Chapter 19: A Midday Night’s Duel
The act of firing in bursts of about three to five rounds at a time—a function equipped on guns capable of automatic fire.
A function used to prevent the gun from running amok in the sustained recoil of automatic mode, or used to create a barrage.
A series of bullets fired on burst mode greeted Major Travas.
Cornelius had not broken his crawling advance, and was about 50 meters from the wreckage when he spotted the approaching life raft and stopped.
Soon, a man disembarked from the raft and crawled into the fuselage.
Slowly, moving at several millimeters a second, Cornelius raised his submachine gun. He took aim, pointing the curved magazine to the left.
Pointing his gun at the right-side hatch of the wreck from amidst the grass and mud, Cornelius waited.
And he pulled the trigger at the man who emerged.
Three 9mm handgun rounds were fired at Major Travas from 50 meters away.
The first round missed the side of his left leg by five centimeters, striking the river with a splash.
The second round flew at the left side of his chest and hit the attaché case he clung to. It shot through the leather and was stopped by the stack of documents inside.
The third round grazed his right cheek and shot straight through his ear, leaving a round hole in flesh and cartilage.
His ear burning, his chest reeling from pain, Major Travas collapsed on the spot. He landed partway in the water.
Once Major Travas had fallen, Cornelius did not bother to stay hidden.
He rose and took aim with his submachine gun, sprinting at his target. His gun remained trained on his prey constantly, as though his upper body were completely separate from his legs. He knew he had to finish off the target before the target could stand.
Once he had closed about 10 meters, he was able to see the bottom of the fuselage.
And the man lying under it.
The man taking aim at him.
Cornelius dove immediately to the ground, holding up his submachine gun so it would not hit the mud.
He landed on his face, chest, and stomach in the dive, but had no time to worry about such things.
Then came a series of noises much louder and heavier than those from his submachine gun. The bullets flew faster than the speed of sound, zooming through the air above Cornelius’s head.
Major Travas did two things as he fell to the ground.
The first was to let go of the attaché case.
Then he whipped back his right arm and unslung his assault rifle from his shoulder. The moment the right half of his body landed in the Lutoni, the assault rifle was right in front of him.
He grabbed the gun with his left hand and quickly toggled it to semi-automatic mode, and took hold of the grip.
Without a second’s hesitation—without even worrying about being shot again—he sat up.
And he spotted the man in camouflage gear rushing across the plains in his direction.
He did not have the time to unfold the stock. With only his hands, he took aim and pulled the trigger to release five rounds.
The attacker fell forward. But Major Travas knew instantly that his shots had not hit their mark.
So he immediately got to work on his next course of action.
When five rounds passed over his head, Cornelius rolled over to his left. Two rolls put him one meter to the side, from where he held up his submachine gun.
He could not see his target, but took aim at a likely point and held down the trigger. About six rounds were fired, their casings flying through the air.
Cornelius was not so naive as to assume that this attack would kill his opponent. It was simply a measure to pressure the target and restrict his movements.
Bullets made most people feel instinctive fear. That fear led to less than half a second of paralysis, which made them vulnerable to attack from people who were not affected by such emotions.
Cornelius knew well from his training that fear and hesitation were completely unnecessary in a shootout.
All he had to remember was to shoot his opponent before his opponent could shoot him.
Cornelius rose with the submachine gun in his hands.
His eyes met those of his target.
The target was clutching an assault rifle with a folding stock and standing there without fear that his body would make the perfect target.
The muzzle of the assault rifle flashed, and shell casings flew into the air.
Cornelius ducked without getting a single shot in. His opponent was firing in semi-automatic mode, shooting two rounds every second. More bullets whipped over Cornelius’s head.
Some of the shots flew low and drove themselves into the dirt, scattering blades of grass in the air.
If Cornelius were to push himself up by even a hair, he might put himself in the way of fire. He remained on the ground almost as though trying to fuse with the dirt.
“Gods damn it!” he swore.
The opponent was neither down nor hiding.
In a shootout, it was generally safest to shoot from behind cover. This was common knowledge. But there was one exception.
When one had the absolute advantage.
In such cases, it was more advantageous to risk making a bigger target of oneself and increase one’s scope of fire. By creating a barrage, one could restrict the enemy’s movements and prevent him from getting the chance to shoot back.
It was a good strategy in theory, but few were capable of pulling it off. It was human instinct to take cover when faced with fear.
And yet this man was applying that strategy, believing that it was his best option in this situation.
Cornelius’s ears began to ache from the shockwaves from the bullets flying overhead.
“Not bad! I’m actually going to have to put in some effort!” he roared, encouraging himself.
Over 20 bullets had already passed over him.
He had glimpsed the man’s gun earlier; the magazine was long, but it probably could not hold more than 30 rounds.
That meant that he was close to running out.
Changing magazines would take no less than two seconds.
If more than two people were working together, one could cover for the other. In such cases, the one changing magazines would shout, ‘Loading!’ to his allies.
But this was a one-on-one duel. Only one man came on the raft. And Cornelius was alone as well.
Cornelius buried his face in the dirt and waited for his moment.
About eight seconds after the barrage began, the time came.
The rhythmical sound of gunfire was interrupted.
Cornelius stood, spitting dirt from his mouth. And—
Major Travas stood on his right leg, continuing to fire at the area his attacker had disappeared into.
As he continued, Major Travas’s left hand let go of the gun and left his right hand to shoot alone.
Then with his free left hand, he reached into the bag hanging from his left shoulder. Inside were the spare magazines, each fully loaded.
He grabbed one of them and checked its direction before putting his left hand on the gun again. He continued to fire with the spare magazine in his grip.
Major Travas was not counting his bullets, but he knew that he was about to run out.
And that his attacker was just waiting for that moment.
The assault rifle clicked.
It was out of bullets.
Major Travas took his right hand off the grip.
He grabbed the lever on the right side of the gun and pulled it, tightening his hold. With his shoulder alone he supported the stock and the rest of the gun, taking his left hand off of it.
Then he flipped the spare magazine on its side, held it under the gun, and swung forward.
The spare magazine pressed down on the magazine catch, which spat out the empty one. The empty magazine was flung forward.
Major Travas loaded the spare magazine and took his right hand off it. The bolt immediately came springing back into place, chambering the next round.
He was now ready to open fire again.
All of this had taken less than a second.
“Major Travas! I just figured out the fastest way to reload one of these guns. Check it out!”
Major Travas remembered how the grinning man once codenamed ‘Yzma’ had showed him the trick, and pulled the trigger.
When Cornelius leapt up, the 1-second action moved him to shock, awe, and profanity.
In the blink of an eye his mind made the decision between fight and flight, pushing his body back against the ground.
Two shots went flying over his head.
Then came silence.
* * *
Ten seconds earlier.
<Someone’s on the ground! Allison, do you see him?> Benedict called on the radio, noticing the faint sound of gunfire. He had shut off his engine and was enjoying a relaxing drift down the Lutoni, making sure that the plane did not hit any obstacles.
Benedict turned to the wreck. Allison’s plane was circling the air above it.
<I can’t see anything from here. He might be in camouflage.>
<Right! I’ll fly on up and see if I can spot anything.>
Benedict pressed the ignition switch.
Major Travas was panting, standing with his assault rifle at the ready.
He was placing most of his weight on his right leg, but his left leg throbbed and sent waves of agony throughout the rest of his body.
Blood dribbled from his right ear and soaked his collar.
But he could not move.
All he could think about was pulling the trigger the moment his foe raised his head.
Cornelius was on the ground.
“Should have brought a grenade…”
He was just as rooted to his position as Travas was.
They were only 20 meters apart, but there was nothing to provide cover between them. The second he raised his head, he would lose it.
A submachine gun and its handgun rounds stood no chance against an assault rifle. The assault rifle’s rounds were about four times stronger.
Cornelius knew that even if they were to fire simultaneously and hit the same parts of one another, he would fall first.
The roar of two planes filled the air overhead. The two fighters were at a deadlock.
Dozens of seconds passed. And out of nowhere, Night came.
Major Travas and Cornelius realized instantly that the world around them was growing dark.
The massive moon circled the planet once every eight days. Its speed and size caused frequent eclipses, most of them total. It was such a mundane occurrence that people did not pay it much mind. They simply treated it as a minor inconvenience to wait out for a few minutes.
But things were different for the two men engaged in a shootout.
<Damn it! It’s Night!> Allison groaned.
She was circling the wreck from a set altitude to find the man fighting Major Travas. But the world slowly began falling into darkness.
Benedict, who had taken off northward on the Lutoni, also noticed the eclipse.
The darkness would make low-altitude flight difficult. He forced himself to climb.
When the moon overcame the sun, the world cooled instantly.
“This is my chance,” Cornelius chuckled, and pulled the belt-string off his uniform.
Then he tied the string to the trigger of his submachine gun.
The sky grew even darker; 70 percent of the sun was hidden.
Cornelius jammed the stock of his gun into the mud. The gun remained where he stuck it, pointing at the air at a slight angle.
Eighty percent of the sun was hidden now. A pair of first-magnitude stars twinkled in the sky.
It was so dim that he could barely see his target.
That was when Cornelius pulled on the string.
The submachine gun began spewing bullets at the darkened sky.
Major Travas took aim at the flashes and pulled the trigger.
His rounds hit their mark, sending the submachine gun flying.
He broke into a sprint as he pulled a handgun from his holster. By the time his enemy had shot at the submachine gun, Cornelius was already taking aim at him.
He opened fire, both hands on his gun.
The shot did not hit Major Travas. But it struck the left side of his assault rifle and forced it out of his hands.
The moment the assault rifle fell into the Lutoni, the moon eclipsed the sun entirely.
It was a Midday Night.
In the world lit only by the stars, Cornelius ran forward as he fired away.
The bullets grazed past Major Travas, who was now unarmed. Some of the rounds made sparks as they hit the wreckage.
Cornelius stopped in the darkness.
He was only about 10 meters from he foe. If he were to speak, his enemy would be able to hear him.
Remaining where he was, Cornelius continued pulling the trigger.
He kept shooting on and on until his 15-round magazine was empty. He felt the slide come to a full stop, and quickly released the magazine.
With his left hand, Cornelius swiftly took out a spare and shoved it into the gun. He did not need his eyes to do a job he was so accustomed to.
Once he pulled on the slide, it returned to its original position.
And he was ready to pull the trigger again—
A powerful flash assaulted his eyes.
Cornelius had no idea what was happening.
The world before him turned red and blindingly bright. It was almost as if the sun itself was rushing at him from where his enemy stood. At the same time, something zoomed past the right side of his face.
His eyes, used to the darkness, were completely blinded.
Major Travas had fired one of his signal flares at Cornelius’s face. He had closed his right eye just before releasing the flare.
His left eye took the full brunt of the blinding light, but his right eye retained its vision.
The flare continued to shine from behind Cornelius, casting his silhouette in shadow for all to see.
Major Travas pressed the call button by his neck.
<Allison! Shoot at the man standing seven meters in front of the wreck!>
A second later, he threw the second flare into the sky.
This flare did what it was originally made to do, bringing light to the Midday Night.
Cornelius’s eyes managed to make out one thing in the blinding world.
An aeroplane charging at him from near-ground altitude.
“Hah! Now this is more like it!”
He pointed his handgun at the craft.
Major Travas dove into the wreck as Allison’s plane zoomed past in a hail of shell casings.
* * *
A diamond ring began shining in the sky. The Midday Night was coming to an end.
The world grew bright faster than it had grown dark, and the stars disappeared without a sound.
Allison landed her craft in the Lutoni. It taxied to the shore without a moment’s pause. Soon half the floats were beached on the muddy bank, bringing the plane to a full stop.
“Talk about reckless… But I suppose I’m not one to talk, since I’m the one who pulled her into this,” Benedict groaned, watching Allison jump out of her plane.
Allison threw off her aviator hat. Her bun came undone and her long blond hair came fluttering loose like a veil of silk.
She sprinted across the plain.
“Over here!” replied Major Travas—or Wil—next to the fallen man.
The man was lying face-up, his camouflaged uniform stained with blood.
Allison pulled a handgun from her holster and looked at Major Travas. He was engaged in a desperate attempt to stop the man’s bleeding. Not even the fresh wound on his ear seemed to bother him.
“Enough…I’m finished…kill me…” Cornelius gasped, coughing up blood.
“Who is behind this plot?” Major Travas demanded, pressing on Cornelius’s stomach even as the bleeding continued.
“I don’t know… But who are you…?”
“Major Travas of the Royal Army.”
“Ah, a senior officer… First Lieutenant Cornelius, sir… 8th…Special Forces…of the Royal Army…”
Cornelius saluted even as he lay dying. Major Travas saluted back, his hand completely red.
“You are strong, Major… After the war…it was so boring…that I…wanted to fight…stake my life…and fight…and it was fun, sir…what about you…? Did you enjoy…this battle…?”
Those were Cornelius’s last words.
From the tips of the toes and fingers, then to the rest of him, his body began trembling. Finally, blood gushed from his mouth.
“Here, Wil,” Allison said, handing him her gun.
Hands stained with blood, Wil took it. He ended his opponent’s pain with a single pull of the trigger
* * *
<Let’s get going.>
Benedict gave the signal as he slowly pushed the throttle. Allison’s craft was slowly towed back into the river.
It was a violent and reckless attempt, but soon the seaplane was freed from the beach and began to float. Benedict turned left to give the rope between the crafts some slack.
Allison started her engine and quickly turned right. The two crafts were floating parallel on the river when their respective pilots untied the rope. They tossed the rope into the river to avoid the bother of coiling it back.
<You don’t need to get that checked soon?> Benedict asked Major Travas, who sat in the back of Allison’s seaplane.
Major Travas sat with the attaché case on his lap. He was almost deaf in his right ear, likely because the shot from earlier ruptured his eardrum.
<No. First, we have to find a safe location.>
<Is there one in the area?> Allison asked.
<My craft is supposed to go back to Raputoa, but you can’t land there on a seaplane, Allison. And neither of us have the fuel to fly back to Ikstova, do we?>
<No,> Allison replied. <By the way, I wonder where these guys came from? I’m taking off, Wil,> she said, pushing the throttle. The seaplane taxied on the water and lifted off.
<Hey, what’s going on?> Benedict asked, quickly following suit.
The second it was in the air, Allison’s craft began flying low at maximum output.
It approached the liaison craft flying slowly over the Western buffer zone from behind and blew holes in its left wing with the machine gun.
As the pilot panicked, Allison positioned herself next to him and gave a friendly call. <Excuse me, I have a question. Answer me, or I’ll shoot.>
<But you already did!> the man cried.
* * *
“I can’t believe we’re standing here again.”
Benedict stood in the former Teruto Royal Army Base and spun with his arms wide open. Though it was now an aeroplane graveyard, the grandeur of the former castle and command center remained unchanged from 19 years earlier.
“Ah, to be young again. I still remember all the girls…” Benedict sighed. Allison shot him an icy look.
“Fi would shoot you if she heard you just now.”
“Just reminiscing. I remember the good old days. They wouldn’t even let me grow out facial hair!”
Allison’s seaplane was secured in the canal. Before the canal was Benedict’s craft, which had made a ground landing.
“Hey!” cried the pilot of the liaison craft, who had been forced to lead them to the base. “You’d better keep your promise! I gotta make it back alive!” he demanded, sitting with his hands tied behind his back.
The trio had interrogated him and learned that the base would be completely empty for the rest of the day. They also learned that they could refuel at the base.
Allison performed first aid on Major Travas’s right ear as he sat on the pavement. She put disinfectant on the wound, wrapped it up in clean gauze, and secured it with tape.
“Done. You’re gonna have to get a specialist to look at you. How’s your leg?”
“Thanks, Allison. It was hurting quite a bit earlier, but I’m all right now.”
“Good to hear. But make sure you get yourself to a hospital, okay? Don’t do anything reckless.”
“I never thought I’d hear those words out of your mouth, Allison.”
“Really? But I’ve always thought that way.”
Benedict waited for the conversation to end before chiming in. “What are you going to do now? Planning something, I suspect?”
Major Travas looked down at his attaché case. There was a small hole in it.
“I’m afraid we can’t read microfilm without the proper equipment. It’s a good thing we crossed the border today—I’d like to head for Sfrestus.”
“Want a ride?” “You want a ride?” Benedict and Allison asked in unison. Major Travas shook his head.
“Thank you both for the offer, but I’ll have to decline,” he said. “After all, my mother lives in the area. Why don’t the three of us go see her right now?”
“Y-you’re coming back, right? You’d better not leave me here to die! I’m gonna be rich, you hear?! Filthy rich!”
They chained up the pilot, who was for some reason absolutely certain of his reward, and locked him in the hangar.
“Don’t worry. We’ll be back tonight for our planes. Don’t run off on us, and if any wolves show up, fend ‘em off with your voice.”
The liaison craft took to the sky, with Benedict in the pilot’s seat and Allison and Major Travas in the back.
Thirty kilometers was nothing when traveling by air. The liaison craft reached its destination in 15 minutes.
The destination was a small village on the plains by the forest. There were no towns in the area, with only a small road connecting the village to the world. Lining the road were about 20 small houses, several sports fields, and barns for livestock.
At the village entrance was a sign that read ‘Future Village’.
Once, a woman had moved in alone to an old home in the area.
She had moved there because it was close to the buffer zone, and therefore the border.
The woman had lived alone there, holding on to the handgun left by her dead family.
If the Roxcheans ever crossed the border, she would shoot them with the handgun.
Nineteen years ago, two Roxcheans crossed the border and came to her home.
It happened to be afternoon tea time at the village.
About two dozen children sat around a large round table on that clear, sunny day.
The children were around elementary school-age. Though they usually lived in Sfrestus, they came to stay in the village at times to learn about nature and its bounties.
Once tea had been served, the maids also took their seats.
Then sat a woman over 70 years of age—elderly but still sprightly with her head held high.
That was when an aeroplane appeared overhead with a quiet hum, almost floating in the sky. It flew over the table, its flaps moving.
“Look, an aeroplane!”
“What’s going on?”
As the children cheered and the adults fretted, the old woman—with her excellent eyesight—recognized the people on the craft.
“Don’t worry, everyone. It looks like my son’s dropping in for some tea.”
The aeroplane landed on a small soccer field made for the children, its engine shutting down. The entire village gathered to see.
Three people disembarked.
“Hey, kids!” Benedict said, taking off his hat.
“He has a beard!” cried a particularly rambunctious boy. Benedict’s face was in every history book in Sou Be-Il, but none of the photographs showed him with facial hair.
“‘Scuse us!” Allison took off her hat.
“You have blond hair! It’s so pretty!” exclaimed a little girl with black hair.
“Thank you, sweetie. But black hair is just as beautiful,” Allison said, giving the girl a pat on the head.
Major Travas slowly disembarked on crutches. The chief—his mother, Travas Ladia—went up to him.
“You should have called, honey. Look at you, all covered in wounds! What have you been up to this time?”
Slowly, she pulled him into her arms.
“Welcome home, son.”
Ladia turned to Allison. She simply saluted with a grin.
“And you don’t change at all, do you, Allison?” Ladia chuckled, saluting back. Then she looked at Benedict. “It’s good to see you, Mr. Hero.”
“It’s wonderful to see you too, Madam. It’s very nostalgic.” Benedict replied, his eyes narrowing in a smile. He had not come back since he came to report to Ladia right after the discovery of the Mural.
“All right, everyone. Let’s save the complicated discussion for later,” said Ladia. “How about some tea?”