Chapter 14: A Nostalgic Face - Continued
The next day.
The 1st day of the fifth month. Early morning.
You open your eyes at the same time as usual.
The previous night, you went back to your room after greeting the traveler.
Your parents took turns looking after the injured man, leaving you with nothing to do. You lay in your bed, upset at your powerlessness, but soon closed your eyes and fell asleep.
You open the curtains. It is morning, but the sun has not yet risen.
The pounding rain has stopped, leaving a layer of morning mist behind. The familiar horizon has been replaced by a world of white.
You change into warm clothes and go out into the living room.
Morning routines start early on the farm. Your mother is preparing breakfast. You greet her and have a glass of water, and then ask how the injured man is doing.
Your mother replies that the man is still asleep, but seems to look more comfortable than before.
Then you ask where your father is. Your mother tells you that he is speaking with the traveler outside. You step out the door.
When you go to the shed, Todd notices you and gallops to your side. His tail is beating the air.
“Sleep well, Todd? Look at you, always full of energy!” You ruffle his fur.
Your father is talking to the traveler outside the shed. Conversation is important, especially when you want to figure someone out. It is a motto your father abides by.
You approach them with a greeting. Your father greets you back. So does the traveler.
“Hey there! Thanks for everything,” he says, a grin rising to his bearded face.
You could not see in the dark last night, but the traveler has dark brown hair slicked back haphazardly. As befitting a motorcyclist, he is wearing black leather pants and a navy sweater.
Todd is not wary in the least; the man must have tamed him completely in the morning. You shake your head.
The man’s motorcycle is parked outside the shed. He must have left it out in the rain on purpose, as the mud has been washed off.
You are no expert on motorcycles, but this one is large with a big engine, and clearly looks expensive. You wonder if the man is actually very rich.
“My name’s, er… My name’s Silas. It’s my real name, I promise. I travel around a lot, but I was born and raised right here in Raputoa. It’s been a while, but there really is no place like home,” says the man. You reason from his words that he must have used pseudonyms in the past.
What kind of man his age would travel the world without a full-time job? Your curiosity is aroused. In fact, you are getting suspicious. You have never met someone so questionable.
But because your father seems to have warmed up to him, you decide to say nothing for the time being.
Your father asks Silas to join the family for breakfast.
“Wow! You’re a lifesaver, sir. I haven’t had anything since lunchtime yesterday!” he cries with a childlike smile. “But I have to earn my food!” he adds, and offers to help out with odd jobs.
So he ends up helping your father with his morning routine, inspecting the fields and maintaining farm machinery.
You head to the barn for your own routine—cleaning and taking care of Uranos. You clear out the muck, brush Uranos, and give him food and water.
The fog finally clears and the sun begins to light the sky when breakfast begins.
The menu is mashed potatoes with diced carrots, onions, and other vegetables, and crispy-hot bacon.
It is a simple and common meal ideal for consuming carbohydrates, fat, protein, and sodium at once. But Silas’s response is comically dramatic.
“Now this is what I’m talking about! A true blue Raputoan breakfast! Complete with a mother’s touch!”
He is almost in tears as he wolfs down his food.
Other than the bacon, everything was raised on your farm—which means it is obviously good food. But you wonder if it really is good enough to merit such a reaction.
Your mother is all smiles. She gives Silas another heaping helping of mashed potatoes.
After breakfast, you all have tea with generous spoonfuls of honey.
Your mother returns to the living room. “He’s still asleep,” she says.
“Do you have a patient here?” Silas asks your father, lowering his tone.
He is much sharper than you initially gave him credit for.
On a farm, the only people who are still asleep at this hour are the sick. Anyone in good health is practically beaten awake if necessary.
“Well, yes. Not family, though,” your father replies. Silas stares curiously.
“Then I suppose the car I saw coming from the farm yesterday must have been the doctor,” he muses. He is correct once again.
“He’s not someone we know, actually,” your father says. “We happened to find this mystery man injured nearby and ended up taking him in for the night—”
You know what your father is going to say next.
“But we have no idea who he is. We’ll call the police after breakfast and ask for protection.”
You were expecting that much. You kept telling yourself last night that this was inevitable.
But you put down your teacup in agitation.
You are too busy looking at the ripples in your tea to notice Silas’s gaze on you.
“Looks like you’re in a bit of a tight spot here. You can’t not report this man, but you probably don’t want the police to question you about all the little details.”
Your father agrees. You can feel your stomach growing heavy, even though you have not eaten enough to feel bloated. That is when Silas makes an unexpected suggestion.
“Then what do you say to claiming that I’m the one who found him?”
“What?” “What?” “What?”
Three sets of eyes turn to dinner plates.
Silas continues without hesitation.
“Think of it as a show of gratitude for letting me stay the night and even feeding me today. My motto of the month is ‘show kindness to others’!”
You wonder what this man is going on about. Does he mean he has a different motto every month? You become visibly confused.
Silas continues theatrically.
“I found the man nearby yesterday. I even gave him first aid. I was going to camp out and call the police after the rain let up, but then I spotted this farm and borrowed the telephone to contact the cops! Problem solved. Let the doc know what I’m doing here so we don’t get our wires crossed.”
You stare at Silas’s nonchalance.
“What do you say?”
After a great deal of thought, your father comes to a conclusion.
“Frankly, we welcome your proposal.”
You cannot argue Silas’s logic.
Now your father will not be questioned by the police. He will not be forced to go against his nature and lie about where he found the man.
“Then we’ll go with that!”
Silas is so nonchalant that you almost wonder if this is some sort of trap. Perhaps he is some sort of assassin targeting the mystery man.
But if that is the case, Silas should have been keeping an eye on the man since yesterday. But he even took the time to get to know your father. It is too much effort to go through if he simply intends to kill the man.
You go through the possibilities in your head before concluding that the possibility of an assassination is improbably low.
After tea, your family takes Silas upstairs to the man.
You follow your mother and look at the man lying in the bed.
He is still asleep.
The man is in your father’s pajamas. The doctor has attached a splint to his leg. A blanket has been spread over him and a towel is on his legs to keep them warm.
He looks much better than yesterday. He was a ghoul when you found him, but now he is more human.
“So let’s have a look at this mystery man,” Silas says, coming up behind your father.
He looks at the sleeping man.
It almost seems as though time has stopped around Silas. Your father and mother probably think the same.
Silas is a statue as he looks down upon the mystery man.
Twenty seconds pass.
Forty seconds pass.
A minute passes.
“Er…” your father begins cautiously.
“Might I ask who it was that found this man?” Silas asks, his gaze still fixed on the man. He suddenly sounds like a completely different person—almost like an aristocrat.
“Me,” you confess. Claiming that your father found the man is a lie for the police; that you are the discoverer is not something you need to hide from Silas.
Silas has always made full eye contact in conversation so far, but this time he speaks with his eyes still locked on the man.
“Is he by any chance a Westerner? Did he not speak in Bezelese when you discovered him?”
“How did you know?!” you cry, forgetting for a moment that you might disturb the patient.
How does Silas know? The injured man has not said a word; he is not in his flying suit; and it is impossible to tell apart a Westerner from an Easterner from appearance.
Your suspicions about Silas surge again. But—
“I knew it! Lemme borrow your telephone again!” he says, beaming, returning to his usual self.
Silas turns on his heels and returns to the living room.
You quickly follow after him. Your father tells your mother to remain with the patient and follows after you.
Silas is holding the receiver in the living room.
It cost your family a fortune to finally purchase a telephone last year. But because calling is so expensive, you almost never use it. When you do pick up the receiver, it is usually to deliver the briefest of messages before hanging up as quickly as possible. Your family is almost like the military in that regard.
So how is Silas planning to cover the telephone bill?
Even as the mysteries behind the injured man and Silas himself mystify you, your chief concern right now is the cost of the call.
“Make it a collect call. Tell her it’s Silas. I want to contact—”
At least now you don’t have to worry about the telephone bill.
The number Silas recites is not the police.
Though the number is unfamiliar, you can tell that the recipient is in Raputoa. If she is somewhere else, Silas would have to ask for the member state specifically by name.
Thirty seconds later.
“Hey there! How’s it going?” Silas says into the speaker, with the casual attitude of an old friend. They seem to be so close that he does not even need to introduce himself. But you have no idea who he is speaking with.
“Aw, don’t be like that! Anyway, I need you to listen carefully and do exactly what I tell you to do, all right? I need you to take all this down!”
Neither you nor your father can hear what the woman on the line is saying. All you can do is infer from Silas’s orders.
“I’m in this village called Stern in Reed County. 25 Eighth Street, Stern East. I’m borrowing their telephone right now.”
That is your address. Silas must have heard it from your father, or he might have seen the address on your mailbox outside.
“Yeah, right here. Come as quickly as you can with something that can comfortably carry a patient. We’re going to Raputoa General, so make sure to book a VIP ward too. Huh? You wanna know why? I’ll explain later. And if you don’t like my explanation, I swear to the gods you can kill me then. Got all that?”
For some reason, Silas has just put his life on the line.
“All right! I’m counting on you!”
In any case, the mystery man can now go to the hospital—and not just any hospital, but the best one in the country. You breathe a sigh of relief.
As Silas continues, you find yourself feeling even more at ease.
“Don’t let the hospital contact the police under any circumstances. Make it worth their while, you know.”
You look at your father, standing next to you.
You do not know how much joy is written on your face. But your father glances down at you and smiles.
Silas’s call continues.
“How long’ll it take you? Four, five hours at top speed?”
Stern is far from Raputoa City. When you went to the city by the Ministry of Education’s car last year, it took you eight hours including breaks.
But that car was not in anything resembling good condition. From the contents of Silas’s conversation, however, you infer that he is a very rich man. He could send for a faster car.
The woman on the line responds.
“Aha! Brilliant! I’m counting on you, then!” Silas replies with a bark of laughter. You smile.
Even taking preparation time into account, a car will be here for the injured man in the next six hours.
Two and a half hours later.
You realize that you have been too naive.
You have underestimated Silas.
* * *
Two and a half hours after the telephone call.
You stand outside the door looking up at the wondrous sight.
It is 13 meters long and two meters wide, with a height of four meters.
Shining a metallic silver, it is adorned with two thin red strips.
Written in large font along the lines are the words ‘Air Raputoa’. The country’s only carrier.
You and your mother and father gaze up, transfixed.
It roars across the sky with the large propellers on the top spinning like a disc.
The gust from the propellers sweeps across the ground and your hair, and sends the windows rattling in their frames.
“What do you think? This is a helicopter! Ever seen one fly in person?” Silas asks, shouting loudly enough to rival the noise.
“Of course not!” you shout back.
The monster machine with the propellers atop its back passes your house once before slowly circling back in a descent.
You have heard of this vehicle before. A new type of aeroplane that can take off and land vertically. A machine called a ‘helicopter’.
It takes off into the air by using the wind generated by the propellers or something, from what you remember.
But this is the first time you or your parents have seen one flying in person.
And of all places, it is headed for your home. Your family can do little but gape at the front door.
The helicopter almost clips your roof and scares the wits out of Uranos and Todd before landing on its four tires in the empty field.
You are finally capable of thinking properly again.
The nose of the helicopter is short and rounded. Thin wisps of smoke rise from the sides—perhaps because the engine is inside.
Through the windshield in the front, you can see two people sitting side-by-side. That must be the cockpit.
Atop the fuselage are the propellers, which were moving too fast to see before but are now slowing down. They are longer than the fuselage, sticking out in front of and behind the rest of the craft.
The front of the fuselage is round, but it tapers off towards the back, which gives it a fishlike shape. Though it is not the right color, it almost looks like a monster catfish.
The engine stops and silence once again returns to the world.
The large door on the side slides open.
Two men emerge with stretchers in hand. They run across the field and draw near.
The men, both in olive green coveralls, go to Silas.
“Sir, we’re here on the president’s orders,” says one of the men.
“That was quick! Good work, guys,” Silas replies with a nod.
You and your parents have no idea who this ‘president’ is.
While you were waiting for the helicopter, Silas did not explain anything.
“Don’t worry about it. Just leave it all to me and I’ll tell you everything when the time comes!” he said, lounging around in the living room, playing with Todd (who rolled over everywhere, clearly having fun with him), and even helping your father with the day’s farm work.
“All right! Let’s get him up there while he’s still asleep!”
Silas is having a blast. Your father, eyes still wide, takes him and the men in coveralls inside.
You wait with Todd, who sits blankly at your feet.
The stretcher soon comes out the door, naturally with the mystery man on it. He is still asleep.
There is a blanket over him. Your father brings the man’s flying suit over in a laundry bag—you cannot leave it at home, since it is evidence.
“Thank goodness,” you sigh, looking at the man’s sleeping face.
The men in coveralls carefully climb onto the helicopter with the stretcher. The moment the mystery man leaves your sight, you give a slight wave.
Silas comes out of the shed with his backpack, jacket, coat, and the rest of his things. He approaches you, brimming with enthusiasm.
“I promise I’ll come back to explain once it’s all over! Thanks so much, I mean it!”
The helicopter roars back to life.
“No problem! Please, take good care of him! I’m the one who should be thanking you!” you reply as loudly as you can. Silas grins and puts a hand on your head.
“Sir, please hold on to my motorcycle!” he says to your father. “If I’m not back in a year, it’s yours to keep!”
“We’ll be keeping it in the shed!” your father replies. “But please do come back! I wouldn’t know what to do with a big thing like that!”
“Hah hah! Then I’ll make sure to do that! So long!”
Silas takes his things and runs to the helicopter.
All you can do now is wait.
Silas loads his things on the helicopter first before climbing aboard.
The door slides shut.
The gasoline-powered engine begins to rumble. The propellers spin even faster, fading into the shape of a disc.
And at that moment, it takes to the skies.
The helicopter rises about three meters into the air, glides slightly back, and slowly pushes forward. It flies from the left side of your vision to the right, ascending and causing a furious gale all around.
With your excellent eyesight, you make out Silas waving at you through the window.
You wave back as hard as you can.
The monster catfish grows small in the distance.
And it turns into a dot.
You keep waving and waving.
The dot disappears.
When will you see Silas again and get the answers to your many questions?
You do not know, but you resolve to have faith and wait.
When you peer into the shed, you spot a large motorcycle. So long as it remains there, you will know that the commotion over the past two days was not a dream.
Your parents head in, leaving you outside with Todd.
Todd barks briefly. You look down at him.
“Good boy! I’m so proud of you, Todd!”
And you give him all the pets he could ever want.
The next day is the first day back after the long weekend.
“Guess what? I saw a helicopter the other day! It was flying really low, and the guy inside waved at me! I bet he didn’t do that for anyone else at this school! I think it was headed sort of towards your house. Did you see it?”
You have a hard time responding to your friend. You are forced to go against your nature and lie.
“Er…no, I didn’t.”
* * *
Raputoa City. The capital of the Republic of Raputoa.
A construction boom was sweeping through the city. And chief among the towering new buildings standing in its streets was Raputoa General Hospital.
The cubical 10-story building was built three years earlier. Floors 1 through 3 were dedicated to operating rooms and offices, with everything above being inpatient wards.
The top floor of the building was a VIP ward.
As the name suggested, only VIPs and authorized personnel could set foot on the floor. The floor had fewer beds than the rest and even had extra rooms for security detail and sitting rooms for conferences.
The floor had thus far been used by the president of Raputoa, the presidents and chairmen of large companies, and movie stars, to name a few.
The hospital naturally guaranteed confidentiality for the patients on that floor. No one would ever leak information from the VIP ward to the public.
The first thing Major Travas saw when he opened his eyes was the ceiling of his room.
The last thing he remembered was crawling east across the dirt.
He remembered the taste of the raw larvae he had eaten. They were bitter but soft as cream, and were practically a feast for him in his starved state.
He desperately tried to remember what happened afterwards.
But for all he knew, he had been teleported to another time and place.
He felt as though he had fallen asleep in the dirt and woken up a few minutes later. But now he was lying on a bed, wrapped up in clean sheets and a warm blanket.
It happened to be around noon when he opened his eyes. Major Travas slowly sat up.
And he scanned the deserted room.
The spring sunlight filtered in through the thin lace curtains. The window was too far from the bed to see anything but the sky outside. So Major Travas had no way of knowing where he was.
He saw white walls, an imposing table, a vase of flowers, and his lower body in a luxurious bed.
Something was being fed into his body through an intravenous drip. With his free right hand, Major Travas slowly peeled back the unbelievably soft blanket from his lap.
His right leg was outstretched.
And so was his left leg. It was fixed with a cast and elevated slightly.
In other words, he had been treated to perfection.
Major Travas pulled off the blanket completely to check his appearance.
His hospital pajamas were a perfect fit, and comfortable at that. He felt bandages wrapped around his right thigh.
He looked around.
Something lay on the shelf by the bed.
Major Travas reached over and took it in his hand.
A memento of Second Lieutenant Klee. A pilot’s wristwatch.
Someone must have wound it, as the second hand was ticking.
The number ‘2’ was displayed on the face, indicating that it was the 2nd day of the fifth month. If the watch was correct, it had been five days since the crash.
In other words, Major Travas was missing two days’ worth of memories.
He wrapped the watch tightly around his wrist.
Then he looked around at the things within his reach. Was there crutches around, or anything that could be used as crutches?
Noting that there was nothing he could use, Major Travas grabbed the string hanging from the wall.
Only 10 seconds later, the door by the bed opened and a nurse entered the room.
That proved that she had been on standby somewhere close, or perhaps even in the next room. He would not have gotten far in an escape attempt.
The nurse was young and had the looks of a model. She gave him a practiced, refreshing smile.
“Thank goodness you’re awake. Is everything all right? I’ll bring the doctor shortly, so please hold this under your left arm for now,” she said in Roxchean, holding out a thermometer. Major Travas took it.
“What happened?” he muttered.
“I’m afraid I have no idea,” the nurse replied.
Major Travas did as he was told and put the thermometer under his left armpit.
In less than a minute, a man in his fifties wearing a white coat—clearly a doctor—arrived with three nurses in tow.
The doctor was short, bald, and rotund.
The ID card on his coat identified him as ‘Marx’ and the location as Raputoa General Hospital. All in Roxchean.
Major Travas finally knew where he was.
“Good afternoon. How are you feeling today? Any nausea or dizziness?” Doctor Marx asked, taking a seat next to the bed. Major Travas replied that he was all right.
Marx gave him a check-up, checking his heartbeat and his wounds. Major Travas said nothing unless he was specifically asked.
“You seem to be doing all right.”
After finally checking Major Travas’s temperature, Doctor Marx turned to the nurse—who was recording the results of the check-up—and gave her instructions. Then he looked back.
“Well, I’m sure you have a lot of questions. Where should I begin?” he said with a shrug.
“I’m feeling thirsty. May I have some water?” Major Travas asked.
“Of course. Your digestive system is doing just fine.”
The nurse brought in water; Major Travas slowly gulped it down. Then he spoke.
“What in the world happened?”
“I’m not completely certain, myself,” Marx replied. “But I will try to answer your questions to the best of my ability. But before that,” he paused with another shrug. “I have strict orders to refrain from asking you questions you do not wish to answer.”
“I’m not sure. I hope you don’t expect me to give you answers I don’t have. If I had to say, I suppose the orders come from the person who brought you here.”
“Then please tell me the circumstances behind my arrival. In as much detail as you can.”
“This is unusual. I was sure you’d ask me about your injuries first. In any case, you were brought in here yesterday afternoon.”
“I’m not sure. You were brought in on an ambulance, but the paramedics tell me they had been called to a village, where you were entrusted to them by a strange man. And earlier—that morning, I believe—we were ordered to hospitalize and treat you. This sponsor of yours is covering all the costs you incur—and forgive me for saying this, but these costs will not be cheap, considering that you do not have insurance.”
“Tell me what you know about my sponsor.”
“Almost nothing, but according to the person who took the call, he was a man with an energetic voice.”
Major Travas was silent.
“I also have a message for you from your sponsor. Shall I convey it to you?”
Doctor Marx pulled a scrap of paper from his breast pocket.
“He says, ‘don’t worry, no one knows that you’re here. I’ll come see you soon. For now, focus on recovering and getting back on your feet. We’ll talk more later!’.”
Major Travas said nothing.
“It does seem a little suspicious, but the hospital couldn’t very well abandon a patient, and we have been paid,” Marx confessed.
“Then I will be in your care for the time being, doctor,” Major Travas said with a nod of the head.
Only then did Marx get to explain the wounds he sustained.
The most serious injury was to his left ankle, which had been fully broken. It would take three months to heal. The operation was a success, but Major Travas would need rehabilitation therapy.
The cut on his right thigh was not serious. It had been re-sutured, but he would be wise not to walk for some time—he would have to use a wheelchair when going to the bathroom.
The X-rays showed a small fracture to his skull, but it would likely heal on its own. But Major Travas would have to make sure he did not hit his head again.
His body was exhausted from the extreme malnutrition, but it was beginning to recover. His diet would be unrestricted starting the next day.
“That is all. Do you have any questions?”
Major Travas shook his head.
“Then it’s my turn to ask: what shall we call you? Our charts simply have you as ‘John Doe’ for the moment.”