Sunday, 26 April 2015

Lillia and Treize III(Part 1): My Prince - Chapter 5

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

Enjoy.

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Chapter 5: The Motive


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It had been about two hours since the train departed Norn Station.

The sun was shining from 45 degrees to the west. Under the blinding blue sky, the train continued down the tracks headed due north.

Around the tracks were not forests, but plains. There wasn’t a spot of green to be seen on the plains. The brown earth was instead dotted with dirty patches of snow, and tiny sprouts beginning to poke out of the soil.

A group of men were playing cards to pass the time in the second class passenger car.

In the box seat in the front of the car and near the doorway sat the suit-clad man in his twenties, the soldier (who was about the same age) and the doctor in his thirties.

The men played their cards one after another on the small table by the windowsill.

“Damn… lost again.” The soldier said, playing a King from his overflowing hand.

“Don’t blame me too much.” Said the man in his twenties, who played an Ace out of his nearly-finished hand.

It was the doctor’s turn. Of the two cards he had left, he played the second one.

“Whoa!” The suit-clad man shouted.

“…”

The soldier wordlessly gathered up the pile of cards and placed them atop another pile on the empty seat.

“Terribly sorry.” The doctor said, flipping over his final card. It was a Three. He looked at the others. “Any last words?”

“Damn you.”

“Go to hell.”

The men replied at once. The doctor grinned.

“If you’ll excuse me, then.”

He held up the card, ready to grasp victory—

“Someone!”

The door slammed open with a shout, and the owner of the panicked voice leapt into the second class passenger car.

“Whoops!” The doctor flinched, dropping his card.

The soldier turned to the newcomer.

The suit-clad man stood and looked up.

“Someone come quick! It’s an emergency!”

The newcomer was the husband of the couple who had been traveling in the second class sleeper car.

The three card players, the saleswoman, and the other passengers stared in confusion.

“What happened?” Asked the soldier.

“Th-the student! He’s foaming at the mouth! It sounds like he’s in a lot of pain!”

“What?!”

“Anyway! Hurry, everyone!”

The soldier, though confused, leapt from his seat and asked where they were headed.

“The second class sleeper car! Car 4, two cars ahead!”

The man and the soldier took off. The suit-clad man and the doctor tossed their cards aside and followed.

The four men crossed the doorway and the coupling and headed into the second class sleeper car.

They ran clear through the first of the sleeper cars they passed. Several passengers heard the commotion and peered outside.

Then, they opened the the door to the car 4 corridor.

And—

“What the…?”

“My god…”

“…”

The suit-clad man, the soldier, and the doctor reacted simultaneously.

The student with the bad leg was lying near the middle of the corridor.

He lay completely still, diagonally blocking the corridor. His head was pointed at the men and his feet at the front of the train.

His face was ashen and white foam spewed from his mouth. His eyes were shut.

At the student’s feet was the woman in her thirties—the wife of the couple—having fallen to her knees.

“Hey! What happened here?!” The soldier demanded in a resounding voice. The woman flinched.

And the following happened.

The doctor squeezed past the people and approached the student.

Two of the cabin doors opened.

From behind one door peered out the old man’s secretary.

From the other door peered Allison’s blue eyes and blond hair.


“EEEEEEK!”

The wife shrieked loudly enough to shake the car.

“Hey! Can you hear me?!”

The doctor knelt by the student’s head and looked into his face.

“Doc! What’s happened here? Do something!” Said the suit-clad man.

“Young man! Can you hear me?” The doctor asked, checking for a response.

“…”

Then, he felt the student’s neck with his pointer and middle fingers. His expression darkened.

“Well?” The soldier urged, kneeling next to him.

“No consciousness. No pulse. No breathing.” The doctor replied mechanically. Then he began to wipe the foam from the student’s mouth with his own handkerchief.

“What’s going on?” Allison asked as she stepped outside and knelt at the student’s feet. The soldier turned to the man who had first alerted the car.

“What happened?”

“H-h-h-he was l-lying here by the time I g-got out here… f-foaming at the mouth…” The man stammered.

“Did you hear any raised voices?” Asked Allison.

“N-no. I didn’t hear a thing. Y-you were in the car too. You didn’t hear anything, right?”

“No. I’m not surprised. Trains aren’t the most quiet of places.”

Allison examined the student’s face. The doctor was doing the same, even after he had wiped away the foam.

“…”

“Well, doc?” Asked the suit-clad man.

“Can you save him?” Allison asked.

Four seconds of silence later,

“…I’m afraid it’s too late. He’s gone. There’s nothing we can do now.” The doctor said definitively, folding the student’s spread arms over his chest.

No one spoke for some time. All they could hear was the sound of the train’s wheels rolling over the tracks.

Twenty seconds later.

“Ugh!”

The wife choked back a sob.

“Ahem. Just let me step over the body here!”

The husband excused himself and jumped over the corpse, running to his wife. She was still sitting by the window in the corridor, hanging her head.

“L-let’s go inside, honey.”

He held her by the shoulders and took her into their cabin.

“What is this, doctor? What’s happened?” The soldier asked, getting to his feet.

“I’m not sure. If this is a case of poisoning, it’s not like any I’ve ever seen. I’m sorry. I just don’t have enough to go on at the moment…” The doctor replied.

The suit-clad man, Allison, the secretary, and the doctor all fell into silence for a time.

“Hey, wait!” The soldier suddenly cried.

The suit-clad man flinched and asked him what was wrong. The soldier began fuming as he raised his voice again.

“It’s them! Those men in black! They must’ve poisoned his lunch!”

“N-no way…”

“What else could it be?” The soldier demanded confidently. Allison sighed.

“B-but…” The suit-clad man tried to respond, furrowing his brow.

“Let’s go!” The soldier ignored him and broke into a run. Not to the front of the train, where Major Travas was, but toward the back.

“Huh?” The suit-clad man breathed, confused.

But soon his questions were answered. The soldier returned, and not alone.

Behind him were most of the passengers on board the train. The saleswoman, the tourist, the two businessmen from the second class sleeper car, and even Cohen the conductor were there. Several of them came over through the narrow corridor.

The other passengers were flabbergasted when they saw the fallen student.

“Let’s all head to the dining car! We’re going to get some answers!” The soldier rallied them. The passengers nodded.


“…”

Ed was standing guard, cramped in the narrow doorway. All he could hear was the sound of the wheels under him.

Suddenly, he heard muted voices from the dining car.

He reacted immediately.

<Dining car. Requesting support.> Ed said into his microphone, and opened the door into the dining car.

He saw the passengers pushing toward him, incensed.

“…”

Without a word, Ed pulled out a handgun.

“Bang!” He threatened loudly. But he did not put his finger on the trigger.

The passengers, led by the soldier, froze.

“Hold it right there.” Ed said quietly, once the passengers had stopped near the middle of the car.


Lillia and Hilda were chattering about parasols with large holes. Treize was nodding along.

“Excuse me!” Yzma interrupted, stepping into the cabin. “We’ve got a bit of a situation.”

“Is there some trouble with the passengers?” Treize wondered, reading the look on Yzma’s face.

“Yes, actually. They’ve come all the way up to the dining car. I don’t know what’s happening, but I can tell you it’s nothing good. So on that note… Lillia?”

Lillia stood.

“Yes?”

“It might not be a good idea for you to stay here. Come with me to the dining car—please go back to your cabin, and if the passengers ask questions just tell them that we wanted to talk to you about something. And Miss? Please stay here.”

“O-okay. Sorry if I caused you any trouble.” Lillia said, and turned to Hilda. “It was great getting a chance to talk to you, Hilda. I’ll get going now—it might be a little troublesome if I stayed. So I guess this is goodbye.”

Hilda offered Lillia a handshake. Lillia took it.

“I had so much fun, Lillia. I pray we’ll meet again someday.”

“Yeah.”

Lillia nodded, let go of Hilda’s hand, and walked over to the door. Treize watched silently.

“Go with her, Treize.” Hilda said, gently but firmly.

“What?” Treize asked, turning.

“It’s only right to escort a lady as she departs.” Hilda said sternly.

“Er… right. You’re right. I’ll go.”

Treize stood from his seat.

“Let’s go, Lillia.”

Yzma cast him a disapproving look.


The tension in the dining car had not abated in the least.

The plains outside either side of the car seemed to go on forever. It was calm and peaceful. But the dining car interior was anything but.

“Your people poisoned his food!” The soldier said accusingly from the head of the crowd.

“We did nothing of the sort. What reason would we have to poison a passenger?” Major Travas retorted calmly from the head of the other party.

“Then why’d the student die?!”

“We do not know. We would love to examine him ourselves, but you and the other passengers are the ones refusing to allow us the chance.”

“Don’t make me laugh! The student died foaming at the mouth! He was obviously poisoned by one of your lunches!”

Gathered behind the soldier was the suit-clad man, the saleswoman, the doctor, the secretary, and the other passengers.

Everyone was livid, but they did not necessarily have a good grasp of the situation. They simply listened to the angry soldier, not knowing what to add.

Allison, meanwhile, sat back in a chair to the side.

“Well, this is quite the pickle.”

She had her elbows on the table.

“Worst batch of passengers I’ve ever had.” The waiter groaned, taking shelter in the kitchen.

Right behind Major Travas stood Ed and Uno, two very large men. Both were holding their handguns. The guns were pointed at the ceiling, but their thumbs were ready to disarm the safety at a moment’s notice.

<I’m in the lady’s room. Maintaining security.>

Ann reported through the radio, which fed directly into the men’s earpieces. Then,

<Lillia and Prince Treize have just returned to the dining car. I’ll have them go past the doorway. I’ll also keep an eye on the roof.> Ozette added.

Soon the dining car door opened and Yzma, Treize, and Lillia emerged.

Allison noticed them first and slowly stood.

“You people killed—… Wh-what?”

The angry soldier stopped mid-rant when he spotted Lillia and Treize, and turned to the suit-clad man behind him.

“Who’re they?”

The suit-clad man shrugged.

Major Travas looked at the three, including Lillia, and said in a deliberately cold voice.

“If you’ll head over that way, please. We have a bit of a problem on our hands.”

Though Lillia almost got angry, she did as she was told. She passed by Major Travas as every eye in the car watched, and walked past the tables and toward the soldier. Treize followed her.

“How… what were you doing over there?” Asked the soldier.

“I had my reasons. Anyway, what’s going on here?” Lillia said confidently, ignoring the question.

The husband of the couple, who was the first to discover the student, briefly explained the situation.

The other passengers and Major Travas listened quietly as well. But the man’s explanation assumed entirely that the student had been poisoned by the people who distributed the lunches.

“What? That’s impossible.”

“How can you be so sure?”

Lillia answered the soldier’s question with ease.

“Because I know this man here. He has no reason to poison anyone.”

“So you’re with them! You’re in cahoots, aren’t you?”

“In cahoots?! We met by coincidence!”

“As if anyone would believe that.”

“Urgh! I’m telling the truth! Why else would I cross back over to this side? Well?”

“…Fine. Then what about your friend here?”

“Someone I know.”

“Your boyfriend?”

“…No.”

Treize finally managed a brief hello. Lillia ignored him and turned to the soldier again.

“More importantly, we have to focus on the guy who died! Calm down!”

The soldier blinked.

“I suppose… you’re acting awfully calm, missy. Aren’t you shocked that someone’s died?”

Lillia snorted.

“I’ve seen way too many dead bodies over the past year to get scared now.”

“…”

The soldier went silent. Major Travas spoke.

“Someone is dead, and we must take this fact very seriously. But I would like to speak on my team’s behalf—we provided those lunches to keep you out of the dining car, for security purposes. But we did not poison those lunches or do anything of the sort. Even if we wanted to, we did not have the time. If we’d poisoned all the lunches, everyone would be dead by now. And we have no reason to kill someone randomly by slipping poison in just one of the lunches. We are the ones most troubled by this commotion.”

Five seconds of silence passed. A passenger conceded his point.

“Then what’s happening here?” Asked the saleswoman.

“No one here can answer that question. All I can say is that you have no reason to be angry with us, or to be afraid. We must think of a plan of action. I ask that you set aside your hostility. Anger will only serve to worsen the situation at hand. Please, remain calm.”

Major Travas remained unfailingly composed. The two men standing with behind him with guns in hand made him quite convincing.

“Then—” The soldier began, but—

“Wait!”

Major Travas cut him off. He pressed the earpiece in his right ear and focused.

Four seconds passed.

<Understood. We’ll take care of it.> He said into his microphone, and turned to the short-haired man beside him.

“Uno. Go.”

“Yessir.”

Uno holstered his gun.

As the passengers looked on in trepidation, Major Travas explained.

“One of my subordinates has just reported that someone is walking along the roof of the train, toward the dining car.”

“Hm?”

“What?”

“Huh?”

“What the heck?”

The passengers could not hide their shock.

“What now?” Lillia groaned, looking at Treize.

“I’m not sure.” Treize replied honestly.

“Impossible. Who could it be?” Asked the suit-clad man.

“We’re not sure. It’s not one of my team. The figure is dressed in grey, and according to my subordinate is wearing something to conceal their face.”

The suit-clad man went quiet.

“I believe this character may be trying to cross the dining car. I’ll be sending my subordinate to investigate. —Uno. Capture them alive.”

“Yes, sir.”

Once Uno had left,

“Wh-what are you planning to do?” Asked the soldier.

“Uno will lie in wait at the coupling and capture this person the moment they try to jump to the next car.”

“But—”

The soldier was cut off.

A dull thud sounded suddenly from the ceiling. The suit-clad man, the doctor, and the saleswoman looked up simultaneously.

The sounds mingled with the rhythmic shaking of the train, filling the dining car. Major Travas raised a finger to his lips. Ed had his gun trained on the spot where the strange figure was, ready to open fire at a moment’s notice.

As everyone, including Lillia and Treize, watched dubiously—

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

The sound passed over the passengers.

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

The sound passed over Lillia and Treize.

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

The sound passed over Major Travas and Ed. Then—

Ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum

A set of frenetic footsteps. They could hear someone rushing on the rooftop. The sound became even more frenzied. The people in the dining car could clearly make out two sets of footsteps.

“They must’ve noticed Uno. Should we back him up, sir?” Asked Yzma.

“No, it’s all right.” Major Travas replied.

Thud. Bang. Thud. Bang.

The footsteps turned to struggles.

It sounded like a gigantic rat was floundering on the roof. Everyone listened intently.

Then—

The noises seemed to grow louder, before giving way to the sound of something sliding. Thud. Something hit a frame on the right side of the car, and the window pane began to tremble.

The impact occurred right next to Treize. He turned.

“WHOA!”

He flinched.

Before his eyes was a person in grey, wearing a balaclava that obscured their face, hanging upside-down against the window. Their eyes met for a moment.

“Wh-what the?!” Lillia gasped, stepping away. Treize did as well, but because Lillia was blocking the way between the tables, he had to move over beside the next table.

“Pull him in, Ed.” Major Travas ordered.

“Yes, sir.”

Ed soon clung to the frame and opened the window. A rush of wind and noise filled the car. He grabbed the person by their grey clothes.

<Ed’s got him. You may let go, Uno.> Major Travas ordered over the radio.

“Ha!”

With a spirited cry, Ed pulled the suspicious figure into the dining car. Though the figure wasn’t very large, it was still no easy feat to drag them bodily—which only spoke for Ed’s incredible strength.

The person’s knees were caught on the windowsill, but Ed pulled anyway. The figure’s feet dragged against the table and pulled off the tablecloth. The menu and the tiny bowl of sugar on the table fell.

“EYAAAAGH!”

The strange figure, who had fallen to the floor back-first with a shriek, flailed wildly. Ed smacked them on the forehead.

“Agh!”

The person was concussed by the impact.

“Urgh…”

And with a moan, they stopped moving.

As the passengers watched in stunned silence, Uno slid inside through the wide-open window. He moved like an acrobat as he used the windowsill as a step into the car.

Once he was inside, Uno closed the window. The howling of the wind stopped. The car was quiet again.

There was some dirt on Uno’s back, but his jacket wasn’t torn or messy. Calmly, he glanced at the passengers.

“What the hell are these people…?” The soldier hissed.

As the passengers watched, Major Travas and Uno approached the fallen figure on the floor, who was wearing grey coveralls.

“…”

Without a word, Ed reached for the balaclava. Every eye on the car was on the figure’s face.

“Ah!”

“Oh!”

“Huh?”

“How?”

A small commotion arose the moment the figure was unmasked.

“…”

Major Travas silently looked down at her face.

“Th-this is…” Lillia stammered, standing with her back to the window. “The woman with the baby!”

Lying unconscious on the floor was one of the passengers—the wife of the couple. She was the woman with short black hair who had boarded with a baby.

“What’s going on here?” The soldier demanded, turning around.

The suit-clad man, the doctor, the saleswoman, and the other passengers all turned to the husband, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder among them.

“No! Impossible!” The husband cried, squeezing past the passengers.

He rushed down the aisle, past the soldier. He tried to reach his fallen wife, but just 3 meters before her Ed silently held out his arms to stop him.

“Hey! What is this?!”

“We’re not sure ourselves. But we’d like to hear your side of the story.” Said Major Travas.

“This has got to be a trap!” The man cried. “My wife wouldn’t do something like this! You’re trying to frame us! My wife is supposed to be watching our baby in the cabin! Our baby girl! She’s only five months old!” He demanded. “I get it now! One of your men crossed the roof while we were all busy here and dragged my wife over! Have you got any proof that she walked all the way here? All we had to go by was the sound! You bastards are trying to make her out to be the culprit!”

No one said anything.

Major Travas’s team were coldly staring at the husband.

The passengers, on the other hand, were confused. Not knowing what to do or say, all they could do was stand there.

The husband retorted loudly.

“Don’t let these goons fool you! They’re behind this! They poisoned the student and now they’re trying to frame my wife!”

“Er… well. I don’t…” The soldier, who had until just earlier been leading the angry charge, tried to speak.

“We’ll take ‘em all on! We’ve got numbers on our side!”

“C-calm down there. These people have guns, and from the way they act they’re definitely not civilians…”

The soldier’s earlier fervor was gone. The suit-clad man and the doctor were also standing back.

Lillia and Treize said nothing. Their eyes met over the table.

Lillia tilted her head, as if asking Treize what was happening.

Treize lightly shook his head. He didn’t know a thing.

Allison was also watching the angry man amidst the passengers.

Major Travas spoke.

“I have a few questions for you. If you and your wife could come with us to the next car, we will hear you out—you haven’t done anything yet, unlike your wife.”

“R-right…” The man nodded, and slowly approached Major Travas. Then—

Without warning, he rushed Treize, who stood beside him.

“Huh? Whoa!”

Treize, who was looking at Major Travas, was unable to react in time. The man punched him in the chest.

“Koff!”

Treize hit his back against the windowsill. He fell helplessly to the floor.

Not a moment later, the man leapt over an entire table and landed before Lillia.

By the time he landed, he was holding a knife that he had drawn from his left sleeve. It was a thin, double-edged blade about 10 centimeters in length. The handle was colored a matte black.

“Eek!”

He quickly grabbed Lillia as she tried to run. He wrapped his left arm around her and waved the knife before her face.

“Nobody move!” He cried. “Everyone stay where you are, or the girl gets it!”

The man and Lillia were standing near the center of the dining car. He stood with the left-side windows at his back, with Lillia before him as a shield.

To the man’s left—the front of the car—were the fallen woman and Major Travas’s team, about 3 meters away.

To his right were the confused passengers with the soldier in the lead, about 5 meters away.

And at a table to his right, about two meters away—

“Koff! Ugh… that hurt…”

Treize staggered to his feet, coughing. He looked at Lillia—who was clearly angry about her situation—and the man—clearly ready to kill—and swore.

“Damn it!”

“Kid! Get over to the other passengers now! Or else…” The man threatened, holding the knife near Lillia.

Treize glared. He glanced at Major Travas’s team behind the man, and noticed Major Travas nod. Treize did as he was told and backed away.

From the back of the crowd, Allison quietly reached into her jacket.

Uno and Ed took low stances, legs spread and aiming their guns with the safety disarmed. They were naturally pointing at the man, but Lillia was in the line of fire.

“So who’re you gonna believe?!” The man cried suddenly. “Me, or these suspicious freaks? Well, soldier?!”

“I—you can’t expect me to—” The soldier said, giving away his hesitation. The suit-clad man spoke up.

“This is going too far, don’t you think? Even if these men are in the wrong, you shouldn’t be taking a young girl hostage…”

“Shut up! How is anybody supposed to believe these people?! If I let them take me and my wife, they’re going to use truth serum, torture, and whatever else they’ve got up their sleeve! We fell for their trap! We’re better off fighting back! We can’t just surrender to them!” The man roared, spit flying.

Lillia grimaced as he yelled right next to her ear. But she did not put up a fight, quietly waiting with a weary look that spoke for how sick of hostage situations she was.

“What are you planning to do?” Asked the soldier.

He was looking at the men on the other side of the car, their guns trained on the hostage-taker, and at the even colder bespectacled man commanding them.

“Look. You can’t beat these people.” Said the soldier. “If you’re so worried, I’ll go in when they’re interro- I mean, questioning your wife to make sure they don’t do anything funny. It’s all fine as long as they’re not trying to frame anyone, right?”

“Shut your mouth! You’re not helping!”

“…Well, no, but…”

The soldier went silent unable to deny the accusation.

“Stop this train! I’m getting off here. Somebody pull the emergency brake!” The man demanded. But none of the passengers reacted. Nor did Major Travas’s team.

“Wait a minute.” Someone said. It was a composed, female voice.

“Wh-who said that?”

“Over here. Excuse me, coming through.”

Allison squeezed past the passengers and went over to Treize. Then, she walked even further, down the aisle between the tables.

“S-stay back, or I—”

“Right, right. We’ll talk. Should I step back?”

Calmly, Allison took a slow step back. The man had his back to the left-side windows. Allison stood with the right-side windows behind her. They were about 3 meters apart.

At the center point of the line between Major Travas’s team and the passengers was drawn another line, this time with Allison and the man holding Lillia hostage.

“Wh-who’re you?”

“Me? I’m the girl’s mother. We’re traveling together.” Allison said calmly.

“So what?! I’m not letting the kid go. I‘m not going to die here! Those suits are not going to take me!”

“Calm down. That’s not what I want to say.”

“Hah! Then what? You’re volunteering to take her place or something?” The man snorted, moving his left arm with Lillia still wrapped in it, and waving his knife.

“Oh my. Actually, yes.” Allison said nonchalantly.

“What?”

The man froze.

“Yes. My dear Lillia is very timid and easy to scare. You won’t have an easy time taking her along as a hostage.” Allison said amicably.

Lillia frowned, but the man did not notice.

“I’ll be your hostage in my poor daughter’s place. So let her go!” Allison said, taking several steps towards the man. She made a point of raising her own voice.

As the passengers looked on in silence and Major Travas’s team held their positions—

“…”

Lillia stared at her mother as though the latter had been replaced by an alien.

“And if I refuse…?” The man said. Allison smiled.

“That wouldn’t be a very good idea. I’d ask you to reconsider.” She said, taking another step forward.

“Agh…”

Lillia noticed Allison reach into the right-side pocket on her jacket, which the passengers couldn’t see.

“S-stay back! I’m warning you!”

The man pointed his knife at Allison. But he could not finish his sentence.

Allison withdrew her right hand. And she pointed a certain object at the man’s face.

Bang.

There was a gunshot.

A tiny shell casing leapt into the air, then hit the table and bounced against the windowsill before falling to the floor.

“…”

A smoking dent was left on the wooden frame, only 30 centimeters from the dazed man’s face.

In Allison’s right hand was a small automatic handgun. It gave off a dull glint, held completely out of the knife’s range.

“Wh-what the hell are you…?”

“Like I said, I’m the girl’s mother.”

“D-don’t you care if I stab your girl?”

“It’s too late for that. It’ll be faster for me to pull the trigger than it will be for you to move. I missed on purpose, you know. You should be thanking me.”

“Y-you seriously think you can shoot a man?”

“Oh my. I’ll have you know that I once personally shot a man to death on a moving train. Don’t underestimate me.”

Allison was smiling. There were beads of sweat on the man’s face.

Major Travas’s face stiffened. He was anxious—it was a face he had never shown his subordinates. Thankfully, both Uno and Ed were too distracted by the hostage situation to notice.

“Let me make a suggestion. If you drop that knife, I’ll spare your life. And as soon as we reach the next station, we’ll hand you over to the police and not these suspicious people. Your wife, too.”

The man was silent.

“But if you don’t… Well, I’m giving you five seconds. Five four three two—” Allison began counting down very quickly.

“A-all right all right! Fine!”

The man let go of the knife. It fell to the floor.

“There.”

The moment the man’s arm relaxed, Lillia pulled herself out and escaped, as casual as though she were on her way to get the mail.

“Thanks, Mom.”

“You’re welcome, honey.”

Lillia moved out of Allison’s line of fire and stepped away from the man. And she joined the dazed passengers in the back of the car.

“Phew…”

Major Travas breathed a sigh of relief.

Treize did as well. He withdrew his right hand, which had been in his belt pack since before Allison had drawn. He was not holding anything.

“…”

The man once called ‘Prisoner 42’ was watching it all, from the moment Treize had reached into his belt pack to the moment he withdrew his hand after the commotion.

“Thank you. I won’t open fire without warning now. And I won’t hand you over to those people.” Allison said, her gun still trained on the man. Major Travas’s men lowered their weapons. And they quietly stepped behind him.

“I-I didn’t want to do this! Please, you have to believe me! I was just scared…” The man pleaded, leaning against the window. Allison nodded.

“I understand, but I have a few questions for you. May I?”

“Wh-what? What do you want to know?”

“Well…” Allison said. “You killed the student, didn’t you?”

The man blanched. A hushed commotion erupted among the passengers.

“Hm?” Major Travas furrowed his brow. His men glanced at him.

“Wh-what are you talking about? Why would I—”

“You did, right?”

“…”

Allison was confident. The man was silent.

“What should we do?” Uno whispered to Major Travas.

“It might be easier to let things play out. We still have time until we reach the next station. We’ll leave things in her hands. But make sure she ends her involvement quickly.”

“Yes, sir.”

With her gun still trained on the man, Allison dealt the final blow.

“It looks like I should explain myself. You there! Private First Class!”

“Ma’am!” The soldier responded almost reflexively, standing up straight and saluting. The other passengers flinched.

“This man went to the second class passenger car to tell you about the student, right? Then you all rushed over.”

“Yes, ma’am. We were playing cards together at the time.” The soldier nodded. Allison turned to the man.

“But you didn’t have to go all the way back there. There were other passengers in the same car, including me. You could have just called for help in that car. So why didn’t you do that?”

“…”

The man said nothing. The suit-clad man nodded in vague agreement.

“It’s easy to see why you didn’t. You wanted to convince as large a crowd as possible that the student was poisoned. There were simply more people in the second class passenger car.”

“I get it!” Lillia said, clapping her hands together.

“I want someone—any two people here—to go to the second class sleeper car where this man and his wife were.”

“Why? There shouldn’t be anyone there. —Except for the quiet old man, I suppose.” Said the saleswoman.

“First, check if the student’s body is still in the corridor. And bring back the baby—we can’t leave her alone in that cabin.”

“All right. Someone come with me. …You there.”

The saleswoman left the dining car with the suit-clad man in tow.

“I’ll go, too.” Treize volunteered. Allison nodded, and he followed.

The soldier, the secretary, and the doctor watched them leave.

“Is the wife awake?”

“No.” Ed replied to Allison’s question.

Time passed in silence.

About three minutes later, they heard loud footsteps heading for the dining car.

“Th-this is bad!” Cried the suit-clad man as he rushed back. Treize was hot on his heels.

They both looked like they’d seen a ghost. The saleswoman followed after, panting heavily.

“What’s going on?” Asked the soldier. The suit-clad man replied.

“Th-they’re gone!”

“Who?” Asked a passenger.

“I knew it.” “I knew it.”

Allison and Major Travas whispered under their breaths simultaneously.

“The student—I mean, the body’s gone! It’s not in the corridor where we left it! And it’s not in the couple’s cabin, either!”

He paused and took a deep breath. Then he continued, to the shock of everyone but Allison, Major Travas, and the husband.

“And the baby’s gone, too! So is the basket!”

“I checked, too. We didn’t find anything. We checked all the cabins in the car, but the only one there was the quiet old man.” Treize continued. The saleswoman, red with anger, demanded to know where the baby was.

Allison looked at the husband, who hung his head.

“You threw them away.”

“Wh-what do you mean, ma’am?” Asked the soldier. But a second later, he seemed to realize— “No. They didn’t…”

He could not continue.

“She’s not your baby, is she?” Asked Allison. The husband did not reply. “This woman isn’t your wife, either. You two used the baby as a cover to feign being a couple. No one would suspect a couple with a baby. It’s the perfect disguise. You must have either kidnapped the girl or adopted her from a facility under false pretenses.”

The man did not respond.

“You sabotaged the other train to have us transfer to this one, then poisoned the student and stirred up a commotion. And while we were distracted in the dining car, the woman would have crossed the roof to head to the cars beyond. It’s not the best plan I’ve seen, but it partly worked.”

“Then what about the baby?” The saleswoman asked, pale. Allison continued plainly.

“I don’t know how you were planning to escape, but the woman probably threw the student’s body onto the other tracks or the grass to get rid of evidence. No one would have witnessed it, since all the second class passengers would be here. You must have done the same with the baby.”

“My goodness…” The saleswoman gasped, putting a hand to her mouth. Allison added that she was just hypothesizing, and turned to the man.

“Am I right?”

He did not reply.

“What is your goal?”

He said nothing.

“If you don’t want to talk, that’s fine. I’m keeping my promise—I won’t turn you over to those men. We’ll hear the rest at the police station at the next stop. Taking my daughter hostage is reason enough to have you arrested.”

“…”

“And we’re done here. Is everyone happy?” Allison asked, looking at the passengers and at Major Travas’s team. No one objected.

Allison took a step forward and picked up the fallen knife by the blade, and then took two steps back.

Only when she had placed the knife on the table did she finally arm the safety on her gun again and lower it.

“I swear, every time I decide to go somewhere…” Lillia groaned, sighing.

“It was him…” The man muttered. All eyes turned to him.

The man leaned weakly against the window and whispered.

“He’s the one who convinced us to do this…”

“What are you talking about? Who?” Allison asked gently. The man hung his head, pale, and continued.

“I… I was released from prison recently. Didn’t have a job. And about ten days ago… a man called me. And told me some strange things.”

“Like what?”

“He said we could make easy money on this train… That these suits are working for a big jewelry company cross-river, and they’re smuggling a load of jewels from Iks to Iltoa…”

Allison shrugged. The soldier asked Major Travas if what the man said was true.

“We can’t tell you the details, but that claim is absolutely untrue. This man has been fooled.” Major Travas said firmly.

But Major Travas still found himself grimacing at the fact that there had been an information leak, even if the details were wrong. Uno cast him a glance—he must have thought the same.

“What about your pretend-wife?” Asked Allison.

“I don’t know who she is. Not even her name. I just know she’s like me. An ex-con. She says she heard the same thing from the guy on the phone… I followed instructions and met with her. We thought this might work, so we decided to cooperate.”

“So you weren’t the masterminds.”

“No. It was all him. He gave us the train number and got us money and clothes. And a massive deposit. He said he’d sabotage the train so we could board the next one—the target. And that’s what happened. He said he’d cause a commotion when the time came, and that we could get the jewels then. That happened, too. We were convinced things were going well for us until then… it was so easy… but who knew she’d walk so loudly over the roof?”

“I have to say, that’s incredible. Not you, the mastermind. Where did you get the baby?”

“He gave her to us. We found her in a coin locker in Elitesa Station last night… Along with a note. Said we should use her as a cover. We were planning to get rid of her from the beginning.” The man admitted.

“You’re inhuman! You deserve hell! I’ll send you there myself!” The saleswoman howled, stepping forward. The other passengers stopped her.

“That’s another charge, then. Have you met the man in person?”

“No. He sent me the money by mail, and his voice on the phone always sounded distorted. Like a broken radio.”

“I see. How did you poison the student?” Allison asked. But this time, the man grew desperate.

“No! We didn’t! We didn’t poison him! It wasn’t us!”

“Huh?”

“I never poisoned him! I— koff!”

Out of nowhere, the man began vomiting blood.

“Grah!”

With a chilling scream, he jerked upwards.

Blood spewed from his mouth like a fountain, staining the window and the white tablecloths.

As everyone watched, the man twitched as he coughed up blood. His head and back hit the window before he fell helplessly forward.

One he hit the carpet, he did not move an inch. His eyes rolled into the back of his head as he threw up blood. He was dead in seconds.

Allison looked down at his body bitterly.

“Oh…”

With a sigh, Lillia held a moment of silence.

“Induce vomiting. Now!” Major Travas said, just as the man died.

Ed and Uno sat the woman upright, and made her lean forward—

“Koff!”

The woman jerked.

“Shit…”

As Uno watched, the woman began to cough up blood.

Ed shook his head. Uno laid her on the floor again. Blood spilled from her mouth. Air escaped her lungs at times, creating red foam on her lips.


“They’ve both passed. I believe poison capsules may have dissolved in their stomachs.”

In the middle of the dining car lay the body of the man and woman who had pretended to be husband and wife. There were red stains on the white tablecloths over their faces.

“It’s not likely suicide. They probably ingested the poison without knowing.” Uno concluded his report, returning to Major Travas’s side.

“What in the world is going on here…?” The soldier wondered, speaking for the other passengers behind him.

Allison, standing near the middle of the car, sighed.

“So now we’re out of leads again.”

“Geez. And I was having such a good time making a cool friend in first class, too. I must be cursed. That must be it. It’s a curse.” Lillia grumbled.

Treize watched things unfold silently, standing amidst the passengers.

“…”

“They got what they deserved.” The saleswoman spat coldly behind him.

“Are you there, Mr. Cohen?” Major Travas asked, and glanced at his wristwatch.

“Oh. Yes. Just one moment, sir.” Cohen replied, stepping forward. He was pale as a sheet. He crept past the bodies and the bloodstains in the carpet and went to Major Travas.

“How much longer to the next station?”

“Oh! Yes… er…”

Cohen took out a timetable and a pocket watch.

“Not for a while, sir. At least two more hours.”

“Is there anywhere on the way where we can stop the train? Somewhere that won’t affect the next train on the line?”

“Hm? Let me see… There is a place about ten or twenty minutes ahead. It’s an emergency line that doubles as a freight depot. But…”

“Perfect. Please stop the train there and separate the train.” Major Travas ordered.

“Yes— what?” Cohen squawked. “Wh-what did you say?”

“I want you to separate the train. Have the locomotive run with just the VIP car and first class sleeper car in tow, leaving the rest behind. We cannot continue with the passengers so long as there is a threat to our security. But we cannot leave the passengers in the open, so we will leave their cars behind.”

“…I’m afraid that’s—”

“Please make it possible.”

“…”

Cohen the conductor went silent.

“Maybe that’s not a bad idea. Frankly, I don’t want to travel with those people anymore. I shouldn’t have gotten on this train.” Said the suit-clad man.

“Yeah…”

“We’ve got nothing to do with this.”

“Get ‘em away.”

Voices of consent followed.

“You can’t just leave us! At least take us to the next station!” The doctor said defiantly. Another passenger agreed.

At that moment—

“I… I suppose it wouldn’t be impossible.” Cohen said, after a long moment’s thought.

“What do you mean?” Asked Allison. Cohen responded.

“They always have a few locomotives stationed at the depot. If we can just get permission from the operations office in Raputoa, we might be able to use one to get the rear cars to the next station—but no further.”

“That’s good enough. We need to go to the police, anyway.”

“So that’s the end of the line, huh.”

Allison nodded in understanding. Lillia groaned.

Major Travas asked for the passengers’ permission. No one objected.


* * *


About twenty minutes before they would reach the depot.

Cohen contacted the office by radio and explained the situation. When he asked to split the train, the supervisor gave him his begrudging permission.

<I suppose if it’s an emergency…> The supervisor said, annoyed.


Hilda alone had known nothing about the goings-on in the train, but Major Travas gave her an explanation and added that they would be splitting the train.

“I understand. I give you my permission.” Hilda said with a smile. “It’s a shame that I won’t be able to speak with Lillia on this trip anymore. But will you give us the chance to meet again sometime? Even if it’s in Sfrestus?”

With a complicated look, Major Travas replied that he would try.


Allison and Lillia were gathered with the other passengers in the second class passenger car.

The passengers had all the cheer of a group of funeral guests. But when Major Travas and Ed dropped off Treize—carrying a backpack—among the passengers, everyone grew curious.

“Aren’t you with them, kid? Who are you?” The soldier asked the question on everyone’s mind. Treize replied without even blinking.

“I’m a guide from Ikstova. I was helping them along from my homeland, but they kicked me out just now. I don’t really mind—I didn’t want to stay with them anymore, anyway.”

“I see. Sorry to hear that.”

Treize took a seat a little ways away from Allison and Lillia, and watched the world quickly pass by outside the window. The monotonous spring landscape sped past his eyes.


* * *


In the middle of a vast plain untouched by buildings or fields was a lone depot. Next to the tiny lodgings were several diesel locomotives and water and fuel tank cars.

A tiny light shone in the southern horizon. It was a train’s headlights.

The train approached, slowing as it left the main line. And it finally came to a full stop on a set of tracks parallel to the main one.

The man once called ‘Prisoner 42’ watched the scenery and glanced at his wristwatch, whispering to himself.

“Right on schedule. Perfect.”


-Continued in Part 2-


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Extra.


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1 comment:

  1. So Let her go! (Let > let)
    Lillia stared at her mother as though the latter had been replaced by as alien. (as > an)
    Thanks as always!

    ReplyDelete