“Things will be all right as long as nothing happens. There are many troops and people in the village.” Benedict said. “Of course, until then we must fill our meals with sandwiches. When we come to the village around dinnertime, I will serve you food from the local land. I heard that the village’s area is famous for meat pies stuffed with tomatoes.”
“That’s great. But before that, I’m going to give the culprit a good kick in the pants. For destroying this awesome trip.” Allison grumbled, staring out the window.
“So was the culprit really one of them? That means we’re safe now, but… it’s a little sad.” Fiona said stiffly.
Wil was silent, his eyes on the window. But his gaze was fixed near the frames, unmoving. He was not looking at anything in particular—instead, he was thinking about something.
Many seconds of silence passed.
Wil suddenly spoke. Allison, Fiona, and Benedict turned at once. Wil met their eyes.
“What if that’s not the case? What if the culprit isn’t after Mr. Terreur?”
“What do you mean?” Allison asked, astonished. Wil shrugged lightly.
“It’s just a hypothesis. I was trying to see if there were any other possibilities.”
“And did you find one?” Asked Allison. Wil shook his head.
“No. So I’m still trying to figure something out.”
“Man.” Allison sighed. “If you think of something, let us know. We’ll listen.”
Yet again, silence fell over them. The train continued undeterred down the tracks. Great valleys and snow-capped peaks passed by the windows.
“I’m bored.” Said Allison.
“I am too.”
Fiona and Benedict replied at once. But the conversation did not continue.
It was after passing several tunnels, when Benedict mumbled that it was about time for them to reach the ridge of the mountain.
“It’s me. May I come in?”
The dining car door opened quietly and Major Stork entered. Four sets of eyes turned to him.
“I sincerely apologize for getting you involved in this situation. I’m afraid I didn’t have much of a choice. It would be too difficult for me alone to act in case of an emergency, since the VIP trusts me so little.” He said, putting down his suitcase next to the table. Because he spoke in Bezelese, Fiona could not understand.
“He is sorry that we are pulled into an annoying work, but he asks us to help for now.” Benedict summarized.
“Don’t you have to be in Mr. Terreur’s cabin?” Asked Wil.
“It looks like I’d be better off out here than in there.” Major Stork shrugged. “I had a look around the train on the way, and I didn’t spot any problems in particular. I spoke with the engineers as well—they say that the locomotive is running smoothly.”
With that, he glanced at the wristwatch on his left arm. Then, he looked out the window and said exactly what Benedict had said.
“What a peaceful sight. Things will be all right as long as nothing happens.”
An observation craft was flying over the mountains.
It maintained altitude to avoid crashing into the mountaintops. A view straight out of a map slowly passed under the little craft. The mountains, covered in earth and rock, were mostly brown. The peaks and the northern slopes were shining white, still covered in snow. From the valleys and below were patches of green.
In the long, thin cockpit were three seats lined up in a row. The first lieutenant at the back, who was using a pair of binoculars to look downward out of the jutting window, spoke.
“There! I see it!”
He tapped the man in front of him on the back.
“First Lieutenant Klein, look. The lower right. Just underneath. It really was in the area. Just as expected.”
“Where? Ah, I see them. Confirmed.”
The other first lieutenant—Klein—replied, looking down with his own binoculars where the man in the back had indicated. Beyond the round lenses he could see a thin white line moving along the south side of a wide valley.
First Lieutenant Klein tapped the pilot on the shoulder. The pilot handed him a radio and a headset. Klein put on the headset, pressed the call button, and spoke.
“This is Klein. I’ve confirmed the train’s location. It will pass a tunnel in approximately ten kilometers. Are preparations complete? Will you make it in time?”
Several seconds later, the pilot gave him a reply. Klein turned to the other first lieutenant and gave him a thumbs-up. He praised the pilot via radio.
“Excellent work. The transcontinental has been reduced to eight cars. The last car is the lounge car. Our first priority is to secure the target. Do not let your guard down.”
He stopped, but then added,
“Contact Squad 2 just in case. Have them step in with Plan B if we miss our chance. Ensure that the diversion is effective. Over.”
Then, he handed the radio back to the pilot and ordered,
“Make landing at Squad 2’s standby location. I’m stepping in as well.”
The pilot nodded firmly.
The craft slowly veered to the right.
* * *
The tracks ran across stony slopes that had been carved flat.
They followed a winding path along the bald, rocky mountain, making one turn after another. At points along the way, there were short stretches where the tracks split off into two. When the slope was gentle and there was a large, flat area, the rails forked and ran parallel to one another for hundreds of meters. They were turn-outs that prevented trains from running into one another, allowing them to bypass other trains.
Some of the jutting turn-outs were in tunnels about 200 meters long. There was one tunnel entrance per set of tracks, and the interiors were also separate. It was impossible to see the other set of tracks while inside.
The transcontinental express arrived at a turn-out. The diesel locomotive whistled as it entered the main tunnel on the right.
Dozens of seconds later, the locomotive emerged from the other side. The eight cars followed safely after. The train loudly passed the turn-out, going down a gentle slope toward the foot of the mountains in the west.
About twenty seconds later.
A round light shone from inside the darkness of the tunnel on the right side from the main one—in other words, the entrance of the turn-out tunnel.
Soon, the rumbling of the engine steadily grew louder. There was a loud whistle.
A diesel locomotive with its headlights turned on slowly emerged. It was about half the size of the one that towed the transcontinental express, but was nearly identical in appearance. It was, typical of military gear, painted khaki. Over the place where the vehicle number should be was a wood veneer.
Equipped on either side of the wide doors at the head were machine guns. Large magazines were atop the guns, and the barrels were encased in large cylinders.
Soon after the locomotive emerged, the cars it towed showed themselves. One khaki-colored car for carrying soldiers, and two roofed freight cars. Over a dozen soldiers were on the first car. They all wore green woolen green combat gear and were armed with submachine guns. They were also in balaclavas. One of the uniformed men opened the door to the driver’s cabin on the locomotive, passed the car, and stepped out of the door.
The four-section train emerged fully from its hiding place. The headlight was extinguished. The train continued for about a hundred meters, then came to a stop. The soldier who hopped off the locomotive adjusted the rails at the junction, connecting the main tracks. Then, he signaled the train and returned to the locomotive.
The train slowly shifted onto the tracks used by the transcontinental express. And little by little, it gained speed.
She was sitting on the windowsill on the left side of the dining car, watching Wil—who was in the chair in front of her—and the scenery, one after another. When the train met a gentle left curve in the tracks, she spotted the scenery behind the train. For a split second, she saw a small green dot on the rails. But it quickly disappeared behind the stone mountain next to the tracks.
“What’s wrong?” Wil asked in Roxchean, raising his head. Allison replied in Roxchean.
“Nothing. I just thought I saw something.”
“Behind the train. But it’s not like anything’s going to be on the same track, anyway. I was probably just seeing things.” Allison concluded with a shrug. Wil frowned. Unbeknownst to him, Major Stork—sitting a slight distance away—was watching them.
“Allison, with your eyesight, I doubt you’d—”
The moment Wil spoke,
“What is the matter?”
Major Stork suddenly spoke up loudly. Of course, in Bezelese. Benedict, who was dozing off in his chair, looked up. Fiona, asleep as she leaned against him, twitched her eyes slightly but did not wake.
Allison shot Stork a glare and replied icily, in Bezelese.
“How can you be so certain?!” Major Stork roared, sounding unusually angry.
Instead of Allison, who made a point of flaring up in response, Wil answered.
“She said that she thought she saw something behind us, but that she was probably seeing things.”
At that point, Major Stork’s expression changed as he rose quickly from his seat. The chair fell loudly to the floor. Fiona twitched as she opened her eyes.
“What is the matter?”
Ignoring Benedict’s question, Major Stork began running down the dining car. He passed Wil and Allison, opened the door, and disappeared into the lounge car.
Wil glanced at Allison and stood.
“Let’s go. Something’s wrong.”
When Allison and Wil left the dining car,
“What’s going on…?”
Fiona, who had finally awakened, asked Benedict.
“I do not know for sure yet… but I do not think we will arrive at the village without something happening.”
At the end of the lounge car, Major Stork was sitting in the hall in front of the doors as he examined the coupling.
“What’re you up to?”
“What are you doing?”
Allison and Wil opened the door into the hallway.
“Please don’t step any further toward the coupling.” Major Stork warned, holding out an arm to stop them.
Major Stork sat in front of the door on the right, and Allison and Wil across from him as they poked their heads out the coupling in the middle. Beyond the shaking coupling was not even a set of railings. The noise from the wheels and the wind buzzed in their ears. The tracks flowed past behind the train.
“You said you saw something?” Asked Major Stork. Allison replied loudly so as to not lose out to the noise.
“I thought saw a green dot. But I might’ve been seeing things.”
“You said you were a pilot. You must have very good eyesight, then.”
Benedict and Fiona came following, and asked Wil to explain the situation. Wil replied honestly that he wasn’t sure yet.
“Shit… they’re too early.” Major Stork cursed under his breath, glancing at his wristwatch as he stared at the tracks behind them.
At that moment, the locomotive of the pursuing train turned the corner and came into view.
“Should’ve trusted my eyes.” Allison said indifferently.
“There really is something—” Wil began, but Benedict cut him off.
“Yes. Confirmed. A train. I see a locomotive car.”
Fiona and Wil also peeked out, switching with Benedict and Allison. They could see the train moving right up to them as it turned the corner.
“That is a military train. Maybe they heard the story and came to defend us.” Benedict speculated, watching the train approach. Allison and the others took turns taking peeks at the locomotive.
Meanwhile, Major Stork had his head bowed with his hand against the left wall.
A soldier on the locomotive, now about a hundred meters away, came into view. The train disappeared behind a corner for a moment and emerged again—and at that very moment, the soldier set off a flare.
A green ball of light flew off diagonally, leaving a trail of white smoke.
“That looks like a signal flare. What does it mean?” Allison asked.
“Hm. I’m not sure.” Benedict replied, completely honest.
“Do you know?” Allison asked, turning to the major across the hall. Four sets of eyes were fixed on him. Major Stork slowly raised his head.
“It’s probably an order to stop.” He replied quietly, reaching for the holster on his right side. He drew a polished black handgun—an automatic model issued by the military. It was already loaded and cocked. All he had to do was disarm the safety, and it could be fired.
“It looks like we have no choice.”
Cutting Benedict off, Major Stork raised his gun. He avoided the four people ahead of him as he pointed the barrel overhead, slowly walking to the coupling and taking aim at the locomotive.
“Everyone, back into the cars!” He cried, pulling the trigger.
The crisp ring of gunfire disappeared into the roar of the train. The shell casing hit the cover over the coupling and fell onto the tracks. Major Stork, holding on to a handrail with his left hand, pulled the trigger twice every second.
“What the heck’s going on here?!” Allison yelled, covering an ear with one hand and pulling Wil to his feet with the other, and taking a step back. Fiona screamed softly. Benedict pulled her into his arms.
Several of the bullets hit the head of the locomotive—which was a scant fifty meters away—and sent sparks flying. The soldiers on standby at the doors rushed to duck for cover. Had their engineer hit the brakes? The gap between the trains widened.
After four or five seconds of unexpected gunfire, the slide of the gun came down fully and stopped. Major Stork took shelter in the coupling, quickly pulling out the empty magazine and taking out a spare one from his holster. Then, he quickly loaded it into the gun and pulled the slide with his fingers. Now loaded, the slide returned to ready position.
“All of you, inside!”
With that, Major Stork ordered Benedict to open to door and go inside. Still holding Fiona, Benedict kicked the door open and ran into the room that was furnished with rows of sofas. Allison and Wil followed.
Major Stork leapt over the center area in one bound as he entered the car.
All five of them had just returned to the center of the lounge.
“What is going on here, Major?!” Benedict demanded. Major Stork swore bitterly.
“Shit. It looks like the intel was correct.”
“What intel?” Repeated Benedict. Major Stork replied, having regained some semblance of calm.
“It’s about the people who are out to assassinate Mr. Terreur. …They’re from our end. Although I do suppose it’s very vague information. There are countless people in Sou Be-Il who despise Mr. Terreur for his leading role in supplying the Roxchean military. And they have countless reasons to do so.”
“Why didn’t you tell us earlier—”
Major Stork cut off Benedict’s incensed question.
“The situation did not call for it. My superior only mentioned it briefly just before I left the capital.”
“But you could have stopped the tour!”
“Major Carr. If you are threatened, do you stop going out altogether?”
“If you’d at least mentioned it at the supply base—”
“How? Should I have said, ‘Someone from Sou Be-Il may attempt something foolish, so let us all stay together. Although there may be a murderer in our midst.’?”
Benedict did not respond.
“That’s enough!” Allison cried.
At that point, there was a splintering noise at the back of the car, like several tree trunks snapping at once.
“What was that?” She asked.
“It’s them. They must’ve manned their machine guns. Let’s all get a little further ahead.” Major Stork said, gesturing as though pushing everyone toward the dining car.
Benedict and Fiona passed by the piano. Hiding Fiona behind the bar, Benedict waited for the others.
“What will you do now, Major?”
“What’re you going to do?”
Benedict and Allison asked in unison. Major Stork holstered his gun.
“They’re planning to deploy men to take over this train.”
“As if I couldn’t tell!” Allison cried.
“If we’re attacked by armed men, our only option will be to surrender.” Benedict said, holding back his emotions. He pressed his face against the window to survey the situation behind them.
“They will launch another assault. What are you going to do?”
Major Stork did not answer. Instead, he turned and went over to the counter. He stood against it and leaned toward the shelf.
“I suppose not even my retirement savings will be enough to pay off the the damages.”
With a smile, he picked up a bottle of liquor and turned around. The bottle contained a drink that was extremely high in alcohol, often drunk in colder countries. Under the label was a warning in red letters: ‘Do not drink next to a lit candle’. Major Stork opened the bottle and began to pour out the contents all around the car. The smell of alcohol filled the lounge.
“I-is this all right?” Benedict stammered, realizing what he intended.
“Whatever it takes to survive!” Allison said, joining the major. She easily leapt over the counter and picked up two of the same bottles. She threw them toward Wil and Benedict, who began to pour out the liquor over the sofas and the windowsills. Meanwhile, Allison opened another bottle and stuffed a handkerchief that was lying on the counter into the mouth. When she turned the bottle upside-down, the liquor slowly began to soak the handkerchief.
“They’re getting closer again! There are soldiers at the front!” Fiona yelled, watching with her face against the window.
“Understood. Go.” Benedict said tersely in Bezelese, giving Wil a light push on the back. “You too, Major Stork.”
Benedict led Fiona away to the dining car.
Upon pouring out a bottle over the grand piano, Major Stork threw aside the empty bottle and turned.
“Here.” Allison said, holding out a gift. It was the makeshift petrol bomb she had made earlier. Major Stork took it with a smile.
“A charming gift, Miss.”
“This is no time to be impressed. Just hurry up!”
No sooner had she spoken did Allison turn and disappear into the dining car, giving Wil—who had been waiting for her—a push on the back.
Watching them depart, Major Stork burst into laughter as he stood alone in the lounge car. He reached toward the counter with his right hand and took out a single matchstick from a clearly expensive silver case. He struck it against the case and held it next to the handkerchief that stuck out of the bottle.
The silent flame began to burn the cloth. Major Stork held out the bottle and set the piano on fire. It quickly burst into flames. Ripples of blue flame cascaded along the surfaces slick with alcohol.
Without a word, he threw the bottle against the floor. There was a clatter as the carpet caught fire. The flames soon spread to the sofas and the curtains.
Major Stork smiled at the flames, satisfied. He turned and headed to the exit to get to the coupling. With his left hand, he held the doorknob, and with his right hand, he drew his gun, took aim at the window, and pulled the trigger several times.
“This is payment!”
The glass shattered to pieces. Fresh air rushed inside, providing oxygen to the car.
Finally, he shot the makeshift petrol bomb lying on the floor.
As Major Stork holstered his gun and left out the door, flames scattered behind him and lit up the pools of alcohol, trembling in a dizzying dance. The flames dyed red the frosted-glass pane on the door.
The transcontinental express continued down the tracks, grey smoke spewing from the very last car. The flames quickly swallowed everything in its path. The grand piano was already engulfed, looking much like a sculpture of fire.
The military train, which was hot on the transcontinental’s tail, was overwhelmed by smoke the moment it reached a straight stretch of rails. The soldier manning one of the machine guns by the locomotive began to cough violently.
The soldier next to him, who supplied ammunition, ducked and yelled loudly.
“Hey, where the hell’d you shoot?”
The soldier manning the machine gun also ducked as he answered.
“I just shot the roof! Orders were just to intimidate them!”
“Shit! They must’ve set it on fire from the inside.” The other soldier swore, and added, “Hasn’t he taken over the train yet? What’s the major doing?”
Major Stork was walking. He was heading toward the four people standing at the door into the back of the dining car—in other words, near the coupling. Because the train was moving, the smoke did not reach them.
“It’s burning quite nicely. Train fires really are terrifying. In any case, they won’t be able to board so easily now.” Major Stork reported in a relaxed tone.
“The fire won’t spread to this car?” Asked Benedict.
“It might, if we do nothing. Wooden cars are quite flammable.”
Benedict frowned, but did not respond. Major Stork continued.
“But we won’t let that happen.”
“Then what will we do, Major? They’re going to catch up to us eventually.”
“They’re running along the same tracks as we are. So all we have to do is create an obstacle. That will solve two problems at once.” Major Stork replied immediately.
“How?” Asked Wil.
Before he could even finish, Allison cut in.
“We just separate the burning car.”
Major Stork gave Allison a smile and a thumbs-up.
“Separate the cars? That’s easy to say, but—”
“It’s not like you drink, Wil. And besides, the car’s all burned anyway, so we don’t need it anymore.”
“No, I mean… what if that train crashes into the lounge car? They’re going to—”
“It doesn’t matter. Who cares if they get derailed or something? Serves ‘em right for cutting my trip short.”
“You’re really angry right now, aren’t you?”
“Of course I am! Those SOBs keep butting in on our tour!”
“‘Allison, let’s remember to use nice words’.”
“Sorry, Grandma… Anyway, they keep interrupting our tour!”
The four of them had left Fiona in the dining car and come to the coupling between the dining car and the lounge. There was a thin layer of smoke there as well. Major Stork was carrying his suitcase, which he had quickly brought back from the car just earlier.
“Ahem. Miss Allison? Wilhelm? May I begin?”
Wil and Allison replied.
“Then allow me to explain. We must separate the cars at the coupling here. First, let’s pull off this cover.” Major Stork said, pointing at a fastener on the coupling. Benedict undid it as instructed.
Wil and Benedict pulled on the cover as they folded it in toward the dining car. The wind howled as cold air rushed in and diluted the smoke. All that was left in the coupling were the heavy metal plates jutting out of either car.
“Next, we must pull up these plates. Please take care not to drop them or get your fingers stuck.”
“I’ll do it.”
Holding back Wil, who tried to step in, Benedict lifted the weighty plate with both hands. He dragged the plate on the lounge side toward the dining car, and the one on the dining car side toward himself.
There was a gap of several dozen centimeters between the cars. Metal rails and wooden railroad ties passed underneath.
“Major Stork… can we unclasp these connectors?” Benedict asked, raising his head. Allison and Wil took turns looking down. The connectors were equipped with sturdy metal rings, and were firmly affixed to the rings on either car. There were also screws driven between the rings so the connectors would not move.
“Not while we’re moving, I’m afraid.”
“Do you see the hose on the right side? That hose carries air for the brakes. Turn the red knob on the side of the dining car to cut off the air supply. We just need to cut it off on this side. Watch out that you don’t get your arm jammed between the buffers.”
Giving instructions, Major Stork reached into his suitcase. Benedict asked Allison and Wil to hold his legs, and lay on his stomach in front of the connectors. Then, he cautiously reached down and turned the valve 90 degrees.
“Whew… Thank you.”
Thanking his friends, Benedict sat up. The sleeves of his sweater and his chest were stained with grease.
“What now? We can’t separate the cars unless we uncouple the connectors.”
“The fire’s spread out a lot.” Allison commented. Wil looked up. The lounge car they could see through the tiny window was filled with nothing but red. Even the edges of the door were ominously tinted black.
“It’s my turn.” Said Major Stork, who had put his suitcase on the carpet as he fished through it. He slowly drew out his hand. In his grasp was a thick grey paper box, about three centimeters high and ten centimeters long. It looked much like a box of butter one might find at a store, but there was nothing written on it. Major Stork placed the box onto the carpet.
“Hm? Don’t tell me—”
Benedict was in shock. Major Stork removed a cylinder shaped like a large fountain pen, and gingerly removed something that resembled a metal pen from within. He scrutinized the object as he rotated the lid several times.
“What is that?” Asked Allison. Benedict replied.
“The box is for the latest in military-use explosives. That thing that looks like a pen in a miniature timed fuse.”
“Please give me a minute. I can’t take my eyes off this at the moment.” Said Major Stork as he adjusted the pen and held it tightly in his right hand. He then reached with his left hand into his suitcase.
“What is it this time?” Allison asked, amused.
What Major Stork produced with a smile was a cloth tape sold at general stores to pack cargo.
“Aww, that’s not cool.”
“But it is quite useful.” Major Stork said, tossing the tape to Benedict.
“Put a strip horizontally on the lounge car’s connector. But leave room to insert the fuse.”
Then came the explosive. Benedict took it in his left hand, with the tape in his right.
“Will it be all right?”
“There might be a bit of an impact, but it won’t cause too much damage. At least, we won’t be derailed. If my calculations and memory are correct.”
Benedict shook his head, dumbfounded, and put some tape over the explosive. Then he turned to Allison and Wil.
“Both of you, stand back. Just in case.”
“Nah. This looks pretty interesting.”
Wil did not answer. As he and the enthusiastic Allison watched, Benedict fixed the explosive to the connector and wrapped tape over it.
“Done. If you’ll excuse me, we’ll be fleeing first.” Benedict said, pushing Allison and Wil into the car.
“Understood. I’ll follow shortly.”
Major Stork squatted in front of the explosive and held onto the train with his left hand. He leaned forward with his right hand outstretched and carefully stuck the pen into the explosive.
“Please don’t let this be defective.” He whispered, lightly tapping the end of the pen.
“Fi! It’s risk—er, dangerous, so go to the front! He’s going to explode the coupling!” Benedict cried. Fi gasped and began to run. Benedict quickly caught up to her.
“What’s going on here?”
“I had a small idea, but that major is too unbelievable!”
“You think so? He looks pretty fun to me.” Allison commented, following behind.
Soon, the four of them arrived at the very front of the dining car. When they turned, Major Stork emerged from the opposite end with his suitcase in hand. He looked very much like a middle-aged soldier returning home from work. He calmly reached behind himself to close the door and walked inside.
As the four watched, Major Stork stretched his right arm to the side and folded his thumb. A second later, his pointer finger. Then, his middle finger.
Benedict squatted to the floor with Fiona in his embrace, and took hold of the handrail by the windowsill. Wil and Allison quickly ducked as well.
The moment Major Stork folded his pinky finger, he turned and landed lightly on his backside.
With a dull impact, the dining car shook as though having been rammed. There was only one noise and one impact, however. Soon, the car was once more enveloped in the sounds and shaking of the wheels.
“Didn’t I tell you that things would be all right?”
Major Stork quickly stood. He opened the window on the right side fully and stuck out his head to check behind them. Allison quickly did the same. Wil, Benedict, and Fiona ran up to the windows as well.
Behind them along the gentle curve was a familiar car, quickly growing distant as it continued to spew smoke. It almost looked like it was moving backwards.
“When we separated the cars, the hose for the braking system was separated from the train. That triggered the emergency brakes on the lounge car.” Major Stork explained, looking out the window. Beyond the burning car they could see the military train, running down the same tracks.
“So long!” Allison cheered, waving her arm.
The military train quickly braked. But the burning car approached it as though drawn by gravity and finally crashed. There was no noise.
For a short time, the military train pushed the lounge car forward. Neither of them were derailed, but they slowed down greatly. In the blink of an eye, they were dots in the distance across the valley, only visible by the smoke rising into the air.
The five heads sticking out of the dining car withdrew one after another.
“Now they’ll be immobilized for some time. We’ll be in the clear.”
“You’re pretty good, mister.” Allison said, grinning.
“Thank you, Miss.”
Major Stork placed a hand over his chest and bowed.
“Shit! Get that car out of the way. Can’t we at least push it to the next turn-out?”
“No, sir. We can’t disarm the emergency brake.”
“In any case, extinguish that fire! Then blow it up and off the tracks!”
“But we don’t have any explosives, sir…”
“Then use manpower and push it off!”
“Please be reasonable, sir…”
The train was stopped at a slight distance from the burning lounge car. The soldiers in balaclavas watched the roaring flames and the unending smoke enveloping the car. The little fire extinguishers in their hands could not possibly put out the fire, and the heat was so intense that they could not even get close.
The man who had been barking orders swore again.
“Damn it! What the hell is going on here? It’s odd that we’d face this much resistance to taking him into custody… if they manage to reach the village, we’re finished.”
The man’s unfortunate subordinate spoke up hesitantly.
“What do we do now, sir?”
“Where are the MPs in charge of cleanup? Where’s First Lieutenant Klein?”
“We’ve’ just received word that they would land and join Squad 2. If things work out, they’ll manage to catch them.”
“Then it’s all up to them… Shit!”
The fire on the lounge car crackled at times as it grew more and more intense.
* * *
“Yes. They’ve begun attempts to sabotage us. I’m sad to say that there are criminals hiding in our military. We’ve managed to drive them back, so I believe things will be all right now.”
In the conductor’s cabin at the end of the dining car, Major Stork was sitting in a chair with a headset over his ears, speaking with an engineer via radio. The others stood silently and watched.
“As I said earlier, we must reach the village at all costs. Do not slow down. Run down any obstacles you may face. That includes people.”
They were cruel words to be said in such a mechanical tone.
“Fortune be with you.”
With that, Major Stork ended communications. He turned off the switch, took off the headset, and turned. Benedict was shooting him a vicious glare.
Major Stork followed the others back to the dining car. First, everyone got seated. Four in a row, and one across from them.
Benedict gave a pronounced frown as he addressed Major Stork.
“Major. I have a few questions.”
“Does your hometown make a tradition of traveling with explosives in suitcases?”
Major Stork did not so much as twitch at the obvious provocation. Instead, he smiled.
“I told you before. My mission is to act as security detail. I only brought it along to use in an emergency.”
“Do you think we’ll actually believe that?”
“I hope you will.”
“That is not an answer!” Benedict raised his voice. Allison warned him for the third time that day.
Hearing Wil’s interpretation, Fiona spoke up slowly.
“Benedict. We’ll solve this problem once we reach the village.”
“I understand. Yes.”
Benedict raised his right hand and gave Major Stork a light salute. Then, he sighed again and turned his gaze to the thick carpet. Fiona placed a hand on his shoulder.
Major Stork slowly stood and went to the window. He opened the curtains and glanced at the valley on the right side of the car, then down at his watch.
“Things will be all right now as long as nothing happens.”
“Isn’t that what you said earlier?” Allison chuckled. Wil was silently watching the major.
“Did I?” Major Stork gave an embarrassed grin and leaned partly out the window. The jagged stone peaks across the valley were still covered in snow swirling in geometric patterns.
“What a beautiful sight. It’s one of our country’s valuable treasures.”
Allison got up and tugged on Wil’s hand.
“Let’s watch the scenery together.”
Wil smiled and followed. They stepped around the table and went to the window. Major Stork watched them without a word.
Allison tied the curtain open and watched the world pass by alongside Wil.
“What do you think?” She asked in Roxchean.
“It’s beautiful. I’m so glad I came on this trip.”
“Even after what happened?”
Fiona watched Allison and Wil standing side-by-side by the window and smiled. Suddenly, her gaze was drawn to Major Stork’s face.
He was silent; with his mouth shut and his gaze averted, he watched the two of them with a rather lonely look. Though they stood in the same car, it looked for all the world as though an iron wall were between Major Stork and the two. Fiona watched them for a time. The world outside the window was clear and beautiful, but she forgot even to watch the landscape.
Soon, having thought of something, Fiona reached for the camera bag on her belt.
But in the end, she did not take out her camera, letting her hand drop without a sound.
“Are you cold? Can I open the window?” Allison asked Wil. Wil soon pulled down the top half of the window himself.
There was a gust of wind, and Allison’s hair went aflutter. Her golden hair smothered Wil’s face.
“Oh, sorry. Let’s switch spots.”
Allison pulled Wil over and stepped back, trading positions.
“You two,” Major Stork began. Wil and Allison turned. “Well… you’re very close, I see.”
Allison was slightly surprised, but she grinned.
“Where’d that come from?”
“Nothing, Miss. It just occurred to me, that’s all. Please don’t mind me. Enjoy the view.”
Major Stork pointed at the opposite side of the valley, about three hundred meters away. The slopes were still as steep as ever, but they seemed to be closer to sea level than before; trees and plants dotted the area. Under the valley full of boulders flowed a small river.
“It’s beautiful.” Allison commented.
“The tracks follow the path of the river for some time. And in a short while, we’ll be passing a long, narrow lake in the valley. It’s a natural dam that was created by a massive avalanche in the distant past. It’s renowned for its calm, blue water.” Major Stork explained, playing the tour guide. “About three hundred years ago, rumors that gold dust could be found there began to spread, drawing countless people to the area. The gold was quickly depleted, and the people’s dreams of golden paradise were dashed. But some still believe that a massive quantity of gold lies in wait at the bottom of the lake.”
“Huh.” Allison watched the scenery as she played along. “Can I ask you something, Mr. Tour Guide?”
“Are there tracks on the other side of the valley?”
“Hm? Oh, yes. There are tracks everywhere in this area. But the other side is very steep—much of the tracks are inside tunnels to prevent damage from avalanches.”
“Why did you ask?”
“Well,” Allison replied, “I just saw some holes on the other side.”
“Ah, yes. Those holes provide air to the tunnels. Relics from times when all locomotives ran on steam. But I must say, your eyesight is quite incredible.”
“Can I ask one more thing?”
“By all means.”
“There’s no roads there, right?”
“No.” Major Stork replied, looking at Allison with a smile. Allison met his gaze.
“Then what’s that thing that just came out of the tunnel? It looks like a tank.”