Saturday, 7 November 2015

Meg and Seron IV: The Serial Murders at Ercho Village - Chapter 2

Enjoy.

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Chapter 2: Ercho Village


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“I slept so well.” Said Jenny.

“Yes. I slept very much as well.” Said Meg.

“I woke up sometimes and got so lonely that I ate more snacks. Alone.” Said Natalia.

“I’m not gonna say anything, Lia.” Said Larry.

“I see that expensive seats are very good for the back.” Said Nick.

“It was comfortable.” Said Seron.

The limousine finally arrived at Ercho Village.

It was technically evening, but the days were long in the summer and the sun was still up.

Ercho Village had a population of about 30,000. It was large for a village, but not large enough to be a city.

About 90 percent of its vast lands were flat pastures and fields. There was a small cluster of stores at the center of the village, where the village hall was.

Winding country roads lined with trees twisted across the village. Naturally, there were no street lamps.

The villa district followed the country roads. Each property made good use of the vast lands, with hundreds of meters between any given building—sometimes the houses were so far they could not see their next-door neighbors.

Jenny’s relatives’ villa was a luxury mansion in that area.

The building was 30 meters wide and three stories tall. With its white walls and orange roofs it exuded cheer.

Next to the building was a wooden garage. The door was shut.

Summer flowers were in full bloom in the well-kept garden, and birds were chirping in the distance.

The limousine passed through the gates and soon stopped at the door.

The newspaper club members spilled out of the limousine from both sides. It was not particularly warm, but not as windy as the Capital District. They were enveloped by a cool, refreshing air.

“Whoa, not bad.” Natalia said. That was when she noticed the middle-aged couple coming over and greeted them.

The man and the woman were both in their fifties, and both dressed in checkered shirts of different colors and cargo pants. Both were plump and looked very kind.

“Welcome, welcome! It must have been a long trip.” The woman turned to Jenny. “It’s been so long, Miss Jenny. I’m glad to see you’re well. Your new hairstyle suits you.”

“Thank you, Auntie.” Jenny replied. “Thanks for having us over.”

With an uncharacteristically bright smile, Jenny introduced the couple to the newspaper club.

“This is Mr. and Mrs. Ruf. They’ve been a big help to us for years. We’re practically family.”

Then she introduced the newspaper club and the bodyguards to the couple. The students gave courteous greetings, and the bodyguards flashed their IDs.

“Thank you for coming all this way, everyone. Welcome to Ercho Village. Would you care for some tea to start off the trip? We’ll take you to your rooms afterwards.” Mrs. Ruf offered.

Seron and the others were led into a large sitting room on the first floor. Kurtz and Litner carried their luggage up to their rooms first.

Marveling at the beautiful flowers outside the window, the newspaper club members lazily drank tea with milk from Ercho village.

Mrs. Ruf gave them a brief introduction to the villa.

They were free to go anywhere within the blue fences, which marked the villa property. The villa kept two horses in the back which they could ride for long distances. There were a dozen bicycles on hand thanks to the recent cycling boom. There were two motorcycles on hand as well, for anyone with a license.

“Me! I’ve got one! Up to 300cc, ma’am!” Larry cried, raising his hand. In Roxche, new motorcycle riders had to comply with an engine displacement limit.

After tea, the students were led to their rooms. Each room was almost too big for one person.

There was a double bed with a canopy and lace curtains, luxurious sofas, a rose-colored vanity, a dresser, and a fluffy carpet.

The walls were painted a calming white. Each room was adorned with different paintings by the same artist.

“Ah, I recognize this artist. It—”

“Never mind, Nick. I’m not sure I want to know how much it costs.”

Each room had its own bathroom with a porcelain bathtub. Beyond the balcony they had a view of the flowers in the garden and the gentle plains in the distance.

The boys’ rooms were on the second floor, and the girls’ rooms on the third. Kurtz and Litner had their own rooms on the first floor.

“Don’t you dare sneak up here at night, Larry.” Natalia teased.

“Huh? Why would I do that?” Larry asked obliviously.


* * *


The sky was aglow with dusk, and everyone had gotten rested in their own rooms.

“Seron! Dinner!”

“Be right there.”

Larry and the others were waiting outside. The newspaper club headed to the large dining room on the first floor.

There was an unused fireplace in the dining room, and a long 20-seater table before it. The newspaper club sat at one end, with the boys on one side and the girls on the other just like in the club office.

Bread, vegetables, juice, tea, and the appetizer were already set on the table. And—

“Our main dish tonight will be chicken steamed in white wine served with anchovy sauce.”

Mrs. Ruf rolled in the main course on a cart.

On the plate were saut├ęd drumsticks steamed in white wine.

Then came the sauce—a mixture of anchovy and herbs stir-fried in olive oil. The sauce was served in a small pot and placed atop a burner to keep it warm.

“It smells very delicious.” Said Meg. “In truth, I love anchovy very much. Although my rest of the family members hate anchovy.”

“Looks good. Can we have seconds?” Asked Natalia.

“You haven’t even started, Lia. I want seconds too, though.” Larry added.

“The butter looks delicious as well. And very fresh.” Nick commented.

“It was probably made today. And with whipped cream too—the simplest and best.” Replied Seron.

“Good eye, Seron. I bet Uncle was working hard on this today.”

They started eating.

They finished eating.

“I’m stuffed. I can barely move.” Said Jenny. “Now how am I gonna put you through training?”

Seron replied. “Let’s save it for tomorrow, Jenny. Training aside, the butter was incredible. Frozen food just can’t compete.”

“It was all delicious.” Said Nick. “I particularly enjoyed the asparagus.”

“That was some good food. I’ll get some muscle training done once I digest this.” Said Larry.

“Looking forward to the rest of the camp. So what’re we getting for midnight snacks?” Natalia asked.

“Thank you for the meal.” Said Meg.


* * *


The sun set completely. It was nighttime.

“Tonight, I’ll teach you to use a camera! All of you change into your gym uniforms and gather back here!” Jenny cried in the sitting room.

“Why the uniforms?” Asked Larry.

“Because it’s a club activity.” Jenny replied.

Once the members gathered in identical clothes (save for the names embroidered onto them), Jenny laid out a cloth over the thick table. Then she took out a camera from her trunk and placed it on the cloth.

“We’re starting with the camera! I expect everyone to have the instructions memorized tonight, ‘cause tomorrow we’re going on a photography outing!”

“That’s quite the collection you’ve brought with you.”

Just as Nick said, there were nearly ten cameras on the table.

They were rangefinder cameras that used standard 35mm film. There was also an array of over 20 lenses, from wide-angle to telephoto.

Then there were over a hundred rolls of unused black-and-white film, and six photometers for measuring light intensity.

Although cameras had become more popularized, a middle-class family would be lucky to have one at home. And here lay ten of them on the table before their eyes.

“Man… these probably add up to a small fortune.” Larry speculated.


“Listen up! News photography is not art! We don’t need any long artist statements or droning explanations! Our priority is to take clear, focused pictures anyone can understand instantly!”

Jenny Jones’s Photography Class was in session.

First, they learned to use the photometer.

An experienced photographer could tell how much light there was on a sunny day or a cloudy day, but that was not possible for a newbie.

It was annoying, but they had always to check the exposure with the photometers and refer to the measurements. Because the meters were small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand, they had to hang them around their necks in case they dropped it. And when they were not using the photometers, they had to keep them inside a leather case to prevent the solar batteries from overheating.

“It is elegant and cute.” Meg commented, examining the brown leather cases.

Then Jenny taught them how to adjust the exposure—in other words, how much light to let into the camera.

They needed to know three things in order to accurately set the exposure. The sensitivity of the film, the lens setting, and the shutter speed.

“You’re going too fast, chief. Wait up for us.” Natalia complained. Jenny nodded.

“I’ll go in order.”

The sensitivity of the film was exactly what it sounded like. It was how sensitively the film reacted to light.

The more sensitive the film, the faster the shutter speed had to be. But that had the downside of making the photograph look more grainy. It was the opposite with less sensitive film. Naturally, the sensitivity remained the same throughout the duration of the roll.

In this case, Jenny had only brought film with a rating of 125. So there was no need to worry about the sensitivity this time. However, they had to remember to set the sensitivity rating on their photometers to 125.

“What about the cost of the film and the development?” Asked Seron.

“Club expenses.” Jenny replied.

Then she taught them about lens settings—that is, how to adjust the amount of light that came in through the lens.

There was an aperture inside the camera, which could be widened or narrowed. The position of the aperture was measured by f-stops. The more the aperture was widened, the more light was let in. However, there was a certain point at which no more light could be allowed inside.

Another variable to note was that the more the aperture was widened, the less they could focus on. Because this technique made the background blurry, it was a good choice for photographing people or flowers to put them in the spotlight.

On the other hand, when the aperture was narrowed they could focus on a wider range—for example, they could take a photo of the villa with the landscape behind it all in full focus.

“Technically you can only focus on one distance, but when you narrow the aperture you can see it because everything widens. It’s called depth of field.”

“What’s that now? You lost me, chief.” Natalia furrowed her brow. Seron stepped in.

“Nat, take off your glasses.”

“Hm? Sure. …All right. I can’t see a thing now.”

“What happens when you squint? Or try holding your thumb and index finger in a circle in front of your eye.”

“Oh, I do that all the time. I can see a bit better that way.”

“And if you do that, sometimes you can read letters that are just borderline blurry, right?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s what happens when you increase the depth of field.”

“Aha! Gotcha. I get it now.” Natalia nodded. “In other words, I was born to be a photographer.”

“I can’t even tell if that was a joke.” Larry remarked.

Jenny continued.

A deep depth of field could be convenient, but the more the aperture was narrowed, the less light hit the film. And that meant they needed a slower shutter speed to match.

The shutter speed was the amount of time the shutter was open for—the amount of time light was allowed to hit the film.

With a high shutter speed, even a moving subject could be photographed as though it was still. With a low shutter speed, they could take photos of dimmer subjects or with a narrower aperture, but they would have to set the camera on a tripod—otherwise the photograph would turn out completely blurred.

In terms of shutter speed, there was a certain threshold they could not cross as long as they were shooting without a tripod. So they had to keep the aperture wide enough with that in mind.

“This camera has six shutter speed options. 1/500 of a second, 1/250 of a second, 1/100 of a second, 1/50 of a second, and 1/25 of a second. And then there’s the bulb setting.”

“And what might that be?” Asked Nick.

“It means the shutter is open for as long as your finger’s on the shutter button.”

“I see. So it’s only used in conjunction with a tripod.”

“Yeah. I gave you all handhelds, so just stick to 1/50 and you’ll be fine. If you think you’ll need a lower speed, widen the aperture. I’ll teach you to use the strobe later.”

Once they had a set exposure, it was time to adjust focus. All the measuring in the world couldn’t help if the image was out of focus.

“Hey! I take offense to that, Larry Hepburn!” Natalia hissed, pushing up her glasses.

“I haven’t said ‘completely nearsighted’ or ‘blind without ‘em’ yet, Lia.” Larry replied.

“What’s that, shortie? C’mon out here. Let’s settle this like gentlemen.”

“I’ll pass. Have fun stargazing alone, Lia. It’s real romantic out there.”

“Save the duel to the death for later, you two. Let’s get back to the lesson.”

With a rangefinder camera, they had to turn the focus ring while looking through the viewfinder. If the object at the center of the viewfinder seemed to be doubling, the image was out of focus. They had to turn the ring until the image consolidated.

Finally, Jenny explained about composition.

For example, there was no point to photographing a person if his face was not in the shot. And there was no point to a landscape if the image was tilted.

They had to adjust the angle or switch out lenses depending on what and how they wanted to photograph.

Jenny then added that they had to be careful with the cameras, as they were very delicate pieces of equipment. That they had to hang the cameras on straps around their necks at all times, and that they should not get so engrossed that they end up walking backwards with an eye on the viewfinder.

“Speaking from experience, Jenny?” Asked Nick. Jenny acknowledged that she had done such a thing several times.

Seron quickly and efficiently took down an outline of the lesson. Then he copied out his notes for the others.

It was getting late. The world outside was pitch-black, as the moon had not yet risen. It had gotten cold, even though everyone was in their gym uniforms.

“I see. I barely understand to use it now. At the same time, I think I know why my father never gave me a camera for me. I will carry around Seron’s memo with me always.”

Everyone, including the technologically-challenged Meg, had grasped the basics of photography.

“I’ll teach you the rest tomorrow. Nothing like a test run to really learn all this stuff. Let’s shoot lots.” Jenny finished, sweat on her brow from her fervent lecture.

“You didn’t teach us to load and unload the film.” Seron pointed out.

“…Tomorrow! Dismissed!”

The first day of the camp came to an end.


The newspaper club members slowly climbed the central staircase. Natalia was yawning.

“Long day, huh. Gonna get some good rest tonight, I bet.”

“It is good that I can sleep in a very princess-like bed tonight.” Said Meg.

“I get the distinct feeling that you might find such beds at Seron’s home, no?” Nick wondered.

Seron replied, “Leena—my sister—used to have one, but she tried to climb it and it broke. So not anymore.”

“What do you guys say to a 10-kilometer run at the crack of dawn?” Asked Jenny.

“What, are we the military now?” Larry chuckled. “I don’t mind if you guys are up for it.”

“No.” “Me neither, please…”

Natalia and Meg were quick to object.

“Too bad.” Jenny sighed. “Well, just be up before breakfast tomorrow. I’m not too keen on getting up too early, either.”

The boys stepped back from the staircase.

“Well then, have a good night.” Meg waved as she went up to the third floor.

Seron watched her, on and on until she was finally out of sight.

Larry was distinctly reminded of a dramatic farewell scene straight out of a film, but he waited for Seron without a word. As did Nick.

“Huh?”

Suddenly, Larry turned to the empty hallway.

“What might be the matter, Larry?” Nick asked, surprised.

“Hm. I thought I heard something break just now. Was it just my imagination? …Gotta be, right?”

Larry shrugged.

Then he gave Seron a tap on the shoulder, snapping him out of his daze.

“Let’s go, buddy. There’s always tomorrow.”


“Huh?”

Just a single step before reaching the third floor, Natalia froze.

“What’s wrong?” “Is everything all right?”

Jenny and Meg asked from behind.

“I heard a toaster oven shatter just now. Wonder what that’s all about.” Natalia said. “Well, none of my business. Mr. Kurtz’ll notice if anything happens.” She concluded, resuming her walk.


* * *


The 2nd day of the eighth month.


It was morning on the second day of the camp.

Seron opened his eyes unbidden early in the morning. He woke up at the same time as the previous day, an hour before the sleeper train reached the Capital District.

The morning sun shone brightly, creeping between the curtains. It was a clear day.

Seron was in a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. He climbed out of bed and scratched his messy hair as he headed to the bathroom. He had showered the previous night, so he simply washed his face and brushed his teeth before changing into long pants and a button-down shirt.

There was still time before breakfast. Seron wondered what he should do.

“Right. The camera.”

He thought to review Jenny’s lesson, but he realized that the cameras were all down in the sitting room.

With nothing else to do, Seron drew the curtains, opened the glass door, and stepped out onto the balcony.

The sun was still low near the horizon, but shining brightly. The sky was still a dark blue. There was almost no wind.

Cradled in the pleasantly cool air and the scent of grass, Seron walked forward. He placed his hands on the railing.

“Oh? Seron.”

He heard someone’s voice.

Seron looked down. There, between the flower beds, stood Meg.

However—

“Huh?”

Seron froze, failing to recognize the figure in the gardens.

Meg was wearing a white dress, but she was wearing her hair down instead of her usual pigtails.

“I also woke up early this morning.”

Five seconds of staring later, Seron finally recognized the girl he loved.

“H-hey there! Good morning.”

“Yes, it is a very good morning. I am down here to walk the gardens for a short moment. Would you like to walk too, Seron?”

“I-I’ll be right there!”

Seron tightened his grip, ready to leap over the railing.

And just as he prepared to spring forward, he realized that something was wrong and stopped himself.


Quietly but very quickly Seron descended the central staircase. He had never walked so fast in his entire life, he thought. As soon as he was outside, he ran to Meg’s side.

She was squatting in front of a bed of red flowers. But when she noticed his presence, Meg stood and smiled, her long hair aflutter.

“The weather is very good today as well.”

“…Yes. And you?”

“Hm? Is my Roxchean speaking wrong?”

“No, wait. Sorry. My bad. I must be half-asleep. I’m sorry, Megmica. The weather certainly is great today.”

“Indeed it is very good! As we are awake early, let us walk this wonderful garden!”

Stiffly, but desperately putting on a blank front, Seron went over to Meg’s left side.

They slowly began to stroll through the garden of flower beds, lawns, and trees.

Seron kicked his sputtering thought processes into high gear.

“Y-you know, your hair. It surprised me a little.” Seron confessed, unable to think of anything else.

“Oh. I walked outside after I slept and woke up in the morning like this. I think it would be okay to untie my hair like this. I will tie them again later. It is very uncomfortable when I move.”

“Huh? Yeah. You’re right. It could get in the way when you’re using a camera…” Seron rationalized against his will.

“Yes! It could.” Meg agreed brightly and obliviously.

With her finger Meg played with her hair. Seron could see her profiled face. Blinking, he kept his gaze on her.

“At the school in Sou Be-Il which I attended, it was the law to tie students’ hair in pigtails.”

“I see.”

“My school was a girls school. All the students were girls. And the hairstyle was not free, like the school now. I thought it was very not free, at the time.”

“Right. Roxche’s pretty easygoing about things like that.”

“Yes. It was very surprising. But after coming to Roxche, pigtails were comfortable for some reason so I still tie the pigtails. My friend Lillia says for me to use different hairstyles, but still.”

“I guess it’s hard to break out of your comfort zone.” Seron said plainly, although in his head he was determined to have a serious discussion about Meg’s hairstyle with this friend named Lillia.

“Yes. Thinking of which, I want to take Lillia to Sou Be-Il with me some day. Everyone will be surprised when I take a Roxchean whose Bezelese speaking is better than mine.”

Seron inhaled, readied himself, and spoke in Bezelese.

“I studied, Bezelese, a little.”

“Oh my goodness! It is very surprising. As expected, you are amazing, Seron.”

“It is a very difficult language. I was very surprised.” Seron managed in faltering but polite Bezelese, before switching back. “Sorry. That’s about as far as I can go. The conjugation is so difficult that all I can do is memorize entire sentences. The pronunciation is tough, and I had a hard time remembering genders for nouns.” He shook his head.

“Then I will speak a little.” Meg said, looking at Seron. “You’re always full of surprises, Seron. I feel like I could learn so much from you.”

“What does that mean? I caught my name, but everything else was a blur.”

Meg took a moment to translate her thoughts into Roxchean, then simplified her sentiment.

“I said, ‘you are very cool, Seron’!”

Seron’s thought processes came grinding to a halt, restored only once he heard Meg’s concerned voice several seconds later.


Afterwards, they had uneventful conversations about the flowers in the gardens and the sights they saw on the autobahn the previous day.

“Shine on, Seron. I am so proud of you!” Larry whispered from his balcony, still in his T-shirt. Because Meg and Seron were walking side-by-side at the other end of the garden, he could not hear what they were talking about.

“Agreed. Now why can’t you ever manage that?” Someone said from above him.

“Tch.”

Larry scowled and looked up.

Natalia leaned against the railing of her balcony. Her hair was even longer than Meg’s.

“That’s long.”

“Yeah. Wanna try climbing it?”

“No thanks. Isn’t it annoying to wash and dry it all?”

“Yeah. It’s such a bother.”

“Ever think about cutting it short like me?”

“If I feel like it.”

There wasn’t a hint of romance to be found in the conversation. Natalia looked out at the gardens.

“Hm. Maybe I should get down there and have some fun.”

“Don’t you dare get in their way, Lia.” Larry said, his eyes glinting.

“Heh. Can’t even joke around with you. I’mma head in and wash my hair.” Natalia said, walking back inside.

Larry sighed. Before he knew it, Nick was standing on the balcony next door.

“It is considered bad form to get in the way of a romance.” He said without even a greeting.

Larry turned. Nick stood there wearing light green pajamas and a strangely adorable black nightcap with golden stars.

“Yeah. Morning.”

“Good morning. It seems like we’ll have quite the exciting day ahead.”


* * *


“Then I will see you at breakfast time.”

“Yeah. See you.”

After a stroll through the gardens, Seron said goodbye to Meg at the stairs and headed back to his own room. But just as he passed Larry’s door—

“Good job.”

“Whoa!”

Seron flinched. The door was ajar.

“…Can I come in?”

“Sure thing, buddy.”

As soon as Larry shut the door behind them, Seron let his emotions tint his voice—but not his face.

“D-d-did you see, Larry? Nothing beats Megmica with her hair down!”

“I only saw her from afar, but yeah. That’s one of the privileges of being in the same club.” Larry replied.

His fists trembling, Seron looked up at the ceiling.

“I can die happy now.”

“Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.”


* * *


It was time for breakfast. The newspaper club was gathered in the dining room.

Larry was in his usual T-shirt and a grey parka. Nick was wearing pants similar to Seron’s, along with a white button-down shirt. Jenny was in navy shorts and a long-sleeved shirt. Natalia wore long pants and a light green summer sweater.

They had a traditional Roxchean breakfast that morning—bacon and eggs with bread, vegetables, and fruits. It all tasted wonderful. The butter was as good as it had been the previous night.

Everyone was more than satisfied with breakfast. Larry downed glass after glass of milk.

“The milk is great. One more glass!”

“Good to see you’re taking in all that calcium. You’ve still got hope, shortie.”

“Shut up, Lia.”

“I think this weather will last all day.” Said Mrs. Ruf, bringing in tea. “How would you like to have a barbecue in the gardens for dinner?”

The newspaper club agreed with gusto. Mrs. Ruf promised to prepare meat and vegetables for the barbecue.

“I can help! Outdoor cooking is my specialty.” Larry volunteered. Seron joined in as well, followed by Nick. In the end, everyone had signed up to help prepare dinner.

Mrs. Ruf took down everyone’s requests for the barbecue. And once she was gone—

“Good morning, everyone.”

Kurtz and Litner entered the kitchen. Kurtz asked Jenny about her plans for the day.

“Today, we’re going around town by bicycle for some photography practice. Lunch will be at the local specialty spaghetti place by the village hall. Could you make reservations for eight? We’ve got a couple of big eaters. We’ll drop off our film at a photography studio and come back here, and if we have time we’ll learn to use typewriters or take a nap. We’ll have a barbecue in the evening and another lesson at night, if we have time.”

Kurtz nodded in understanding. Larry spoke up.

“We’re not gonna develop the photos ourselves? I was looking forward to that.”

“We don’t have a darkroom here. Believe me, I wish we could develop them too. But we’ll focus just on photography this time. I’ll give you a lesson on the darkroom once we get back.”

“Right. And about going into town… are the six of us gonna go on six bikes together?”

“That’s the plan. Why?” Jenny asked. All eyes were on Larry.

“I have another idea. Can we split off into three pairs? We don’t all have to crowd around together. I know I’m being kinda selfish, but I want to race around town on a motorcycle today. I can give someone a ride behind me, so the rest of you can pair off and have free time until lunch. It’s no fun if everyone takes photos of the same thing.”

“You gotta do what I say! —Is what I wanted to say, but that sounds fine as long as everyone does some photography. So who’s going with you? Obviously, I’m gonna decline.”

“Looks like it’s gotta be me, then.” Natalia said with a shrug. “I’m too lazy to bike. It’d be nice to have a slave take me everywhere by motorcycle.”

“Who’re you calling a slave, Lia? Fine. It’s the two of us, then.”

Larry and Natalia were working in perfect sync. Nick joined in.

“Then could I perhaps work with you for the morning, Jenny? I’m not quite clear on the specifics about photography, I’m afraid. And I’m sure Megmica will be fine with Seron, as he knows all the details about camera use.”

Only then did Seron realize that Larry, Natalia, and Nick were doing their best to help him. Blankly and silently he heaped praises and thanks upon them.

“Hmm. All right.” Jenny nodded. “Is that all right with you, Megmica?”

“Yes. It is very fine with me.”

Completely oblivious to the implications, Meg agreed with a smile.

“Good. Then I’ll hand out maps of the area to everyone. We meet at noon today in town. All the boys have wristwatches, right? The rendezvous point is the fountain in Huckanee Memorial Park in the center of the village. It’s on the map, and you can ask people for directions. The park is about 3 kilometers away, and there are almost no slopes on the way there so it won’t be tough to go by bike. And don’t go snacking before we meet—we have reservations for lunch. That is all. Dismissed!”

Everyone nodded and stood, but Seron spoke up.

“Jenny. Teach us to load and unload the cameras.”


* * *


To load the film, they had to turn a dial on the bottom of the camera and open the lid, then set the film cartridge on the left side.

Then they had to wind the end of the film around the take-up spool on the right side. Then, they had to close the lid. After taking two or three throwaway shots, they had to set the film counter under the dial to zero.

After taking 24 pictures, they had to press the button next to the shutter to unlock the camera. Then they had to turn the knob on the left until there was no more tension in the knob. Then they could take out the cartridge.

If they made a mistake somewhere in this process, they could end up with no photos at all or an entire roll of ruined photos. It required careful work.

After the explanation, the newspaper club set off.

They only took their wallets, cameras, lenses, and photometers. Each person took about five canisters of film. They also packed maps and water bottles in cloth bags or leather purses. The bicycle teams placed their belongings in the baskets at the front of their bikes.

As for the motorcycle team—

“It’s all on you, Lia.”

“Ugh.”

Natalia had to put two people’s worth of belongings into a backpack she would carry.

Outside the villa were four bicycles and a motorcycle.

The bicycles included cross-bikes and touring bicycles with straight handlebars and gears.

There were different types of frames as well. Jenny and Meg elected for types with lower frames so they could climb on and off easily, while Seron and Nick chose bicycles with triangular frames.

And as the bicycle team adjusted their seats and checked their brakes—

“Whoa! This is the latest model!”

Larry ran his hands over the black motorcycle in awe.

The 250cc motorcycle had a four-stroke engine and a single engine cylinder, and had drum brakes for both the front and the back.

Just as Larry raved, it was a very recent model. There wasn’t a speck of dust on the glinting muffler, fenders, and rear suspension springs.

The oval fuel tank was also silver in color. The top was painted black, and there were thick rubber cushions over the tank where the knees went.

The motorcycle could seat two people. The second seat was on top of the rear fender behind the rider’s seat.

Mr. Ruf had prepared and even serviced the bicycles and motorcycle the pervious night. He turned to Larry.

“You know how to ride it, yes?”

“My brother taught me, sir! This isn’t something to brag about, but I’ve never incurred a traffic violation, either!” Larry replied.

“Take care, of yourselves. Motorcycles are great, but it’s very easy to get in an accident.”

Then he handed Larry two leather jackets, two silver helmets, two black-framed goggles, and two pairs of gloves.

Larry put on his jacket, helmet, and gloves.

“Hm. This isn’t working.”

Natalia had pinned up her hair, which made it impossible for her to put on her helmet. She went all the way back to the bathroom to untie her hair and tie it in a ponytail. Then she tucked in her ponytail under her jacket and put on her helmet.

When Natalia hid her long hair and dressed like a motorcycle rider, she looked almost like a handsome young man.

“It is cool, Natalia! You look like a cool rider!” Meg cheered. Larry had to agree, but he pouted.

“Thanks, Megmica. —Why the long face, Larry? Want me to drive instead?”

“Pop quiz, Lia. Is the clutch on the left side or the right?” Larry asked, miming the act of clutching the handlebars.

“Hm. This?”

Natalia stepped down with her right foot.

“…Yeah, no.”


Before departure, a small argument broke out between Jenny and Kurtz.

Kurtz and Litner told Jenny that they would follow her by car. Jenny refused, saying she had never needed such security detail at Ercho Village. But—

“Miss. If anything were to happen to you here, Litner and I will certainly lose our jobs. I have a three-year-old daughter, Miss Jenny. And Litner finally overcame the odds that come with this line of work and recently found herself a boyfriend.” Kurtz argued solemnly, exposing personal details with a completely straight face.

Litner stood by him in mechanical silence all the while.

“Man, Mr. Kurtz is good. Guess you’d have to be, if you wanted to be Jenny’s bodyguard.”

“It is not good to leave them, Jenny. It would be too sad to lose their jobs.” Meg said, taking Kurtz’s side.

“Thank you, Miss Megmica.” Kurtz nodded. “Now if you’ll excuse us, Miss Jenny. We will proceed to follow you like a pair of stalkers.”

Jenny was forced to give up.

“Fine. But you have to keep your distance, okay? Fifty meters.”

Everyone was finally ready to go.

“Let’s all do our best until noon!” Larry cried.

“Yes!” “Yes!” “Yeah!”

Meg, Nick, and Natalia raised their fists into the air.

“Yeah.” Seron followed, half a beat behind.

Jenny was already on her bicycle.

“Now get out there and shoot! Shoot like your life depends on it! Pretend you’ve never heard of personality rights! And remember this. ‘One second after you press the shutter, the photograph might feel like a waste of film. But in one year, it’ll be a good memory. In ten, an irreplaceable treasure. And in a hundred, it’ll be a snapshot of history’.”

“Nice line, Jenny. —By the way, I have a question.” Larry said, raising a hand.

“Yeah?”

“Are we allowed to take photographs of one another?”

“I guess it’ll be practice for taking photos of people. Don’t forget to adjust the focus.”

“Right. Hear that, guys? We now have permission to photograph cute girls. Don’t hold back.”

“Oh? Flattery will get you nowhere, Larry.”

“What’re you talking about, Lia? I’m taking photos of the motorcycle.”

“Honest, huh. I like that. As a reward, I will personally strangle you from behind while we’re on the motorcycle.”

“With a cause of death that stupid, we’d make headlines in all of Roxche.”


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