Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Lillia and Treize I(Part 1): And so the Two Left on a Trip - Chapter 3

(Download the updated version in PDF/epub format here.)

An update. Enjoy.

-----


Chapter 3: Tour Planes and Fighter Planes


-----


<Yes, this is the Enterhail 4th Farm Machinery Factory. This factory ceased operations last year and is currently closed. We only take telephone enquiries. How can I help you?>

<I know that the factory has ceased operations. I’m just calling to get the local weather forecast. What will the weather be like from tomorrow afternoon to evening?>

<I’m afraid I can’t answer that question. Perhaps you should give the local newspaper a call. Do you have any other business?>

<Grapes on the left. 9399 of 87. 553. The firewood has been stacked in the backyard. The fox is not nearby.>

<—Confirmed. This is a top-secret line. This is the 2nd Special Flight Test Center in Sector 4 of the Roxcheanuk Confederation Air Force. State your name.>

<Major Watts of the Air Force Intelligence department. Please connect me to Captain Allison Schultz, who is currently staying at the base as a test pilot.>

<One moment, please. —Captain Schultz had an early-morning test flight session and is currently asleep. Would you like to leave a message?>

<I’d like to speak to her in person. Please wake her at once.>

<Pardon? I—>

<Please wake her up.>

<One moment, please.>


<Hello? This is Master Sergeant Maggie Eatner, assistant to Captain Schultz. The captain is currently resting in the lounge.>

<I understand. Could you wake her?>

<But…>

<This is an emergency. Please wake her at once.>

<But it might take some time…>

<I understand that it might be difficult to wake her. The beds in the lounge are foldable, correct? Collapse the back in one go. And run as fast as you can to take cover, Master Sergeant. Captain Schultz will be awake within the minute.>

<What? Er… yes, of course. Force her awake, huh… man, I hate my job…>

<I can hear you, Master Sergeant.>


<Yes! This is Captain Schultz. Who’s calling? Apologies, but I only just woke up and forgot your name.>

<Allison. It’s me.>

<Huh? Wi- er, oh! Excuse me, sir! It’s been a while!>

<I’m calling from the Sou Be-Il embassy. This line is safe.>

<Is that so, sir? Please excuse me!>

<I have urgent matters to discuss. It’s about the lady and the ‘prince’.>

<Yes, sir?>

<Listen carefully to what I say.>

<Then shall I call back from my end, sir?>

<Please.>


<I see. So that’s the sinister plot, huh. And by Lartika, of all places. This isn’t good.>

<I’m in charge of the cleanup, so you don’t have to worry. But there’s something I need you to do. I think you’ll be able to intercept their radio communications. Keep an ear out, and if anything happens, contact Roxche’s intelligence department. I want to keep those two out of the plot at all costs.>

<All right. I’ll warn them if I hear anything. And I’ll call those two tonight at the hotel.>

<I’m counting on you. Just make sure they don’t board any aeroplanes while they’re there.>

<Aeroplanes, huh. I think they’ll be fine. I mean, why would they spend all that money when they both grew up flying to their hearts’ content?>

<I hope you’re right…>

<I understand that you’re worried, but did you seriously call just to tell me that? You called me on a secure line and all…>

<Oh, and there’s something else.>

<Yeah!>

<If we need support, the Roxche Air Force might send a request to your base. It’s the closest one to the area with a unit under direct command.>

<Huh? Oh, that. All right, all right. Gotta follow orders and bring home the bacon. Hmph.>

<Sorry, Allison. But I’m glad you’re there.>

<Sure, sure. I’d love to chat, but you have to get going, right?>

<Yeah. I have to go soon.>

<All right. I’m going back to bed. See you later.>

<And one last thing…>

<Hm?>

<I love you so much, Allison.>


* * *


Just as Allison hopped around the empty room in glee—

“…”

“…”

Lillia and Treize were looking up at a sign.

It was afternoon. The bright sunlight was shining on a south-facing sign.

Painted in large print on the 3-meter sign were the words: ‘You too can be a pilot! Go on a tour flight.’

Underneath were the words,

‘Take a walk in the air on one of our floatplanes! The seats are open to the air, just like a convertible. Feel the wind in your hair as you look down at Lartika from above! We rent flight suits, hats, and goggles. Up to two passengers per plane. This business is part of Lartika’s Public Tourism Department. We also offer photography services(additional fees apply).’

“…”

“…”

Lillia and Treize silently stared at the sign.

The sign was on the corner of a prominent intersection. They had left the hotel after lunch to see more of the city, leaving the souvenirs in the suite and carrying just a small bag and a belt pack respectively.

Treize turned to Lillia. Lillia met his gaze.

“Wanna try?”

“…”

“Well?”

“Lillia…”

“What?”

“You’re thinking what I’m thinking, right?”

“…Say it. What?”

“We’re both thinking, ‘It’s no fun to be on an aeroplane if I’m not piloting it. Do we really have to pay so much money to take the back seat? But it’s been a while since the last time I flew, so I guess it might be nice’.”

“…Yeah. Exactly.” Lillia replied. Treize thought for a moment.

“I don’t mind trying it out.”

“You ‘don’t mind’? So you don’t mind if we don’t, either?” Lillia asked, looking into Treize’s face.

“No, well, I do want to try it. Er… I actually really want to. If we’re not too pressed for time… wanna give it a shot, Lillia?”

“I guess I don’t have a choice. I’ll go with you. Normally, I’d never pay money to sit in the back, but I’ll show you that I can be considerate to my traveling companion sometimes.”

“It’s an honor, Milady.”

“But…”

“But?”

“We’re not going on the tour if the pilot and the plane aren’t good enough. If the plane’s too old, or if the pilot’s not that good, for example.”

“I feel the same way. Let’s get going. Which way?”

Lillia read out the numbers written on the sign and asked Treize for the location.

And just as Treize took out the map and opened it,

“Give it here.”

Lillia became impatient and snatched it out of his hands.


Lillia and Treize took a water taxi to the wharf on the western side of town.

It was a port where boats headed for a village to the southwest of the lake were moored. The floatplane tour hangar was supposed to be just north of the area, said the map and the signs with pointed arrows in the wharf area.

Lillia and Treize walked down a street where they could see the horizon to their left. Past the railings, just a meter underneath, was the lake’s surface. To their right were lined warehouses marked with numbers. They were massive, at over thirty meters wide.

“Warehouse 8.”

“I know.”

Warehouse 8 was where they came to a stop. It was the only warehouse with no railings in front of it, and there was a gentle slope down from the warehouse to the lake. Two lines with cog-like teeth ran along the ramp. At the edge of the railings was a long pole from which hung a flag, used to tell wind direction. It was fluttering from west to south.

On the door by the warehouse was a small sign that read, ‘Tour plane hangar’.

Treize and Lillia exchanged glances, nodded, and knocked.

“Excuse us. We’d like to try a tour flight.”

They could hear someone thundering over. The door quickly opened.


“It’s been a while since I had customers. Come in, come in!”

Opening the door was a kindly-looking man in his fifties. He was slightly plump and had short hair, and was dressed in a grey flight suit. The top of his suit was undone and wrapped around his waist, exposing his tank top and chest hair.

“Hello…” Lillia said, taken slightly aback.

“Ah. Sorry, Miss.” The man apologized, and put on his suit properly. He then introduced himself as Mateo and led Lillia and Treize inside.

Through the door was a room built inside the warehouse. The walls and ceiling were made of white plywood, and there was a naked lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. In the middle of the room were sofas and a table like a lounge, and there was a desk in the corner with a half-finished cup of juice on top. There were blinds covering the few windows, and there was one other door on the opposite end of the room.

“Come on in. We have to talk before we start anything.”

“Thank you. Where is the floatplane? Is it through there?”

“Yeah. It was raining so hard yesterday I had to bring her in. Let me show you.”

Mateo reached for one of the blinds, but stopped and went over to the door instead. He opened it and gestured over his excited customers.

Lillia and Treize stepped through the door. The warehouse interior was cool. The lightbulbs hanging from the scaffolding overhead came to life, one after another.

Inside the warehouse was a plane.

“A floatplane! This is cool. So we get to ride on one of these?” Lillia wondered.

A floatplane differed from a seaplane in that there were pontoons underneath the fuselage. Seaplanes used the fuselage itself for buoyancy.

The floatplane was about 10 meters long, and the pontoons were mounted on carts so the plane could move on land. The cart, the pontoons, and the support stand underneath. The fuselage at the top was quite high in the air.

On the plane’s sharp nose was a four-bladed propeller. Being a biplane, the craft had wings atop and under the fuselage, and the wings were just behind the engine. The upper wing was positioned slightly closer to the front, and there were three seats. Each seat was covered only by a simple windshield, leaving the passengers and pilots exposed from the shoulders up.

The tops of the wings, the fuselage, and the pontoons were painted a dark green. The undersides were white. On the sides of the fuselage was the emblem of the Roxchean military, the Spear of Seron. The emblems were peeling slightly. On the fin was the name of the city, Lartika.

“She’s a real beauty, eh? This is the plane we use.” Mateo said proudly. He, Lillia, and Treize looked up at the plane.

“She used to be an over-water scouter craft in the Air Force until not too long ago. She can even make long-distance flights. A real hardy girl, her.”

“Are you from the Air Force?” Lillia asked. Mateo nodded.

“Sure. Used to pilot scouter crafts back in the day. I flew the old girl over the North Sea to keep an eye out on Sou Be-Il ships. Sometimes the weather was lethal and sometimes it was freezing; but for some reason, even when things got dicey, it felt like I’d be able to pull through so long as she was with me. Which is exactly what happened. All thanks to her.” Mateo said, lightly tapping on the metal pontoons.

“Did you leave because they downsized the military?”

“You’re a clever one, Missy. A few years after the war ended, the military suddenly said they didn’t need me. I’d been flying ever since I first entered the Air Force—I was a little sad to think I’d never fly an aeroplane again. I came back home to Tolcasia and worked the land for a while. But suddenly, the city started up this aeroplane tour business and hired me. I was floored when I saw the old girl floating on the lake! I was so moved, I started crying. Me and her both, we were kicked out of the military and ended up here. But now we take relaxing strolls in the air to give people tours. Better than anything I could have asked for.”

Lillia looked at the emotional Mateo, then met Treize’s eyes. Treize nodded lightly. Lillia did as well.

“That’s wonderful, Mr. Mateo. Then could you give us a ride today?”


Sitting on a sofa in the lounge, Lillia and Treize listened to Mateo explain about the costs and regulations. The tour was by no means cheap, but Lillia readily paid for it.

“We’ve come this far, so we might as well.”

She also wrote down her name and address in case of emergency. Treize used her address and just put down his given name.

Then Mateo made a phone call, and several men in work wear ran over and helped pull the floatplane out of the warehouse. They slid open the doors, and light hit the fuselage.

Lillia and Treize were handed all kinds of gear—it was all necessary to protect them from the cold. Customer-use one-piece flight suits, leather aviator jackets, aviator hats with built-in headsets, goggles, white mufflers, and gloves. Mateo was about to explain how to put them on, but Lillia and Treize were already putting on the flight suits over their clothes. With practiced hands they finished putting on the suits, secured their sleeves and belt, and put microphones around their necks. Lillia tucked in her hair under her jacket and put on the hat.

“You two’re old hands at this.” Mateo said, pleasantly surprised.

“That’s right.” Lillia replied a little proudly. Treize said nothing, tightening the strap on his goggles.

Lillia agreed to leave her bag in the lounge, taking only her wallet with her. Treize’s belt pack was still around his waist.

“Well, let’s climb aboard. The weather’s great today, and there’s no fog or wind. Perfect for flying.” Mateo said, also wearing a leather jacket and holding an aviator hat. “I’ll take the cockpit up front. Pick your seats, you two. The back has the better view, since it’s supposed to be for communications.”

Lillia immediately chose the second seat.

“All right, then.”

Treize accepted her decision.

The fuselage was positioned rather high, so it was a 3-meter climb up to the seats. Mateo first climbed up the pontoons and stepped onto the fuselage via the steps near the bottom and middle of the plane. Then, he stepped on the lower wing to climb into the cockpit.

“You sure you won’t need any ladders?”

“We’re fine, thank you.”

Lillia also expertly climbed up to the second seat. Treize followed, taking the last seat. Three heads were lined up in a row down the fuselage.

There were sturdy belts on each seat to secure the occupants. The men in work wear came up to help Lillia and Treize, but they had already securely fastened themselves in.

One of the men checked Mateo’s belt in the cockpit and said,

“All seats checked. Preparations complete.”

“Haven’t had customers this easy to work with in a while…” Mateo said to himself.

It was time to connect the radio. When Lillia and Treize put on their aviator hats, the headphones came right over their ears. If they plugged them into a port by the seat, they could communicate with the others on the plane.

<This is Mateo. Miss Lillia, Mr. Treize, can you hear me?> Mateo asked courteously.

<All clear.>

<All clear.>

Lillia and Treize replied immediately.

<Excellent.>

Working the control stick between his knees and the pedals underneath, Mateo adjusted the rudders on the plane’s wings.

The plane was in good working condition. Mateo gestured to the men that everything was clear, and pressed the call button.

<All clear. We’re heading out now. Just to warn you ahead of time, this plane’s going to shake hard enough to hurt your rear. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.>

<Does it shake when you lift off the water?> Lillia asked.

<No, when we go down to the lake from the ground.> Mateo replied.


Amidst the screaming of cogs, the fuselage shook up and down.

Loaded on a cart, the floatplane slowly emerged from the warehouse and descended the ramp. The lines on the ramp were part of a device that raised and lowered the cart. One of the men was in the warehouse, vigorously turning a large handle.

The tips of the pontoons touched the water. Soon, the entire fuselage was on the lake. Two men pushed the plane as hard as they could; the floatplane was now three meters from the ramp. It floated alone by the perfectly-cut lakeshore by the rows of warehouses.

<We’re finally off. I can’t wait.> Lillia said.

<Well, let’s get started.>

Mateo pressed the ignition switch.

With the wail of a monstrous bird being strangled, the impingement starter began to move.

Then came ignition. Unlike with cars, there was nothing to muffle the deafening roar of the engine. The vicinity of the floatplane was quickly drowned in noise, and the fuselage began to vibrate. At the same time, the propeller began to spin. The plane slowly taxied over the water. The wind from the propeller traveled down the fuselage and rushed past Lillia and Treize’s faces.

Lillia turned to Treize. With the goggles over their eyes, they exchanged smiles, not words.

The plane slowly slid over the murky water on its pontoons. It turned southward and followed the stone-and-brick shore, maintaining a distance of of about 30 meters.

<I usually head toward the south harbor when I’m warming up the engine.>

<In case the engine fails?>

<No, to advertise to the people waiting for boats. A lot of people are still afraid of flying, you see. Could you give them a friendly wave once we pass by?>

<Sure.>

When they drew near the pier, the plane slowly turned to the right. And when the fuselage was pointed to the side, Lillia and Treize waved to several people on the pier.

<Well, we’re off. Don’t touch the control stick or the pedals, Miss.>

<Got it.>

Mateo grabbed the throttle lever on the left and pulled it all the way. The roar of the engine grew even louder, sending stronger vibrations through the fuselage. A second later, the plane sped up a notch. All three people onboard were pressed against their seats.

All Treize could see were the shaking heads of the people in front of him. Because the plane was taxiing over water with the nose slightly raised, he could not see the horizon. Treize turned his head. The reddish-brown city of Lartika was growing smaller behind them.

The floatplane thundered over the lake; a spray of water rose from behind the pontoons, and scattered in the propeller winds.

Then, the pontoons left the water. The spray of water instantly dissipated, and the floatplane’s wake shrank behind them. The floatplane took to the air, and rose in a gentle arc.

About 300 meters in the air, Mateo spoke.

<I’m banking to the left. We’ll be flying over the city.>

Slowly, the floatplane tilted left. And it continued to fly in a wide curve. To the left underneath was Lartika—a reddish-brown box floating on the lake. Beyond it was the lakeshore and the green earth.

When they flew out of the turn, Lartika was before them like a massive castle. The floatplane ascended and flew over the city. It was so large that it almost felt like the plane was stopped in midair and Lartika was gliding toward it.

The engine buzzing, the floatplane soared over the reddish-brown city. Its square-and-rectangular blocks slowly passed them by.

<What do you think? Isn’t Lartika beautiful from up here?> Mateo asked Lillia and Treize, who were both looking down.

<Yes! It almost looks like a toy made of blocks!>

<It’s wonderful. I’m really glad we took this tour.>

They replied.

<Would you like to fly over the city one more time?>

<Before we land, sure. But I’d like to fly a little higher over the lake.>

<And you, Mr. Treize?>

<Oh, you can ignore me while we’re on the plane. My opinions don’t matter or something.>

<All right, then. We’ll fly over the lake. I’m banking left again.>

With that, the aeroplane tilted far to the left. The nose was pointed at the center of the massive lake, where sunlight shone and scattered.


2000 meters in the air.

<There’s really nothing like flying!>

<You’re right. And judging from what you just said, Miss Lillia, I suppose you and Mr. Treize have been on more than just passenger crafts.>

Lillia and Mateo were enjoying their conversation. The floatplane hummed vibrantly as it soared over a clear view of the entire horizon.

<That’s right. Although I can’t tell you how.>

<That’s fine by me. I won’t pry.>

<So, er. I have a request.>

<Hm?>

That’s why she took the second seat.” Treize muttered without holding down the call button. The wind and the noise overpowered his voice completely, preventing the others from hearing.

<Could you let me take the controls for a bit?>

“As if he’d let her.” Treize mumbled. But—

<Sure.> Mateo replied immediately. Treize was flabbergasted.

“Huh?”

<Really?> Lillia asked, surprised.

<I used to be a flight instructor back in the day. You can tell who’s got experience or not just by having them sit in the back. And you seem like an expert yourself, Miss Lillia. Can your family by any chance afford an aeroplane? I suppose you got a chance to take the controls in midair then?>

<Amazing! That’s almost correct.> Lillia replied, honestly awed.

<And you too, Mr. Treize. Looks to me like you’ve gone flying by yourself before.>

<That’s correct.> Treize replied.

Lillia did not, however, explain that she had flown, not a private aircraft, but fighter planes and bombers from the Roxche Air Force.

<Then I really can, right?>

<Sure, if it’s just in midair. I’ll take the controls right away if things get dicey. But no fancy aerobatics, you hear? Maintain altitude between 1000 and 1500. And don’t let the throttle lever go into the red when you bank.> Mateo said, and looked back.

<All right! Thank you! All clear to go.> Lillia smiled, putting her hands on the control stick and her foot over the pedal.

<Then it’s all yours, Miss Lillia. You’re the pilot now.>

<Yeah!>


Lillia flew to her heart’s content over the massive lake. At first, she made wide turns to keep Mateo calm, then returned to level position and circled in the opposite direction.

<Excellent. Let loose a bit more, if you’d like.>

Empowered by Mateo’s permission, Lillia made steeper turns and ascended and descended.

<Man, flying sure is great.>

<You’re good at this, Miss Lillia. Whoever taught you must be an ace.>

<Thank you. This plane’s a really sweet girl.> Lillia replied, and banked to the right. The horizon tipped to the left, and they could see sunlight glinting off the water to their right.

<Wow! This is great!>

“Lucky…” Treize mumbled as he listened to Lillia’s cheering from his seat, where there were no controls.


Once Lillia had her fill of flying, Mateo informed her that they were almost out of time. Lillia thanked him and relinquished the controls. Mateo banked a full 90 degrees into a turn, and pointed the nose straight at Lartika.

<Let’s head back, now.>

With three people aboard, the floatplane slowly, quietly, descended.

<Times sure have changed.> Mateo said without warning. <Ah, just talking to myself. I don’t think about anything else these days, so I always end up saying it out loud.>

<What do you mean, ‘times have changed?’> Lillia asked.

<Well, in the old days I always thought I’d die flying. That one of these days there’d be a big war and I’d go out to fight for Roxche.>

<You won’t have to worry about that now.>

<That’s right. And that’s wonderful. The very day I had that thought, I came back to the base after a long flight, and there was an uproar. It was the day they announced the Mural discovery. Before the two of you were born, probably.>

<I learned about it in history class back in primary school. A pilot from Sou Be-Il found the Mural while he was stranded and announced the discovery.>

<History, eh. That’s a perfect example of how one little stroke of fortune can change the world. That discovery gave tens of thousands of people years more of life. Including me.>

<It’s such a relief. We wouldn’t be flying here otherwise.>

Treize decided to chime in.

“Mr. Mateo. The parents of the girl behind you are brave people who did most of the work back then, though history doesn’t know it. The true heroes, whom almost no one will ever know about. And the boy behind her’s the decently nice son of two other people who know a lot of things about them.”

Of course, he did not hold down the call button.


The floatplane was slowly flying over the sky. Lillia basked in the wind, and Treize lowered his seat to take shelter behind the windshield, nearly asleep and his eyes closed.

<Let me bank a bit.> Mateo said, banking to the right. The plane flew at 45 degrees as it flew straight across the sky.

Several seconds later, Mateo returned the plane to level position.

<Miss Lillia. Mr. Treize. We’re going to have to take a short detour. Don’t worry—I won’t charge you extra if we take too long. And we have plenty of fuel.>

<Understood.> Treize said, opening his eyes.

<All right. Is something the matter?> Lillia asked.

<I just saw something on the lake—a small boat or a seaplane, I think. There shouldn’t be anyone out fishing in this time of year, so I’m worried they might be stranded. I’d like to go check in on them; this is part of my job.>

<Okay.>

<If they are stranded, they owe their lives to you, Miss Lillia. I don’t usually fly over this area.> Mateo said, quickly descending. He made a hard turn and flew about 100 meters across the water. The surface of the lake was as smooth as glass as it passed endlessly by the plane. And eventually, a floatplane came into sight on their left.


They turned their heads.

It was a small monoplane about 9 meters long. There was one large pontoon under the fuselage, and two smaller pontoons under each wing. The fuselage and wings were painted in a camouflage pattern in green and brown, and its underside was the color of murky water. There was a saw-shaped mark painted on the fin.

The plane was floating on the lake, its engine shut off and the propeller still. Mateo, Lillia, and Treize glimpsed the cockpit(where the windshield was open) and the head of the pilot inside. The pilot also noticed them and followed their floatplane with his eyes.

<That’s a fighter craft from the local military. I can see the saw crest.> Mateo explained. His floatplane slowly turned to the left.

<The local military?> Lillia wondered. Treize was the one to answer.

<He’s talking about the Tolcasia Self-Defense Force. Countries in the Confederation have their own self-defense forces, even if they’re very small.>

<I see. But they even have a fighter plane.> Lillia replied. Mateo chuckled.

<Hah hah hah. They sure do. But only nine of them. If the man’s stranded, we should help him. Pilots and planes are hard to come by.>

<All right.>

<…But something’s strange. Air Force planes should all be equipped with the latest emergency radio beacons.>

<What are those?> Asked Treize.

<It’s a device that kicks in during emergencies. The signal’s on an exclusive frequency, and when you activate it someone around the lake should get the notice and contact you. The lake’s so big that people get stranded all the time.>

<Ships that go into the open sea have those signals, correct? Weren’t they developed very recently?>

<They are. Incidentally, we don’t have one on this plane here. But a military plane should have one. There should be a rescue team on their way as soon as he activates the signal…>

<Maybe he’s just taking a break? I mean, the weather’s so nice, maybe he’s doing some fishing.> Lillia suggested.

<Hah hah. You might be right. You can catch huge catfish and sturgeon around here.> Mateo replied. <But we should still take a look.>

The plane flew just above the water’s surface, and soon Mateo warned the others that he would land in the lake. The plane began to leave a wake in the water again. It slowed and quieted. Like a boat, the floatplane glided on the water and headed for the fighter craft ahead.

Mateo matched the timing to shut off the engine at just the right moment. When he hit the switch, the propeller stopped instantly. His plane stopped about 10 meters next to the fighter craft, with both planes’ noses pointing in opposite directions.

“Wow. That was perfect.” Treize remarked. On the lake, things were silent and still.

<One moment, you two.> Mateo said, and pulled the communications cable. Then he undid his belt and climbed on top of his seat.

“Hello there!” He said loudly with a smile.

There was one pilot on the fighter plane. Sitting in his seat, he looked back and lightly raised his right hand. He was a young man in an aviator jacket, probably in his early twenties. He wore an aviator hat with the goggles pulled onto his forehead.

“Having some mechanical trouble? Or did you run out of fuel? My apologies if you were taking a break, but this is part of my job.”

The lake stretched on endlessly for miles, the horizon never broken by land. There wasn’t a speck of wind and the sun was high up in the sky. The light—and Mateo’s gaze—was on the fighter craft.

But there was no answer. A hint of anxiety flitted past the pilot’s face. He was intentionally avoiding Mateo’s gaze, staring at his control panel and his own feet.

“Hello?” Mateo repeated himself.

“I-i-it’s all right!” The pilot finally replied. He was clearly very agitated.

“Are you sure? If you’re out of fuel, just say so. We’ve still got plenty, and I have a hand pump just for situations like this.”

Yet again, the young pilot was silent.

“?”

Lillia turned her gaze from the left to behind herself.

“Who knows?” Treize replied, meeting Lillia’s eyes.

“Are you sure—”

“I said, I’m all right!”

The young pilot’s answer was once again off-kilter. He was starting at his own hands as he sat in the cockpit, not in the mood for any conversation.

“Er… well, did I make a mistake? Is this some secret training mission? Then we’ll just pretend we didn’t see anything. Excuse us.” Mateo said, noticing something was wrong. But the pilot again said nothing.


“Maybe we should just leave him?” Lillia asked.

“Hm…” Mateo thought, and met Lillia’s and Treize’s eyes. “That’s true, but what if he really does need help? He’s a young man. Maybe he’s too proud to say that he ran out of fuel.”

“Maybe.”

“I just can’t leave him here like this. As a fellow pilot, you see?” Mateo said, and got out of the cockpit. Climbing down the steps, he went down onto the pontoons.

Then, he called out to the fighter craft.

“Are you sure you’re all right there, young man? If you’re having problems, don’t hesitate to tell me! I could contact the air force base if you’d like! I could tell them where to find you.”

The young pilot answered by swearing.

“Fuck off!”

At the same time, he got up from his seat and held out his arms at Mateo. A second later, the revolver in his hands roared.

There were three gunshots. One bullet hit the metal pontoon and ricocheted away.

“Huh?”

With a short moan, Mateo held his left hand to his chest and fell face-first into the water. There was a loud splash.

“AH!”

“…!”

Mateo floated to the surface as Lillia and Treize watched.

“Die, dammit!”

The man swore again, and fired. Mateo’s head jerked upwards. The bullet made a hole in his hat, and something red spurted up from the hole. His aviator hat was dyed red in seconds. The water around Mateo also turned red. Bullets continued to punctuate the air, creating pillars of water.

“Die, bastard! DIE!”

Click. Click. Click.

The pilot fired away on his revolver, which eventually spewed nothing. The empty magazine clicked and turned again and again.

“H-HEY! Hey, you!” Lillia cried. The pilot looked up in shock and stopped. And with the revolver still in his hands, he finally turned to Lillia and Treize.

“What—”

“Tch.”

Lillia had to stop mid-sentence. Treize clicked his tongue.

When the pilot turned, his face came into view; he was clearly out of his mind. There was a smile on his lips, but his eyes were petrified with fear.

“Hee hee! Eeheehee!”

His shoulder twitched as though in spasms, and he laughed.

“Hee hee hee! So that’s what it feels like to kill! Nothing to it! Hee hee!” He said to no one in particular.

“…”

Lillia glared and ground her teeth. When she tilted her gaze, she could see Mateo floating before her. He was spread-eagle on the red water, not even twitching.

“Heh. If you were onboard, you would have died too…” The pilot muttered, sliding out the magazine and disposing of the shells. The shells slid down the side of the fuselage and fell into the lake. With his left hand, the pilot took out more rounds from his seat. He began to load them into his six-round magazine, one after the other.

Treize saw him, and looked at his own belt pack. He opened the zipper.

“Lillia.”

“Ah!”

Lillia flinched. She spat angrily.

“What?!”

“When I give you the signal, lower your head as much as you can. And stay in your seat.”

“Huh? What’re you thinking?”

“I’m going to jump over you. Please.”

Before Lillia could respond, Treize pulled on the metal lever on his seatbelt. He was instantly loosed from the belts. Then, he pulled off his gloves as fast as he could.

“Heh heh.” The pilot giggled, loading the fifth round. He then grabbed the sixth and pushed it into the magazine.

“DIE!”

The moment he looked up at the floatplane to take aim, however,

“I’m gonna have to decline!” Treize replied. He stood from his seat at the very back and held out both arms, just like the young pilot had done earlier. In his hands was a mid-sized automatic handgun, the kind used by police officers and detectives.

Treize pulled the trigger.

Bang.

“Huh?”

A lead shell sparkled as it flew over the Lillia’s head. She watched in shock.

“Gah!”

The pilot screamed; he was shot in the right shoulder. Flinching wildly as though having been burned, he dropped his revolver. It bounced off the fuselage of his plane, then hit the water and sank.

“Now!”

Lillia immediately ducked. Her hat hit the control panel.

“Ow…”

Treize leapt over her and climbed into what until not too long ago was Mateo’s seat. He armed the safety on his gun and jammed it back into his belt pack.

“Let’s get out of here!” He cried, starting the engine. The plane roared briefly as the engine and the propeller came to life. They were quickly enveloped by noise once more.

The floatplane began to move, gliding across the surface of the lake. Mateo’s body and the fighter craft grew distant.

“—————!”

It was impossible to hear over the noise, but the pilot pressed down on his arm and shouted something, his face twisted.

“…”

Lillia stared back at him with a look both pitiful and outraged. Treize pushed the control stick to the right. The pilot and his plane disappeared from Lillia’s sight, and because she was held in place by the belts she could not even turn to look at them.

At the same time, Treize pulled the throttle lever all the way. The wind and the water stirred up in the floatplane’s wake crashed over the pilot.

“Shit!”

By the time the pilot wiped his face with his bloody hand and followed the wake left behind the floatplane, it was already soaring through the air.


<Lillia! Can you hear me?!>

<I can hear you! Don’t yell into the microphone!> Lillia shouted back. The floatplane was climbing rapidly, with Treize in control.

<All right. You sound okay, but you didn’t get shot or anything, right?>

<I’m fine. anyway, gimme the controls! I’ll take over!>

<Not right now.>

<Why not?!>

<Because you’re not calm enough to fly, Lillia.>

<Obviously! That bastard shot Mr. Mateo! He… he might even have killed him!>

“…”

For a while, Treize was silent. He reset the controls to return to level flight, then held the control stick in place with his knees while he adjusted his seatbelt. He then put his right hand back on the control stick and used his left hand to adjust the throttle, lowering the engine’s RPM. The noise abated slightly.

<Lillia. Mr. Mateo died. He was shot in the head.>

<I know that! Urgh, who was that guy?!> Lillia said quickly. Treize gave a deliberate pause before saying,

<I don’t know.>

Lillia seemed to be calmer.

<Ugh… what is this? What do we do now? What do you want to do?>

<We have to get away. I want to get out of here. If this was a fighter craft, I’d at least want to leave a couple of holes on that plane…>

With that, Treize changed directions. They were headed south. The sun was to their right, now.

<Where are we going? Do you know where we are?>

<South. I’m taking us to the lakeshore. I don’t know where we are, but we can’t be far from land. And if we fly east along the shore, we’ll definitely make it back to Lartika.>

<I see. …And what about that man?> Lillia raised her voice again.

<We’ll think about that after we get back to the city. Reaching Lartika is our priority.>

<What if he comes after us?>

<He was shot in the arm. He probably won’t be able to fly his plane.>

<I see. That’s fine, then. Wait, no. Why do you have a gun?>

“Because Mother forced me to bring it.” Treize replied without pressing the call button. Then,

<For protection. Valleys in Ikstova are full of bears, wolves, and bearded men.>

<It’s illegal to possess a handgun without registering it or getting official permission around here. Mom said so. Apparently they’re cracking down so hard these days that you’ll get arrested if you have a gun but not a military ID.>

<I know the Confederation’s laws. And I know that the Capital District’s regulations are the strictest.>

<Yeah. And you’re a minor. What if you get caught?>

<It’s fine.>

<Why?>

“Because anyone guarding royalty is allowed to carry a firearm. And that applies to me, too.” Treize replied without pressing the call button.

<Why, Treize?> Lillia repeated herself.

<Because they’ll never catch me.>

<That’s not an answer. Even if they don’t catch you—>

Suddenly, Lillia stopped. Then,

<Treize! Above!>

“?”

Treize looked up. The upper wing was right in front of the cockpit, making it harder to look up from there. Treize gently pushed the control stick to tilt the plane forward.

<Ah… I see it.> Treize finally replied. There were aeroplanes in the distance, ahead of them.  Two aeroplanes of the same model. They were the size of peas from the floatplane, but they were the same model as the one that they had seen on the lake.

<His friends?> Lillia wondered anxiously.

<Probably.>

The fighter crafts were flying almost directly in the direction of Lillia and Treize’s plane. But they were hundreds of meters overhead.

<Maybe the pilot radioed them.>

<What if they catch us?>

<If nothing else, we’re at an angle they’re least able to see.> Treize said, and slowly pulled the control stick to bring the plane level. They were 30 meters above the water. The plane licked the lake’s surface.

The distance between them and the fighter crafts slowly closed. When Lillia and Treize looked up, they could even see the details of the fighters’ construction. The two planes were flying side-by-side against the clear blue sky.

<Please don’t see us...> Treize whispered, even though there was no way for anyone to overhear communication done over solid wires.

<What if they notice?>

<My gun?>

<No, us.>

<That depends on who those people are… but if they’re anything like that freak we just saw, we’re in a lot of trouble.>

<But they’re part of Tolcasia’s military, right? They’re soldiers, just like Mom. Why would people who’re supposed to defend the country do something so horrible?>

<Lillia. A villain is someone who does bad things, whatever their social status and whatever they’re wearing. We saw what that man did, and it was something only a villain would do.>

“…”

Lillia said nothing. Their conversation ended there.

“…”

“…”

The two fighter planes passed over the floatplane skimming the lake.

Lillia turned her head as far as she could and watched until the two planes disappeared from sight.

<Phew… they’re gone.>

<All right. Oh, I see the shore. We must’ve been pretty far out.>

At Treize’s prompting, Lillia looked ahead. The horizon had shifted from blue to green—they were at the southern shore.

<What should we do?>

<We’ll land and go ashore. I’d love to fly to Lartika, but we’re finished if they shoot us down in midair. Cruising in the air is going to be dangerous. Also, I want to find out where we are. I hope someone lives around here.> Treize said, and descended again. When the forest on the shore grew clearer, Lillia turned again to check if the planes weren’t coming after them.

<We’re landing.>

Treize lowered the plane onto the water. Just like with Mateo earlier, there was little impact as the floatplane hit the surface and glided across the water.

On the shore was a short strip of sand, about 5 meters long. Beyond it was an eroded 1-meter-high plateau. Above that was a deep, dense forest. There were no houses or people to be seen in any direction—just an endless wall of green.

Treize kept an eye out on the forest to his left as he maneuvered the plane as close to the shore as he could. Even after he shut off the engine, the plane continued moving for a short time due to inertia. The pontoons on the left side of the plane slowly hit the sand.

“Please don’t crash…”

Treize’s prayer was answered. Thankfully, the plane came to a gentle stop without the wingtips hitting the trees.

Treize quickly climbed off the plane. Lillia soon followed.

“We can’t lose Mr. Mateo’s plane.” Treize said, securing the plane to a tree with a rope he found onboard. As he worked, Lillia kept an eye out on the sky for enemies.

“Hold this for a second.”

Treize pulled out a cloth bag from under a seat and tossed it to Lillia. It was about 30 centimeters wide and long, and was filled with things like emergency rations and survival gear. There was a second bag, but they left it on the plane just in case.

Lillia and Treize made their way into the woods. Fallen moss-covered trees were everywhere. They took shelter under a particularly large tree about 20 meters from shore.

They leaned against the trunk and sat on the roots the protruded above. The wet grass underfoot dampened the hems of their flight suits.

“Phew…” Treize sighed, and began to take off his aviator jacket.

“What the heck…” Lillia muttered from next to him, trembling in outrage.

“Whoa.”

Treize caught a glimpse of her face and leaned away.

“Man, what the heck?! What was wrong with that man?! How could he shoot someone who wanted to help him?!” Lillia cried, still in her jacket and with beads of sweat on her forehead.

“Calm down, Lillia. We’re not going to let him get away with it.”

“You got that right!” Lillia replied, shooting Treize a glare. He met her gaze and suggested that she take off her jacket. Lillia pulled off the thick aviator jacket, rolled it up, and hugged it to her stomach.

“What do we do?” She asked.

“I don’t know. It doesn’t look like anyone lives around here.”

“I can see that.”

“So obviously, we’ll fly back to Lartika on the plane. But we can’t just cruise over.”

“I know that too. You already said all that.”

“Which is why I think we might as well take a nap here or something and wait for nightfall.”

“Why?”

“Because when it gets dark, the lake won’t be easy to see. At the same time, the sky will be easier to see because of dusk. We’ll fly low along the shore to Lartika or Bren. Since this isn’t Tolcasia, we might as well go to Bren. We’ll contact the police or the Roxchean military there, and make sure that guy faces justice.”

“All right. We’ll do that. I’m never going to let him get away with what he did… never.” Lillia mumbled, emphatically repeating the word ‘never’.

“…”

Treize watched Lillia for a while, before eventually mumbling, “I guess it’ll work out”. With the hat still on his head, he leaned back against the tree and looked up. The sky shone between the foliage.

Suddenly, a shadow flitted past.

“Damn it!”

Treize quickly pushed Lillia to the ground.

“Eek!”

Lillia fell with a soft scream. Treize covered her body with his.

At the same time, the roar of an engine filled the sky. The sound approached from the lake and passed overhead.

“What’s going on?” Lillia asked, still on the ground.

“Keep your head down! It’s them! Next time they pass, they’re going to shoot at us!” Treize cried, keeping Lillia down.

Soon, there was the sound of gunfire. The sound of metal whipping through the air, and the sound of something breaking.

Grass was shredded all around them; dirt popped into the air; the trees were shot, their white insides exposed. The three-second storm ended without warning, and an engine seemed to roar past overhead.

Soon, the noise disappeared into the distance. Lillia, frozen on the ground for ten more seconds, finally spoke.

“Is it gone…?”

There was no answer. She pushed away the boy on top of her by his shoulders.

“Hey. You’re heavy.”

She could finally move her head. Lillia looked up.

She saw Treize’s face. He had a look on his face like he had just swallowed mustard thinking it was marmalade, his eyes shut and his teeth gritted.

“Treize! Did they get you?”

“No…” Treize quickly replied. And he opened his teary eyes.

“Then move.”

Lillia pushed Treize aside with both arms and sat up. Something fell from atop his head.

“Huh?”

It was a tree branch, about 30 centimeters thick and 1 meter long. The end of the branch was covered with more branches and leaves. It must have been carved off the trunk in the storm of bullets.

“It hit my head…” Treize muttered, pushing his fingers under his hat and pressing them onto his head. He curled up and groaned. “That hurt…”

“Oh… oh no…”

Protected from the impact by Treize, Lillia could do nothing but watch for a while.

“Hey…”

She hesitated.

“W-we got attacked by a fighter plane! We got off easy, you know!”

That was all she could come up with.


“I have to press on my head so it won’t leave a bump. Give me a bit…” Treize said, holding his palms against his head.

“…”

Unable to help, Lillia quietly stood. The hapless grove had been assaulted by gunfire, leaving the trees littered with bullet holes and exposing their white insides. Leaves fell from above on occasion.

“Huh? Oh no!” Lillia cried. Treize asked her what was wrong.

“The plane…”

“So they got it after all…” Treize grumbled, getting to his feet with his hands still on his head.

He walked up to Lillia, who stood stock still at the lakeshore, and followed her gaze.

About 20 meters ahead, between the trees, they could see the decimated remains of the floatplane. The fin was snapped in two, and the seats they had been sitting in until not too long ago was riddled with holes. The fuselage was leaning heavily to the right, likely because the pontoon support was broken. The left wing, which pointed at the sky, was also broken in the middle.

Soon, the smell of fuel from the plane drifted on the lake breeze and into the woods. Lillia finally broke her silence.

“Mr. Mateo’s plane…”

“Mr. Mateo is dead. And so is his plane.” Treize said.

With the hand that was holding down his head, he took off his aviator hat. He placed it over his chest and observed a moment of silence.

“Ohh… what do we do now?” Lillia wondered. Treize opened his eyes and replied, rubbing his head.

“Hm. It’s a good thing it was my head.”

“What?” Lillia asked, confused.

“I’m glad the branch fell on my head and not my legs. Then you would have had to carry me.”

“What the heck. Does that mean—”

Treize nodded.

“We’re walking.”


-----


Chapter 4.



-----

No comments:

Post a Comment