Two weeks had passed since Tomoko and the others had arrived at Kauhava Air Force Base. Tomoko had continued her training but Beurling, Katharine and Ursula hadn’t taken part. Even though she had F/O Elma and Haruka, they were useless. If it was any bonus at all, the two had an overwhelming sense of ‘fighting spirit’. F/O Elma was cowardly, and Haruka was useless at flying. Recently she’d realised that her attentiveness to her surroundings had worn thin, and that could make aerial combat fatal.
If we carry on like this, we might become a specialist reconnaissance unit…, she murmured.
Tomoko was in the middle of a short break in the mess hall of the barracks. Haruka and Elma had received rigorous training throughout the morning and consequently were returning to their own rooms. She wasn’t sure what the remaining three were doing. They hadn’t shown themselves for the entire duration of mealtime.
If things continue the way they are, what will become of the Suomus Independent Volunteer Air Squadron, I wonder? Never in my time as a soldier have I been called by such a name. But now things are different, as the public dub us the “Misfits Squadron”. Well, it’s quite an appropriate name for us.
If I’m thinking absent mindedly…
Even though it seemed a little pathetic, Tomoko got depressed thinking about how radically the way she lived had changed since coming to Suomus.
I kind of…, feel like I’ve become nothing but a leftover. How is it acceptable to leave ME, the Tomoegozen of Fuso, who people go to length of calling an ace, to rot into obscurity in a place like this? Why is it that *I* have to endure such a hassle? This isn’t the right place to further my ability and achievements…
Tomoko picked up the newspaper lying beside her. It was the Britannia Times newspaper, put down for the use of the volunteer soldiers. On the front page, news of the war situation in Karlsland stood out. Upon seeing the large news report in the second column, her eyes widened.
‘The outstanding performance of the witches from the East’
Yesterday, a large scale Neuroi bombing raid formation manifested in München, Karlsland. The scale of the response was that of a large bombing operation with around 120 machines (a large number of them were the Tupolev Tu-2). In place of the Karlslander Air Force, which has been weakened by the rigorous fighting since the outbreak of war, the assault was carried out by militants from the United States of Liberion, Britannia and Fuso’s Volunteer Air Squadron. P/O Katou Takeko from the Fuso Imperial Army Air Service’s third squadron’s actions were particularly commendable as she shot down and destroyed a total of bomber units. In the results of the battle, 60% of the enemy units were hit. P/O Katou Takeko shot down 4 units on her own. (Giving her the highest individual rank for shoot downs). In commendation of this achievement, Karlsland have decided to award P/O Katou with the Iron Cross.
Tomoko’s shoulders dropped, she was crestfallen. She was glad for her friend’s achievement, but there was no way she could match it in a place like Suomus.
I can’t keep letting these high aspirations escape me.
But I’ve just got no willpower left.
We’re off duty after lunch. It seemed like a good idea to train…but it’s pointless.
Tomoko stood up unsteadily, leaving the mess hall.
Close to Kauhava Air Force Base, was a town called Slussen. It was around 30 minutes away by car. Slussen was a small town with a population of around 2,000 people. Tomoko had asked the base guards if she could head out there, and they had prepared her a car. It was difficult to drive on the streets layered with the slush caused by freshly fallen snow - from the base, it was one straight drive all the way to Slussen. It was Christmas in a month’s time, and Slussen had already begun preparations. The invasion of countries near the border by the Neuroi did nothing to stop the residents from having cheerful looks upon their faces.
As Tomoko got out the car, she realised that it must be unusual to see an Oriental person - people had stopped what they were doing just to stare at her. Curious children began to approach Tomoko, speaking a few words to her. No matter how hard she tried to speak it, Tomoko couldn’t understand Suomish, and had no idea what the children were saying.
“Sorry…I don’t understand your language. Um, Hyvää- Hyvää Päivää”
When she spoke the Suomish that she could remember the children burst into laughter.
After that, the children continued to speak in Suomish. As Tomoko was in a spot of bother, an elderly person came to her aid.
“Are you a foreigner?”
The words were spoken in Britannian. As Tomoko nodded her head with a yes, the elderly person translated the words of the children.
“They’re asking if you’re a witch.”
“Huh? How did they know that?” Tomoko was bewildered.
“Well, a lot of cars come from Kauhava Air Force Base, not to mention you’re foreign, and a beautiful young girl. It adds up, doesn’t it? Aren’t the witches the ones that came here to fight the Neuroi? That’s what the children know you for.”
“Ah, I see. Your English really is impressive.”
“Ah, I used to be a university lecturer, although I’m currently retired…”
The children began tugging at Tomoko’s arm.
“Eh? Where do you want to go?”
“’Won’t you come to our house?’ - They’re inviting you.”
“Where is your house?”
As she asked, they didn’t understand her speech, but understood her gesture, and the oldest child pointed at the corner of the street. There stood a magnificent building made of brick.
“Wow! It’s big isn’t it? Don’t you live in such a wonderful house! Do all of you live in this house?”
As Tomoko enquired about the house, the elderly person answered her.
“This house it…how should I put it…it’s an orphanage.”
“An orphanage you say?”
Tomoko was a little taken aback.
“Unfortunately so, these children’s parents have passed away and can no longer raise them. They’re children with nowhere left to go.”
If Tomoko left suddenly, the children could get upset. The elderly person lent her a hand and guided them. The children began to look a little lonely, but they soon brightened up as they said something to Tomoko.
“Good luck fighting the Neuroi!”
The words lingered in her mind for a while, and then she smiled. As she did so, the children’s smiles began to fade away. She waved to them for a while, until the children had disappeared into the entrance of the orphanage. She let out a sigh. The children’s words weren’t easy to swallow.
“Good luck fighting the Neuroi!” huh…
I wonder if I can finally reach the point where I can do my best…
“Is there a bar in this area?”
Tomoko asked the elderly person.
The elderly person pointed to a house they were facing. Beneath a barrel shaped sign was a building with a façade that resembled that of a bar. Tomoko was feeling miserable, and went to seek solace in drinking alcohol.
‘Giii’ the door creaked, as she opened it and entered. Despite the fact that it was lunchtime, the inside retained a gloomy atmosphere. Nevertheless, it didn’t seem shady. Meals were served alongside coffee for lunch, and half of the tables in the bar were filled. It was no surprise that an Oriental person would be easily noticed - all at once, the occupants of the bar began directing their attention towards Tomoko. However, it wasn’t anything to be concerned about, so Tomoko seated herself at the counter, and gestured towards the alcohol she wanted to order. She’d grown used to receiving attention when she was in her own country.
Even though she’d intended to order wine, she ended up with a washed out looking, transparent alcohol. Upon taking a mouthful of the drink, the strength activated her gag reflex. The middle aged bartender glared at her, saying ‘coss, coss’ with a pleasant smile. It seemed like it might be the name of the drink.
At any rate I should get this drink down. It feels like a burning sensation coursing through my throat, the inside of my stomach feels as if a fire is raging .I get it; this alcohol helps you forget the coldness.I guess they rely on strong alcohol like this instead of heaters in snowy countries. I can feel it in my heart too, but I don’t feel warm at all. Most of all…, it’s unforgiveable that I feel no joy for Takeko’s military gains. How could I possibly be jealous at the success of a close friend…
Tomoko caved in disgust.
It looks like I’m downing a large amount. After several drinks, when I asked the bartender for seconds, he shook his head. He brought over a bottle of alcohol, did a drinking gesture, and then made a cross sign. I…guess I’ve probably had a little too much to drink…
As she inadvertently turned her gaze to the bars interior, she recognised three all too familiar people. She hadn’t noticed up until now due to the hustle and bustle and dim lighting in the bar. For some reason or another, even though she was in their line of sight, they hadn’t noticed that Tomoko was seated at the bar either. Tomoko stood up and began to head in their direction.
“Well, that sure was fun! If we keep drinking like this, we might accidentally forget that we’re in the middle of a war with the Neuroi!”
Katharine had her back turned towards Tomoko. Seated around her, Ursula was reading a book. Next to her was Beurling with her usual pessimistic facial expression, drinking alcohol from a small glass.
“I thought that I hadn’t seen you around the base much recently, why doesn’t it surprise me that you were in this kind of place?”
The three of them turned around as they heard Tomoko’s unsympathetic voice.
“OH, Tomoko! Let’s drink together!” Katharine asked in a typically carefree voice, seemingly unbothered by Tomoko’s tone.
With a thump, Tomoko grabbed a chair and sat down. Katharine took the opportunity to fill the glass Tomoko was holding with wine. Not satisfied with the gesture, Tomoko grabbed the bottle of wine from Katharine and downed the remainder without so much as taking a breather.
Tomoko brought the wine bottle up into the air, and vigorously slammed it down on the table. She then surveyed the scene with an intoxicated look about her.
“You lot don’t give a damn about your abilities. Understand?”
“What exactly is that supposed to mean?”
Beurling responded first, looking in Tomoko’s direction.
“We’re the chosen witches, aren’t we? You lot, you don’t have any sense of responsibility! I mean come on, how is it acceptable to be skipping your training and duties to get drunk at lunchtime!?” Tomoko interjected sharply, forgetting her own hypocrisy. After she had spoken, Beurling downed the drink in her glass. She opened her mouth after speaking.
“Even mentioning something like ‘responsibility’ is a bother. Why should I care? I didn’t desire to be a witch. It’s like, just because you’ve got magical power, you should automatically become a witch, before you can even say anything against it. Not just anyone could long to be a witch. The girls who couldn’t become them ended up as actresses in Piccadilly. In other words, we were automatically made out to be ‘witches’. We didn’t have a choice in coming here either, did we? That’s what I mean.”
Uncharacteristically, Katharine let out a sigh.
“I definitely longed to be a witch! But, I just might not have any talent…Just because you’ve got magical powers don’t mean you’re gonna be any good with equipment. Even though you need magical power to be a witch, it doesn’t mean that everyone who has those kinda abilities is gonna have any skill in airborne operations.” Katharine said in a slightly solemn tone of voice.
“Even if you’re trying your best, it’s so easy to become a nuisance…It really doesn’t help any negatives feelings of being ‘useless’.”
Without uttering a single word, Ursula placed her book atop the surface of the table.
“Please be quieter. I can’t focus.”
“I see how it is. Well, just know that I expect nothing from any of you lot.”
Tomoko sighed. After that, she stood up, and left the bar.
The remaining Beurling group exchanged glances.
“’Expect nothing’ huh…It’s always the same words, being said over and over again.”
Katharine muttered with a feeling of self derision.
“Indeed so.” Beurling agreed.
“No matter where we go, we’re labelled as misfits.”
From her book, Ursula nodded her head.
Katharine observed Beurling and Ursula’s reactions for a while, and then spoke in a tone of voice that suggested that she’d noticed something.
“Oh my, could it be that you two are going to put up with what Tomoko just said?”
There was silence from both Beurling and Ursula. Katharine took a hold of the glass in front of her, and gulped the contents down.
“I really think we oughta change a little from here on out. But if we carry on like this we’ll achieve nothing. The only way to stretch everyone’s legs is to take part in training. If we stay here, we are misfits.”
“Humph. For people like us, no matter what our whereabouts are, we’ll always be misfits. Of course we’d be misfits if we keep coming here like this, let’s just leave it at that.”
Beurling snapped back in disgust.
“We can’t give up hope. When it was decided that we would be permanently to Suomus there was a small amount of expectation, right? They might have thought that our skills might get better in a place like this. It’s not impossible for people to change.”
Beurling was silenced. Her lack of response suggested to Katharine that she might harbour the same feelings.
“Say, Ursula. Don’t you think that too?”
Ursula didn’t answer. She hung her head in shame with loneliness, biting on her lip.
Then there was that time.
Classical music flowed elegantly throughout the interior of the bar. The elegance was soon interrupted as it changed abruptly to a state broadcast from Suomus. After the crackle of the grating sounds had ended, the announcer’s peculiar voice reverberated from the speakers.
“This is a message for the people of Suomus. This is a message for the people of Suomus.”
People were talking amongst themselves; this definitely wasn’t a normal occurrence.
“Formations of ‘Neuroi’ are advancing across the national border. I will repeat. Formations of ‘Neuroi’ are advancing across the national border. Respective cities near the borders have sounded the air alarm as an official announcement. Please calmly follow the directions of the military, and seek refuge. This is not a drill. I repeat. This is not a drill.”
The occupants of the bar flew into a panic. It was frenzied, a commotion, people were dashing outside, hiding under tables, beginning to cry, the assortment of different reactions were all laced with fear.
Katharine and the others hadn’t understood the radio transmission. There was only one word that they had even remotely understood.
When they stood up, they could hear the sound of explosions from outside. The three of them dropped onto the floor out of an act of instinct. The explosion sounds were intermittent - the sound of several more explosions reverberated, before stopping abruptly.
They exchanged confused glances as they dashed out of the bar. An eerie miasma had begun to spread outside. The Neuroi formation was dropping bombs. The sound of fire engine sirens drew closer. Several buildings had collapsed due to the bombing. If there was one good thing, it was that there wasn’t a huge number of enemy aircraft. Taking into account the number of bombs, it was likely that there was a place where most of the formation was.
Small enemy numbers or not, the peaceful town had been so brutally assaulted and then abandoned within the time frame of ten minutes. The bodies of people who had been injured or killed by fragments of the bombs were scattered all over. The survivors, who had up until now been walking with such peaceful faces, had been so suddenly thrown into such a terrible disaster, and were now nursing those who had been wounded.
A group of children were standing around a collapsed building, in tears.
“What is it? Are you alright? Have you got any injuries?”
Katharine got closer. The children responded, but it was no use. Katharine couldn’t understand what they were saying and shook her head.
Luckily, Ursula could understand Suomish, and listened carefully to what the children had to say.
“It seems like this was an orphanage for these children.”
She looked at the desecrated building solemnly. Katherine looked in the direction of the children, it seemed like they were going to cry.
“An orphanage, huh.” Beurling muttered in an uncharacteristically emotive voice.
“…Their house, it’s completely gone. Even though they live here because they have nowhere else to go…in the end it’s all gone.”
“All because of war”
Beurling murmured with a sigh.
Katharine nodded her head, “It’s terrible. They’ve got nowhere to go and only us for support. All in the space of ten minutes...”
After splashing her face with water to dissolve her drunkenness, Tomoko began to drive along the road that led back to Kauhava Air Force Base. After doing so for a while, she could hear the sound of explosions in the distance. She hastily turned on the radio, hearing the announcer cry out a repeat of the warning. She couldn’t understand Suomish, but there was one unpleasant word in that broadcast that made perfect sense.
They arrived just now…Those guys…
“For god’s sake, they sure are good with their timing!”
At that instant, she thrust her foot onto the accelerator. In front of her was a small black mark. As she noticed it, it began to expand in size. Tomoko grasped onto the handle, sending a flurry of mud springing up from the wheels.
Machine gun fire!
Next to Tomoko, a black shadow began to roll past with a pyun!
Small wings protruded from its large torso. At the nose was a propeller that was similar to that of a Striker Unit. It was cylindrical, and seemed to be in the shape of a fly, a melee weapon Neuroi…It was the silhouette of the Neuroi she had fought in Fuso, the Laros.
Tomoko chewed on her lip.
At the one time I’m not at the base, the enemy start an invasion! Witches are powerless on the Earth’s surface. If I return to the base quickly, they can’t ambush us! I can still see that Laros from before in the rear mirror. It’s turning from side to side, I wonder if it’s going to attack again.
Tomoko pushed onto the accelerator faster, but it was already in the 5th gear and wouldn’t go any further. All the while, the Laros continued to pursue her. In the rear mirror, the wings of the Laros started to glow. She quickly thrust her body down, and heard the sound of glass shattering into little pieces, pieces that scattered around the cars interior. As she raised her head, it wasn’t just the rear window that had been smashed; the glass of the front windscreen had also shattered. Fortunately, her body hadn’t been harmed, but…
In front of her, she could see the Laros rotating. It seemed like it had an intention of being persistent with its assault. Tomoko began to grind her teeth.
I don’t want to die like this! Without a striker unit I’m powerless…
The Laros pointed the tip of it’s nose in her direction…
Suddenly, the wings burst into flames, and it began to spin, flipping around sideways. From above, she could see something small do a nose dive.
It was a mechanised air infantryman.
Who could that be? Could it be F/O Elma, or Haruka? However, the silhouette is different from either of them. It’s probably one of those guys from the 1st Squadron.
She was relieved to have been saved, but she felt more frustration than anything else.
Flt Lt Mika Ahonen’s ‘darling’ face passed into her mind.
I can’t believe I was saved by a person like that…I barely made it back to Kauhava Air Force Base…Over there it must be a disastrous scene. The Neuroi’s surprise attack was clever. They destroyed buildings, and flames are spreading everywhere.
She ran towards the hanger where the Striker Units were, inside F/O Elma and Haruka were shaking, embracing each other.
“What are you doing!?”
Tomoko shouted, calling out to the aircraft men.
“Get out my Ki-27! Hurry up!”
They ran over, equipping Tomoko with the Ki-27. She idled along the runway, before flying up into the sky. From the earpiece attached to her ear, she could hear the voice of Flt Lt Häkkinen, who was in the base control centre.
“This is ‘Snow Woman’. This is ‘Snow Woman’. All units return to base.”
What’s she talking about? I still haven’t had a chance to fight!
“’Snow Woman’. Tell me the location of the enemy!”
“P/O Anabuki Tomoko. With the exception of an emergency, you should not answer like that to anyone above the Squadron Commander.”
“Is this not an emergency!? Now where is the enemy-“
“The enemy have already withdrawn. Today’s battle is over.”
Flt Lt Häkkinen’s voice resounded, as cold as ice.
In the mess hall of the barracks…
All the members of the Suomus Independent Volunteer Squadron were gathered and staring idly at the ceiling. The Neuroi had only attacked the base with a melee weapon; it was a blessing in disguise. There were bullet holes all over and the fuel tanker used by the base was done for - it would be no loss as it had almost filled its war potential.
Minor damage aside, there was one huge problem with the ambush.
Even with the 1st Squadron’s hard fighting, the Neuroi had still managed to pass over the borders…They hadn’t been able to prevent the Neuroi from bombing the nearby town Slussen, and now there was a flood of complaints from the townsfolk.
It wasn’t hard to see that Tomoko was fuming; she didn’t open her mouth once. Haruka, who was seated beside her, began to fidget uncomfortably.
When the Neuroi came and attacked…I was so frightened I couldn’t move.
She attempted to say something, but each time she was hindered by the harsh atmosphere of Tomoko, rendering her unable to speak at all. P/O Elma had returned from the control room.
“From tomorrow, it seems that we’ll be deployed alongside the 1st Squadron. We’ll do nothing more than offer the 1st Squadron support. Basically, we’re their back up. We’ll be the accompanying ‘objects’…”
Tomoko’s head dropped quickly.
“Pilot Officer Anabuki…, I’m sorry for today. I’m only cowardly…”
Katharine hit F/O Elma on the shoulder.
“It wasn’t just F/O Elma…We’re no good either. Today, we saw children who lived in the town and had lost the place that they called home. It’s unforgivable to let the number of children in that situation rise. That’s why, I’ll do my best. Ain’t that so, Ursula, P/O Beurling?”
Beurling murmured a “yes”. Ursula also nodded in agreement.
“For that reason, please, Tomoko.”
F/O Elma grabbed Tomoko’s hand.
“Not only in training, please take control over our aerial battle too…Just as I thought, as I don’t have any real combat experience, I can’t take control. And today, you saw me trembling…”
Tomoko stood up.
Everyone stirred, waiting to see what she had to say.
“Understood. I’ll take control.”
“With this we’ll have tremendous strength!”
Katharine jumped up. Haruka smoothed down her chest. Beurling glanced at Tomoko and smiled. Ursula closed the pages of the book she was reading.
“If that’s been decided then, it’s a celebration! Good luck from tomorrow!”
Despite their trust in her, Tomoko spoke to the rest of the squad in a cold, disconnected tone.
“Well then, I’ll hand down orders.”
Everyone stared at Tomoko.
“I mean exactly as I say. For these past two weeks, I’ve kept a close eye on you all. And now I finally understand. You’re all useless!”
“U-Uh, I don’t think that might…”
“It’s alright. I’ll fight by myself. It’d honour me if you lot would pay close attention.”
Tomoko turned around and began to head towards her room.
“What the! Even though we went through such trouble to get motivated!”
Haruka whimpered in a lonely voice as she stared at Tomoko’s back.
Tomoko got into her room and threw herself down, staring at the ceiling.
“Takeko…, it seems that the only one I can rely on is you. How can I be stuck with a load of powerless idiots? I can’t even have a decent discussion with them.”
Tomoko closed her eyes.
“Watch me, Takeko. I’ll take down all those who stand in my path. I’ll show you the power of one person. Even though you’ve been fortunate enough to be dispatched to Karlsland, I’m not going to give up. I’ll get my own war achievements.”
At the end of the day, each person is an individual unit. When you’re dead, and when you’re alive, you’re still an individual. Seeing as that’s the case, then you can take the challenge of winning and losing alone too.
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