Chapter 1: Allison and Wil
The 26th day of the fourth month.
The Roxcheanuk Confederation Capital Airport was locked in a cold rainstorm.
The record-breaking cold and snowfall of the winter had finally ended, but the day was a chilly one nonetheless.
It was still early in the morning. Raindrops as thin as threads of silk scattered quietly over the runway.
Running parallel to the paved surface of the runway was the taxiway, next to which was a large parking lot. Next to that was the single-story airport terminal.
Though the airport serviced the entire Capital District, it lacked the luxury and opulence of the city’s train stations. Because the runway and other facilities were being shared with the air force everything bore an unpolished look.
Aeroplane technology had advanced in recent years, allowing crafts to cross Roxche from end to end in a single day. But trains were still the main method of long-distance transportation. Aeroplanes were still limited to the rich and those who enjoyed unusual methods of transport.
A man and a woman stepped into the quiet terminal.
The man was wearing a navy suit and a brown trench coat. He was in his mid-thirties with short black hair, a pair of oval rimless glasses on his face. He was calm and composed, looking much like a scholar. In his hand was a black attaché case.
The woman had long blond hair tied up in a bun. She was around the same age as the man, with bright sky-blue eyes and a spirited bearing. She wore a comfortable-looking pair of jeans, a bright red sweater, and a leather jacket. A cloth backpack hung from her shoulder.
The couple stopped in the middle of the large lobby.
“You don’t have to see me off all the way, Allison. You’ll end up waiting if the aeroplane gets delayed,” the man said gently. The woman called Allison responded with a reluctant look.
“I guess you’re right, with all this rain. And I do have work to do.”
“A written apology?”
“Yep. I guess they didn’t like the way I took off with another unit’s fighter craft. But I saved the daughter and the prince, so it’s all good,” Allison replied, then looked around to make sure no one was listening. “I got a massive deposit in Lillia’s bank account two days ago. It was in the name of some company president I’ve never heard of, but it was the princess, right?”
The man nodded slowly. “That was quick. Call it an apology from the lady and her family. They want you to claim that your daughter was in a minor traffic accident.”
“I see. Well, I can’t complain. I’ll give the money to Lillia once she’s 21.”
Then Allison checked the watch on her left wrist. It was an expensive chronograph she received from a certain watch company to promote the product.
“As much as I’d hate to, I should get going now. Off to get an earful from the superiors!”
The man turned to face Allison.
“Thank you for coming all this way to see me off, Captain Schultz.”
“You’re welcome, Major Travas of the Royal Army. Thank you for your excellent service at the Sou Be-Il embassy in Roxche. It has been an honor,” Allison replied solemnly with a salute, heels pushed together. Then her attitude changed. “Say hi to your mother for me! The salute’s for her!” she added with a wink.
Major Travas smiled. “I will. I’ll have to think about how I would convey a salute via telegram during the flight. Not that I’ll have any shortage of time.”
“Just curl up with a book and all those hours’ll fly by,” Allison suggested. Disappointment rose to Travas’s face.
“I don’t have a single book on me. I’ve sent my things ahead by ship and I didn’t get the chance to pick up any reading material yesterday. I wish airports had bookstores like train stations do.”
“Oh? Then here’s a little farewell gift from me,” Allison said, reaching into her backpack.
She pulled out a thick book made of low-quality paper.
Major Travas’s gaze fell on the cover. It was blank save for the title, written in Roxchean.
‘Fundamentals of Flight for Beginners: A Textbook for Young Soldiers Bound for Airspace Defense, 3507 Revised Edition’.
“It’s next year’s textbook for students at the Roxche Air Force Academy. The education corps wanted me to check for errors. I haven’t read a page, but I’m too lazy to go through the thing so I’ll probably just tell them it was fine. You can’t really learn to fly from a textbook anyway. You gotta learn in the cockpit, flying over the sky.”
With a resigned chuckle Major Travas received the book. “Thanks. I’ll have a good look through it.”
“Send me a telegram if you find any mistakes in it.”
“If I do, sure.” Major Travas smiled.
“Then see you later!” Allison replied, slightly raising her head and closing her eyes. She leaned forward.
Major Travas lightly put his lips over hers. “Yeah. We’ll take some time to talk soon.”
* * *
In the rain, Major Travas departed the Capital District.
He flew west on a state-of-the-art high-speed passenger aeroplane.
The streamlined craft had engines and propellers on each of its wings, and was equipped with 16 seats. However, only five of them were occupied. From Major Travas’s seat at the very back he could see four heads sitting at the very front row.
Roxche was composed mostly of flatlands with few mountains to speak of, which led to the early development of instrument flight. The aeroplane relied on its compass and altimeter as it flew into the clouds. There was almost no turbulence.
While the other passengers slept with blindfolds over their eyes, Major Travas took out Allison’s gift from the attaché case at his feet. He smiled as he recalled her comment.
“Learn to fly an aeroplane, huh. I’d never even considered trying.”
He opened up the book to pass the time.
The aeroplane landed to refuel and give the passengers and crew some time to rest.
The flight had taken them halfway across Roxche in one go. During the break, the crew would change shifts and the passengers would eat.
The aeroplane took off again past noon.
The clouds had cleared somewhat, giving way to glimpses of the sky. Below, brown earth waiting for the farming season to begin went on without end.
Major Travas glanced out the window at times as he quickly read though ‘Fundamentals of Flight for Beginners’.
The textbook included many diagrams and figures, and included very few technical terms for ease of reading and understanding.
However, it was riddled with errors.
Some were simple spelling mistakes, others were labeling errors in the diagrams, and others were miscalculated figures.
Each time he discovered a mistake, Major Travas marked it off with a fountain pen and folded the corner of the page.
The aeroplane reached its final destination—Raputoa International Airport in the capital city of the Republic of Raputoa—that evening.
By then, Major Travas had finished going through ‘Fundamentals of Flight for Beginners’, having even revised some of the sentences.
The Republic of Raputoa was one of Roxche’s westernmost member states. Its capital was Raputoa City.
Raputoa was positioned near the confluence of the Lutoni River at the foot of the Central Mountain Range, its economy heavily—mostly, in fact—reliant on agriculture. Geographically, it was vast and flat. On clear days, the distant peaks of the Central Mountain Range were visible from the southern parts of the country.
Across the Lutoni River was Sou Be-Il, also known as the Allied Kingdoms of Bezel-Iltoa.
During the cold war, member states that bordered the Lutoni—such as Raputoa—were at the front lines of the conflict between East and West. But things were different now, as such countries leveraged their proximity to the West to serve as exchange points between the two sides.
Raputoa International Airport in Raputoa City was the largest airport in the area.
Flights to Sou Be-Il operated by Western carriers operated out of the airport, timed to match flights originating from the Capital District. And with the advent of air freight and specialized cargo planes, countless aeroplanes began to utilize Raputoa International Airport as a hub for local transport.
Major Travas’s next flight, however, was not open to the public.
* * *
The 27th day of the fourth month.
“Good morning, Major!”
Major Travas had spent the night at a hotel in Raputoa City. He returned to the airport the next day.
“I’m Captain Barnett, tasked with transporting you back to the motherland. And this is—”
“Second Lieutenant Klee, sir!”
Two pilots saluted under the clear blue sky as Major Travas stepped out of the taxi. They greeted him in the official language of Sou Be-Il, Bezelese.
Captain Barnett was an intimidating man in his thirties. Second Lieutenant Klee was in his twenties with a slender build.
Both pilots were in grey flight suits. The pockets in front of their thighs were bloated. On their shoulders and breasts were their badges of rank, name tags, and cards that indicated their blood types.
They stood in the most unassuming, inconspicuous corner of Raputoa International Airport. The area was used exclusively for cargo planes, never open to civilian access.
An aeroplane was parked there.
It was 15 meters in length with two engines and two propellers.
The craft was painted in varied hues of green and brown for camouflage. The lower half was painted grey to blend in with the sky when seen from below.
On the side of the cylindrical fuselage was the emblem of the Curved Dagger and words written in Bezelese script. The aeroplane clearly belonged to Sou Be-Il.
This model had originally been developed as a small bomber, but its excellent performance made it suitable as a scouter as well. This particular craft had been adapted for scouting, with a high-performance camera attached to the bottom of the fuselage and large windows on either side.
The aeroplane had flown in from the Royal Air Force Base near the Lutoni River early that morning to pick up Major Travas, an important figure in the Sou Be-Il military. Naturally, the craft had permission to fly.
Several mechanics who worked at the Raputoa International Airport stood by the aeroplane, refueling and running final checks on the plane alongside the flight engineer. Because civilian crafts from the West routinely used the airport there was no difficulty in the process.
Major Travas saluted the pilots and lowered his hand. The pilots did likewise.
“Major Travas of the Royal Army. I’m in your hands.”
“You can count on us, sir. We’ll take you to Sfrestus faster than any passenger aeroplane,” Captain Barnett assured him.
“Pardon me, Major,” Second Lieutenant Klee piped up, “but will you be granted an audience with the king when you return?”
“Yes. That’s part of my job as the field officer serving at the Sou Be-Il embassy in Roxche,” Major Travas replied matter-of-factly. Second Lieutenant Klee exploded with excitement.
“That’s incredible, sir! I’m very jealous. I’ve only ever seen the royal family at the National Founding Day ceremony from afar! You know sir, my dream is to fly the royal family’s VIP aeroplane one day. I know that’s still very far off, but I volunteered for today’s mission to help me prepare! It’s an honor to be transporting you today, Major!”
Captain Barnett shrugged. “As you can see, Major, Klee here is still young and flighty, but he’s not too bad of a pilot. I’ll be doing most of the flying, of course, but the second lieutenant will pull his weight whether he likes it or not. Chief Master Sergeant Lod will be our engineer for today. I’ll introduce him later.”
“Thank you. May I board now?” asked Major Travas. Captain Barnett grinned.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to make a trip to the bathroom first, sir. You won’t find one onboard.”
* * *
<This is Osprey 34, contacting the Raputoa International Airport control tower. Over.>
<This is control. Communications clear. Over.>
<This is Osprey 34. We are prepared for takeoff. Requesting permission to taxi. Over.>
<This is control contacting Osprey 34. Taxiway is clear. No crafts on standby for landing. The airport is yours. You have permission to taxi. I repeat, you have permission to taxi.>
Major Travas sat in the cabin of the scouter craft, listening to the exchange that occurred in Bezelese.
The aeroplane was not a large one by any means but it was equipped with sturdy seats. Major Travas sat in one of them with the seatbelt fastened.
Because it would get cold at higher altitudes, he wore an air force-issue leather jacket over his suit in lieu of his trench coat. His attaché case and rolled-up coat were secured under his seat with a strap.
The aeroplane’s exposed interior bared its extra fuel tank and countless pipes and wires.
Several meters ahead was the cockpit with Captain Barnett on the left and Second Lieutenant Klee on the right. Behind them to the right was Chief Master Sergeant Lod, focused on the many instruments before him.
The engines on either side of the aeroplane roared loudly enough to drown out any conversation and shook the plane. Everyone onboard wore a headset and had a microphone fixed to his neck.
<We’ll be taxiing and taking off shortly, Major. Please make sure your seatbelt is fastened,> Captain Barnett instructed. Major Travas pressed the talk button by his neck, speaking to everyone onboard through the internal line.
<Then let’s head on home.>
Captain Barnett slowly pushed the throttle forward.
The morning sun glinted off the scouter plane. The plane’s sturdy tires rolled across the rough pavement.
No other aeroplanes were preparing for takeoff or landing. The Western aircraft cruised down the taxiway and came to a full stop at the southern end of the runway for another exchange with the control tower.
<This is control contacting Osprey 34. Do you copy? You have permission to enter the runway and permission for takeoff. Have a safe trip.>
<This is Osprey 34. Copy that. Entering runway, preparing for takeoff. Thank you and your country for your assistance and hospitality. May good winds blow across both East and West! Osprey 34 out.>
The scouter craft taxied onto the runway. Captain Barnett turned the control stick to make a 90-degree turn. Soon the aeroplane was looking straight down the runway.
Then Barnett pushed the engine to maximum output in one go. A powerful roar shook the fuselage and the world around them as the aeroplane accelerated.
Major Travas looked out the window on his left and mumbled to himself without pressing the talk button.
“This takes me back. It all started when we took off from Raputoa all those years ago…”
The scouter craft with the emblem of the Curved Dagger took off, carrying Wil.
Soon the scouter craft was headed northwest.
With the concrete jungle of Raputoa City below, the aeroplane slowly ascended. The world outside grew distant.
<You’re clear to take off your seatbelt, Major,> said the captain.
<Thank you,> Major Travas replied, <I don’t mean to question your skill, Captain, but I would prefer to keep my seatbelt fastened while I’m on the craft.>
<That’s an excellent attitude to have, Major. And to be perfectly honest, it makes us feel a lot better. You never know when we’ll have to make a sudden swerve to avoid an enemy attack. Not that that’s very likely in this day and age.>
<I’m glad to see that our forces are always prepared.>
<Thank you, Major,> said Captain Bartnett, <now, this craft will be cruising northwest for about an hour, at which point we will cross the Lutoni. Once we’re over the border we will continue on to the Iltoa Mountain Range, then head due west over the mountain range and land at the Lillianne Royal Air Force Base in the afternoon. You’ll have time to eat and stretch your legs there, Major.>
<Very good. It’s been quite some time since my last visit to Lillianne. I’m looking forward to seeing the beautiful peaks of the Iltoa Mountain Range.>
<Of course. The snow hasn’t melted off the peaks yet, from what I could see. You’ll also be able to see the railroad tracks and the lakes. Have you heard of barrier lakes, Major? They’re long, narrow lakes formed by avalanches.>
<Yes. I’ve seen one in person, actually, from a train. The one with tracks running on either side.>
<Yes, that’s the one. The tracks and lakes make for beautiful landmarks. I’m sure they’ll be beautiful today as well.>
<If I happen to be asleep then, please do wake me up. This is an order.>
<Hah hah! Yes, sir!>
That was when Second Lieutenant Klee decided to join the conversation. <Major Travas, may I ask you more about your duties in Roxche? Just for future reference, sir.>
<Of course. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them—to a reasonable degree of detail, of course.>
<Thank you, sir. What was it like working at the embassy in Roxche, with all the cultural differences? Wasn’t it difficult?>
Major Travas, who had once been a Roxchean named Wilhelm Schultz, fell into thought before he finally responded.
<It wasn’t particularly difficult living in Roxche. Whether we’re from the East or West, we’re all humans. And as long as we can communicate with each other, we can reach a mutual understanding with each other. Naturally there were many differences in our ways of life, but I can look back on them all with a smile. And I have to add, Roxchean cuisine is to die for.>
The next question came.
<This might be a rude question, sir, but I’ve heard that you’re quitting your job at the embassy. Working at the embassy is supposed to be a highly privileged task, so could I ask why you decided to return home?>
It was indeed a rude question. Captain Barnett shot Second Lieutenant Klee a look and shrugged. But Major Travas did not seem offended in the least.
<Because I’m leaving the military. Once I reach Sfrestus my resignation will be processed.>
Second Lieutenant Klee was the only one to speak, but it was clear that the other men were equally shocked.
Major Travas decided to answer.
<I am the only heir to House Travas, and I have a duty to carry on my family’s legacy. Once I leave the military I plan to assist my mother with her work. I felt that my work at the embassy was sufficient service for the motherland. Now I will devote my time and efforts elsewhere.>
<I see. That’s very unfortunate, but you have a noble reason, sir. Might I ask what your family’s work is?>
<Of course. My mother heads a foundation that provides assistance to children in need. It provides scholarship opportunities to academically-inclined orphans in Sou Be-Il, including study-abroad programs in Roxche. It’s important for young people to go out and see the world. I intend to use my experiences to expedite my mother’s work, traveling between Roxche and Sou Be-Il.>
<That’s wonderful, sir. I’d want my kids to do work like that someday. Although I’d have to get married first.>
The scouter craft was cruising over the plains.
Thirty kilometer-strips of land on either side of the Lutoni River had been designated as a buffer zone. Military personnel could not be positioned in the buffer zone, as part of an agreement set out during the war. Civilian presence was also heavily limited. There were no farms to be seen, the land simply uncultivated wilderness.
The Lutoni flooded regularly, which meant that the closer one went to the shore, the fewer trees there were.
Even before the buffer zone was created, the banks of the Lutoni had been difficult lands to live on. It would have been hard to settle the area without building embankments along the entire river—a task that would take more than 300 years, considering the Lutoni’s length.
Major Travas leaned in toward the window.
It was still too early for buds to be sprouting. Most of the plains and fields were still brown.
When he looked up, he saw the Lutoni River.
The dark water flowed in a straight line from south to north, cutting across the flatlands. Hundreds of meters in the distance, he could make out Sou Be-Il territory.
<Second Lieutenant. Could I leave the controls to you for a moment?>
<Yes, Captain. Second Lieutenant Klee, prepared to take the flight controls.>
<Second Lieutenant Klee, you have the flight controls.>
<I have the flight controls.>
<You have the flight controls.>
After the practiced exchange, Second Lieutenant Klee took the controls. Captain Barnett took his hand off the controls and turned.
<Apologies, Major, but I’ll be taking a short break. I actually haven’t had breakfast yet.>
<Don’t worry, Major, the captain definitely didn’t sleep in,> said Chief Master Sergeant Lod, defending the pilot, <he was just too fired up about doing check-ups on the craft that he didn’t get the chance to eat.> Second Lieutenant Klee did not join the conversation, focusing on the controls.
Captain Barnett unbuckled his seatbelts, pulled out his headphone cable, and entered the cabin. He walked down the aisle comfortably, passed Major Travas, and squatted before a large metal box at the back of the plane.
Then he unlocked the box and opened the lid.
From the box Captain Barnett produced a wooden case the size of a dictionary. A sticker labeled ‘BARNETT LUNCH: TURKEY SANDWICH, CHOCOLATE BAR, WATER’ was stuck to it.
Captain Barnett closed the metal box, walked past Major Travas, and stopped not at the pilot’s seat but behind Chief Master Sergeant Lod. He unfolded a chair affixed to the left-hand wall and plugged in his headset cable again.
<Pardon me, Major. These meals are for pilots only,> he explained, <we have meals prepared for us for long-haul flights. Everyone has a different menu in case of food poisoning. Mine today is the turkey sandwich.>
<I had no idea. Fascinating.>
<This is actually supposed to be my lunch, but I would appreciate it if you’d turn a blind eye on this breach of protocol for today. We pilots do it all the time. I can buy something to eat at Lillianne for lunch.>
<Ah, I remember doing the same with my own lunchboxes when I was a student,> said Chief Master Sergeant Lod.
Major Travas chuckled. <I’m very busy enjoying the scenery outside, Captain. I didn’t see a thing,> he said, turning his gaze to the window.
The Lutoni River coursed majestically below. Soon the aeroplane would cross the border and enter Western airspace.
<Then if you’ll excuse me.>
Captain Barnett put his lunchbox on his lap and pulled off the pieces of tape securing the lid from either side. Then he opened it.
Ssst. There was a scraping noise. Then a puff of white smoke.
Captain Barnett furrowed his brow.
The box exploded.
* * *
A man from the Republic of Raputoa was fishing alone on the Lutoni when he spotted an aeroplane crash in the distance.
The unfamiliar aeroplane had flown over his little boat only a few minutes earlier, before zooming off into the distance and hobbling to the left and then to the right.
Then it leaned, tilted all the way to the right and quickly lost altitude.
The aeroplane disappeared past the riverbank—
Never to be seen again.
The man immediately decided to report nothing.
He did not contact the police or the fire department for help, for fear that he would be prosecuted for his illegal fishing.