A test pilot in the Confederation Air Force. She is Lillia’s mother.
A major in the Royal Army. He works at the Sou Be-Il embassy in Roxche.
A student at the 4th Capital Secondary School in Roxche’s Capital District. She is Allison’s daughter and has a very long full name.
A student at the 4th Capital Secondary School. He is the son of Benedict and Fiona, and is the prince of Ikstova.
Fiona and Benedict
The queen of Ikstova, the only kingdom in Roxche, and her husband.
A student at the 4th Capital Secondary School, originally from Sou Be-Il. She is Lillia’s friend and Seron’s fiancée, and is a member of the newspaper club.
A student at the 4th Capital Secondary School. His crush on Meg finally bore fruit, resulting in their engagement. He is a member of the newspaper club.
A student at the 4th Capital Secondary School. He is Seron’s best friend and a member of the newspaper club.
A student at the 4th Capital Secondary School. In spite of appearances, he is not a girl. He is a history buff and a member of the newspaper club.
A student at the 4th Capital Secondary School. She is Larry’s childhood friend and possesses and endless appetite. She is a member of the newspaper club.
A student at the 4th Capital Secondary School. She is the only daughter of one of the richest men in Roxche, and is the president of the newspaper club.
Chapter 12: Major Travas’s Battle
The 27th day of the fourth month.
It was just as the surveillance camera in the Capital District was continuing to take photos in secret.
A box in an aeroplane flying over the Lutoni River exploded.
There were almost no sparks, and no smoke. But the powerful explosion sent tiny shards of metal flying everywhere. Most of the shrapnel hit the metal parts of the cockpit.
The bits that did not hit the cockpit parts were driven into the people nearby.
Captain Barnett, who had opened the lid, took the brunt of the impact. His arms were torn entirely to pieces, a large hole was blown in his stomach, and the bottom half of his face was destroyed.
Without even a chance to scream, he went from man to corpse.
The shrapnel also hit Master Sergeant Lod, who sat on the right side of the cockpit, opposite from Barnett.
Shrapnel dug into the back of his neck all the way up to his head, leaving marks like bullet wounds and spraying blood everywhere.
Eyes wide open, completely unaware of what had happened to him, Lod died four seconds after the captain.
The only member of the flight crew who had the time to scream was Second Lieutenant Klee.
The shrapnel had struck his left shoulder and elbow, tearing through flesh and blood and rendering his arm permanently useless.
One small piece of metal, meanwhile, hit the left side of his neck and severed his carotid artery.
“What—” The explosion drew Major Travas’s attention from the window to the cockpit.
And he spotted Captain Barnett’s corpse, Master Sergeant Lod’s slumped body, and the third member of the flight crew.
“Major! Come quickly! Koff!”
Second Lieutenant Klee was calling for him, blood spurting from his neck like a fountain.
Major Travas undid his seat belt and rushed across the aeroplane. He passed by the two corpses and went all the way up to the pilot’s seat.
“Koff! Koff! The, controls, please, take, the, controls, koff… koff…”
His body drenched with blood, Klee tried to go on as he quivered.
The aeroplane began to tremble. The trembling slowly grew worse.
Second Lieutenant Klee’s right arm lost the last of its strength, sliding off the controls—
At the same time, Major Travas slipped into Captain Barnett’s seat.
His eyes fell on the captain’s controls before him. The control wheel was shaped like the bottom half of a steering wheel. Major Travas gripped it tightly in both hands.
The trembling stopped, and the aeroplane quickly became level again as though nothing had ever happened.
A droplet of sweat fell down the side of Major Travas’s face. He turned to the person who should have been sitting at his right.
There sat a young man whose entire future had been taken away from him.
Major Travas took one hand off the yoke, pulled out the seat belts from under him, and attempted to fasten them.
The effort would need both his hands. Major Travas took his other hand off the yoke.
Several failed attempts later, he finally got the belts on and looked up, when he realized that the aeroplane was listing heavily to the left.
He quickly put his hands back on the yoke and tilted the craft to the right.
But he went too far.
The aeroplane immediately tipped to the right and fell into a sharp dive. The world outside the windshield tilted to the left.
If not for the seat belts, Major Travas would have been flung out of his seat. “Urgh…” he strained, trying to bring the aeroplane back to level position.
But eventually, he relaxed his grip. Rather than try to fight the aeroplane, Major Travas allowed it to remain in its current position. He was locked in an uncomfortable sense of weightlessness.
Then, he discovered the lever between the two seats, to the lower right of the yoke.
He pushed and pulled the lever, then brought it to center position and slowly pulled it back to its original place. The engine output slowly weakened in response.
Slowly, very slowly, Major Travas turned the yoke back to the left.
The aeroplane was continuing its descent. All he could see before his eyes was the surface of the Lutoni, drawing ever closer.
“There’s no rush… Don’t be hasty…”
Little by little, and very slowly, he returned the yoke to the left. He made sure to push forward at the same time so he did not end up pulling too much at once.
The aeroplane slowly returned to level position.
“Come on…come on…”
The Lutoni was almost upon him.
In the span of only five seconds, the aeroplane lost almost all altitude and returned to level position.
Major Travas pulled on the yoke. The surface of the Lutoni was close enough for him to make out every little refraction on the water.
“I suppose just one read wasn’t quite enough for a full understanding,” he remarked with an almost-casual smile.
The aeroplane shot up only seconds before it could strike the river like an arrow.
The nose slowly pulled up before instantly rising, reducing the angle between the aeroplane and the river.
The altitude also sharply fell.
When the fuselage hit the surface with a deafening crash, it was almost parallel to the water.
The aeroplane hit the river at over 300 kilometers an hour, bounced off against the surface, and hit the water again.
The front of the propellers struck the water, bringing the aeroplane back into the air.
Like a stone skipping across the river, the aeroplane rose and fell. Twice, three times, then once more.
After four bounces against the Lutoni, the aeroplane lost energy. It lost balance with massive sprays of water.
Though the plane had only slightly tilted to the right, the tip of the right wing, its midsection, then its base was driven into the water, and the resultant drag snapped the wing whole.
The engine roared amidst the noise of breaking metal.
The right wing, snapped at the base, flew backwards and smashed against the vertical stabilizer, destroying it completely. The right wing then hit the river, sinking into the depths with steam and foam rising from the still-spinning engine and propeller.
The one-winged aeroplane listed about 40 degrees to the side and began sinking nose-first.
Then it hit the mud underneath.
The aeroplane slid a long way and finally reached the bank of the Lutoni.
With its left wing sticking into the air, the aeroplane drove itself into the eastern bank.
It lay on a gentle slope by an undergrowth. The left propeller continued to spin, scattering grass into the air like a lawnmower.
The left side of the fuselage was pushed into the dirt bank, cushioning the aeroplane and slowing it to a full stop.
The aeroplane lay tilting to the right, with its nose pointed slightly upwards. Most of the fuselage was on land, but the tail was immersed in the river.
The left, wing, which had been pointing into the air at the moment the aeroplane came to a stop, slowly tilted down and neared the ground.
The propeller hit the ground still spinning.
It slashed aside all the grass below, then dug into the dirt underneath and finally stopped.
The engine died in a puff of white smoke. The world was once again filled with silence.
The grass and dirt flying into the air rained upon the camouflaged aeroplane and created yet new patterns.
* * *
Major Travas regained consciousness that evening.
Still strapped into his seat on the crashed aeroplane, he slowly began to move.
It was the tips of his fingers at first, then the eyelids. His glasses were gone.
Light returned to his eyes, and his mind came back to life. Major Travas slowly looked up.
He saw many things. Even without his glasses, his eyesight was good enough to see properly.
First, he glimpsed the completely shattered front windshield.
The windshield frame, twisted and bent like a piece of wire.
The yoke, stopped before him.
His own two hands, covered in mud.
The leather jacket he wore, and the seat belts crisscrossing over it.
His right leg, drenched in blood from somewhere—or someone—he could not identify.
And his left leg, twisted in a macabre direction.
He took slow breaths, one after another.
And the pain struck from his left ankle. It was as though a hot iron were being pressed against it. He also felt a dull ache in his right thigh.
Then came the dizziness, as though he were standing in the middle of an earthquake. And the unpleasant nausea squeezing at his stomach.
His senses flooded, Major Travas mumbled to himself.
“Ah…I made it.”
Major Travas continued to fight for his survival.
His left ankle had been completely snapped. It was twisted in an unnatural direction and would not move.
As for his right leg, there was a several-centimeter cut on the thigh from the broken windshield. The bleeding must have been profuse, as his entire right leg was dyed a reddish-brown.
His head hurt as well. The right side of his head had been injured at some point during impact. It seemed to have bled as well, but the bleeding had stopped and left a scab.
First, Major Travas used the limbs available to him—his arms and right leg—to slowly, very slowly, crawl out of his seat. Lurching with dizziness and bumping his left foot everywhere, he groaned in pain as he moved.
Groping through the tiny cockpit with his hands, Major Travas moved on his right leg.
The bodies of the crew were still strapped securely to their seats.
Major Travas pulled out a flight crew survival kit from Master Sergeant Lod’s thigh pouch.
Inside the waterproof pouch were painkillers, sugar-and-grain ration bars, a small multipurpose knife, a fishing line and hooks, a small compass, waterproof candles, and a mirror.
Major Travas swallowed some of the painkillers and began to eat the rations.
Before the painkillers kicked in, however, he cut open his pant leg and took a look at the wound on his thigh. And he began to sew closed the wound, which had begun bleeding again because he moved.
He used the fishing line and the hook.
With his bare fingers he pushed the tip of the hook into his skin to sew up the cut. He ignored the pain so the stitches would be done properly, making sure to close the wound and stop the bleeding.
Then, he used the multipurpose knife to take apart the pipe frame of his seat. He slowly unscrewed the bolts that had been so tightly affixed to the pipes.
He assembled the pieces into a U-shape and put the new creation on his left ankle. He secured it tightly with a piece of seat belt.
Thanks to the makeshift splint, his left ankle would no longer bump into things and cause him agony.
All he had left to deal with was the dizziness and the headache. He ignored the aching until the painkillers finally kicked in.
Major Travas investigated the aeroplane interior.
His biggest concern was the possibility of a fuel leak; but to his relief, the fuel tank was heavily reinforced and had escaped unharmed. Luckily, the fuel that had leaked out of the broken wing had already all disappeared into the river.
Major Travas opened the metal box at the back of the plane. Two wooden boxes were still inside.
Major Travas picked up one of them and gave it a light shake.
He could not tell what was inside from sound alone. He pulled off the tapes securing the lid, and slung the box out the open hatch on the right side of the fuselage. He ducked.
The box landed on the grass and rolled away. The lid opened.
There was no explosion.
Major Travas crawled outside.
And he slowly ate the lunch meant for Second Lieutenant Klee—the now-mud-covered bagel sandwich and dried apple slices. He used some of the water in the lunch to clean the wound on his thigh and drank the rest.
His stomach tried to reject the food several times. But Major Travas fought the sensation, forcing himself to finish the meal.
Afterwards, he climbed up a maintenance ladder with his arms and right leg, and went up to the top of the fuselage. He surveyed the area.
Ahead of the nose were the plains of the buffer zone and the distant horizon.
There was no manmade structure in sight. Nothing moved, not even animals.
Behind the aeroplane was the ever-majestic Lutoni River. And the setting sun, painting a long orange streak against the water’s surface.
Soon the sun would set and complete darkness would fall upon the world. And with the darkness would come the cold.
Major Travas returned to the cockpit and gathered up the leather jackets from the bodies. He brushed the dried blood off them.
He laid two of the jackets on the floor of the aeroplane, wore one, and spread the last one over his legs. He also used his trenchcoat as a makeshift blanket.
As soon as the sun set, the world went black.
Major Travas closed his eyes and ended his day.
The next day. The 28th of the fourth month.
Major Travas awoke from his sleep, which had been interrupted countless times by the cold and pain.
Day was dawning.
For breakfast, Major Travas ate the lunch meant for Master Sergeant Lod. The food would raise his falling body temperature.
The pain in his ankle and the throbbing headache continued, but Major Travas did not take any painkillers.
Instead, he thought.
He sat in the middle of the aeroplane and contemplated. He asked one question after another.
What had happened the previous day? Captain Barnett’s lunchbox had exploded. The flight crew were killed.
Why? Someone must have put a bomb in the lunchbox. One meant for humans, judging from the presence of shrapnel.
For what purpose? To cause the aeroplane to crash. If the flight crew were dead, the aeroplane would crash.
Then why did the culprit want to cause such a thing?
There was only one answer. The culprit’s mission was to assassinate Major Travas.
Major Travas recalled the conversation from the previous day and realized that Captain Barnett’s actions had saved his life.
Barnett had gotten his lunch much earlier than scheduled. The explosion happened when he opened the box, which was supposed to be opened at lunchtime.
If Barnett had followed regulations, then the aeroplane would have lost control where the culprit intended—while it was flying over the Iltoa Mountain Range.
No amount of effort on Major Travas’s part, then, would have saved him then. The aeroplane would have smashed into the rugged mountains.
“Thank you, Captain,” Major Travas said to the body lying beside the pilot’s seat.
And finally, he asked himself—
Who was the culprit?
Who was this mastermind, who could be no one but a member of the Sou Be-Il military?
“I don’t have enough information yet. But…”
Major Travas recalled the day he was first assigned to the Sou Be-Il embassy in the Capital District. His superior, a colonel almost too portly to be a soldier, had given him a word of advice.
“Remember, Major. Things beyond our wildest imagination happen all the time in this world. You need eyes that clearly see the truth—eyes that will never be obscured by distractions.”
* * *
Major Travas resumed his battle.
First, he investigated the cockpit radio.
The shrapnel from the explosion and the impact that followed had rendered it completely useless. It was not something he could fix on his own.
Then, he climbed up to the top of the fuselage again to survey the area. Other than the time of day, nothing had changed.
The tail was completely submerged and out of sight, and the rest of the aeroplane was so smothered in dirt and grass that it was completely camouflaged.
It was not likely to be discovered from overhead.
If he were to start a fire and create a smoke signal, he was more likely to be found.
But Major Travas did not do so. Even if a rescue team arrived for him, there was no guarantee that they would not assassinate him on the spot.
He went back inside and began searching the aeroplane for anything useful.
The most helpful discovery was the crew members’ survival kits.
Barnett’s kit was half-destroyed and drenched in blood, so Major Travas had to pick out the items that were not damaged.
He also found an empty bottle and another bottle with some of the contents still left. They both had corks and metal caps, and could be refilled with water.
There were no guns on the aeroplane; most likely they had been left behind as they departed Roxche.
However, he found two signal flares.
Each flare was shaped like a baton used in a relay race, a metal cylinder painted red. When the string at the end was pulled, the flare would be launched into the air before descending on a parachute.
Major Travas continued to search the plane.
He picked out a 30-centimeter piece of metal from the wreckage and securely wrapped up the edges with pieces from the seat belts.
Then he searched the bodies for personal effects.
None of the dead seemed to have been smokers, as no one had a lighter. It might have been a good decision for their health, but not one for Major Travas’s survival.
Finally, Major Travas searched his own attaché case.
Inside was the infinitely helpful ‘Fundamentals of Flight for Beginners’, and several envelopes of documents he had received when he left the embassy.
Some of the envelopes were sealed, their contents a mystery. They could contain documents or even microfilm, which could hold large quantities of information.
Microfilm was usually sealed in a sturdy metal case and tightly sealed.
Major Travas wondered if he should destroy the documents or leave them. And he came to a conclusion.
It was an ironclad rule in the military that all important documents and microfilm be destroyed in the case of a forced landing. Otherwise the information could fall into the wrong hands.
But Major Travas decided to ignore the regulations.
He put the attaché case back where it had been secured.
Now that he knew someone was trying to kill him, Major Travas had only one thing left to do.
Of the three bodies, he dragged Second Lieutenant Klee’s to the back of the aeroplane.
Rigor mortis had begun to set in, which made it difficult for Major Travas to peel off his flying suit. The arm had already stiffened completely, so he broke it to get the suit off whole.
Major Travas pulled everything—from the thermals to the underwear—off Klee’s body, and then stripped himself down. Because his left leg was fixed to the makeshift splint, he had to forcibly tear his pants.
Afterwards, Major Travas put on Second Lieutenant Klee’s flying suit.
Once he was in the blood-encrusted suit, he cut the badge of rank and name tag off the chest and shoulders with a knife. He tossed them quietly into the Lutoni.
He only put on Klee’s right boot.
This time, Major Travas put his own clothes on Second Liuetnant Klee’s body. His shirt, suit, and leather shoes.
He even switched the wristwatches they had. Both watches were still functioning perfectly, but the one from Klee’s wrist was ice-cold.
Soon, the switch was complete.
“I’m sorry, Second Lieutenant Klee. Please, curse me and despise me if you wish.”
He raised a metal pipe into the air.
“I’m so sorry.”
He brought it down on Klee’s face.
Again. And again. And again.
He smashed Second Lieutenant Klee’s face with all the force he could muster.
Several strikes later, the skin tore from his face and the flesh and fluids inside splattered all over the aeroplane. Then the eyeballs burst, the teeth began to go flying, and the jaw crumbled.
Then, Major Travas pulled the desecrated body out of the fuselage. He also dragged out the other corpses, still in their uniforms.
Then he pushed them into the Lutoni from the bank.
The bodies soon joined the currents of the great river and slowly drifted, disappearing to the north.
Major Travas watched the bodies depart.
Half-kneeling, he kept up the salute until they disappeared out of sight.
There were no tears in his eyes.
The morning sun rose.
There was a thin cloud cover to the east, but the weather was acceptably pleasant. It got warmer as the sun rose higher and higher.
Major Travas got to work again.
He sewed up one of the leather jackets with the fishing wire and attached seat belt pieces to it to create a makeshift backpack. Another jacket, he simply used as it was, and the other two he cut into pieces to make into padding.
Major Travas loaded his backpack.
He packed it with the survival kits and two bottles filled with water from the river. Though heavy, he also stuffed in ‘Fundamentals of Flight for Beginners’. Then he rolled up his trenchcoat and tied it to the backpack.
With the backpack on his back, he checked the compass and the hour hand on his watch against the sun to direct himself eastward.
There was nothing to use as a crutch on the aeroplane. Nothing from the wreck was long or large enough to act as one, and the tools he had on hand could not help him fashion one. There were no trees around, either.
He only had one way of moving.
Major Travas wrapped the leather padding around his hands and knees.
And he began to crawl.
He moved on his hands and knees, protecting his left ankle.
He had 30 kilometers to his destination.
He had to cross the deserted buffer zone.
* * *
“The average adult walks at 4 kilometers an hour. I wonder what the average adult’s crawling speed is?” Major Travas asked himself, pulling himself across the dirt plains. “A quarter that pace? Then would it take me a day and a half? No, I suppose going without sleep is out of the question. So two or three days…or even longer…”
He traveled across the soft ground on his hands and knees. The ground was just moist enough to be comfortable. Grass had started growing with the coming of spring, but it was not high enough yet to encumber him.
“Perfect for crawling.”
Major Travas crawled.
He simply crawled across the soft ground, not thinking of anything.
Behind him he left not footprints, but a long streak.
The weather was on his side. The sun warmed up the air, but it was not hot enough to cover him with sweat. It was perfect spring weather.
Major Travas took off his jacket and tied it to his backpack before continuing.
He took regular breaks and rehydrated himself. He broke up the rations and threw them into his mouth, and took more painkillers whenever the effects wore off.
He checked his right thigh, which hurt but had not worsened. The left ankle, on the other hand, had become swollen and started to ache, but Major Travss decided not to think about it for the time being.
During his breaks, he dug into the ground.
White insects were swarming inside, mostly moth larvae. Some, however, were beetles.
Major Travas put the larvae into the pocket of his backpack.
To make sure he was going east, Major Travas checked his heading with the compass before deciding on a visual target to reach.
But even that was a challenge when the only things around him were dirt and the horizon.
Major Travas chose whatever marker he could and crawled towards it. Every few dozen meters he would look back and try to overlap his heading on the compass with the line he had left behind him.
If the line was headed due west, he was heading due east.
Klee’s wristwatch was for pilot use and had a stopwatch. Though he could only do rough calculations, Major Travas ran the numbers in his head. The distance he had covered, the time that had passed, and the time he had spent resting.
And he realized that within the span of one hour, he had covered less than one kilometer.
He was crawling endlessly at a snail’s pace.
“This is nothing.”
He simply crawled on and on.
“This is nothing compared to how the dead have suffered.”
He crawled forward.
“Compared to how the people I killed suffered—their families—”
“This pain is nothing.”
And night fell once again.
The clear sunset meant that the weather would not worsen the next day.
Major Travas stopped.
He was in an area relatively overgrown with grass. If he lay flat against the ground, he would not be easy to spot. He still saw no manmade structures around.
He had half-expected the remnants of settlements from before the creation of the buffer zone, or at least a paved road used for military purposes, but they were nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly, he spotted seven aeroplanes flying overhead. All were passenger planes, and naturally all of them passed without spotting him.
“I must have covered about 10 kilometers today.”
Having chosen this spot to spend the night, Major Travas lay his tired body on the trenchcoat he spread on the ground.
He drank the last of that day’s portion of water. Now he was left only with the muddy water from the Lutoni, but he did not let that worry him as he slowly downed the water.
Major Travas then used the metal plate he had brought, and used it as a spade to dig a small pit.
“And I managed to finish correcting everything, too.”
He tore off the pages of ‘Fundamentals of Flight for Beginners’, rolled them up tightly, and arranged the bundles of paper in the pit.
Then he used the waterproof matches to carefully light the pages.
He placed the metal plate atop the burning pit.
Afterwards, Major Travas placed the larvae he had collected earlier on the sizzling-hot plate. The larvae squirmed in agony.
He shook the plate slightly to stir-fry the larvae.
“All right…let’s eat.”
He ate the cooked larvae.
Larvae were an excellent source of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. And if eaten whole, they also provided minerals and vitamins. They were the perfect source of nutrition for Major Travas in his injured and weakened state.
But as for the flavor—
“Hey, this isn’t bad.”
A smile rose to his tired, dirt-covered face.
The next day. It was the second day since the crash. The calendar on Major Travas’s watch indicated that it was the 29th.
His body had clamored for sleep in its exhaustion, but the pain and the fever woke him again and again, and his mind was plagued by nightmares. He dreamt of killing. Of being killed.
His broken ankle throbbed with heat, making him dizzy. He never had the chance to let his body truly rest, and fatigue simply piled up more and more.
The rations he had been saving ran out that day.
He even finished his water. Now he would have to get all moisture from the larvae he found. And the larvae were getting scarcer.
At times, he even lost consciousness while resting and simply lay on the ground for an hour at a time.
“I dropped…my frying pan…and it crashed loudly…to the floor…”
He muttered meaninglessly to himself to keep his brain working.
Now when he came across any larvae, he simply stuffed them into his mouth raw. If he did not do so, his body would stop moving.
His skin lost its elasticity, and everything that came into contact with the ground was raw and bleeding.
His face—already slim to begin with—grew even more hollow.
But he crawled, and crawled, and crawled.
And Major Travas lost consciousness in the undergrowth before it was evening.
When the harsh cold forced him awake, the world was tinted a pale blue. It was night. The full moon shone brilliantly from the sky, casting its light over the grass.
Major Travas started a fire and ate more larvae. But so strong was the chill that he could not stop shivering.
He threw dirt on the fire to put it out and began to move again. Again, he put his elbows and knees on the ground and moved forward.
This time, he left his trenchcoat, metal plate, and leather jacket behind, but he did not even have the faculties to notice.
He did not even check his heading. Major Travas simply followed his own moon-cast shadow eastward.
How many hours had he been moving? How many times had he lost consciousness?
Even after losing the ability to even ask such questions, the man was still crawling.
But suddenly, he could not.
No matter how much he reached forward, no matter how much he pushed against the ground, his body refused to move, as if blocked by an invisible wall.
Not knowing what was holding him back, the man floundered for a short time as though drowning—
—before he finally stopped moving.