Translator: Lucia Rose
Editor: Nine Knights
Despite still being immersed in the fleeting dreams of his unconscious mind, Livy lifted his head up off his pillows when he heard the rustling of pages beside his ears.
Slowly forcing his eyes open, he saw the hazy profile of a man, which quickly came into focus, and what greeted Livy was a handsome face with a straight nose bridge and elegantly shaped eyebrows.
After recognizing who was with him in his room, Livy shot up off the bed. His senses tingled as if he had been jolted by a sudden wave of electricity.
“Why are you in my room?!”
“Why can’t I be in your room?” Claude smiled elegantly as he continued to languidly sit next to Livy.
Livy sneaked a peak at Claude’s long and slender legs, which exuded an aura of strength despite being hidden underneath military pants.
“If you had slept for a few minutes longer, I might have finished reading this Faust.”
“I thought this was my room! Isn’t the only way to get in here through my voice and my fingerprints?!” Livy’s face had grown dangerously cold, and his slightly upturned chin made him appear even more imposing. It was clear to Claude that the young pilot was livid.
Like all primal animals, Livy found it distasteful when his private territory was invaded. Furthermore, he looked ready to pounce on Claude at any moment.
“I was able to get in here because I used my search authority.” Claude informed Livy as he gave the latter a sideways glance and then set the classic he was reading on the bedside table.
“Do you remember how I told you to report to the training base’s Zone Z today at 9 am? However, you’re already a whopping eight hours late. We were worried that something had happened to you and so… to determine the whereabouts of Technical Sergeant Livy Van Perle, I told the military affairs department to open the door to your room… when, lo and behold, you appeared like magic!” Claude told him in a deadpan voice, and Livy grunted coldly in response.
Hearing Claude’s explanation, Livy scratched at his messy ‘bird’s nest’ hair and glanced up at Claude suspiciously from the corners of his eyes, “Then, why didn’t you wake me up instead of just sitting here like a creep?” The younger man then glanced at the electronic clock which rested atop his bedside table. Through his groggy vision, he confirmed it really was past five in the evening.
Needless to say, not even he himself would have thought that he had it in him to sleep so well, either.
“I’m not the type of person who would disturb you if you really needed sleep….” Claude stood up from his seat and stared at Livy with an enigmatic look in his eyes “….because from now on, you will be tired every day.”
He then began pacing around Livy’s room while the latter stalked his movements with his eyes, “Furthermore, to avoid instances of you forgetting the time or other important events from occurring again, I will inform the military affairs department to install an AI system in your room.”
“What?” Livy stared at him in confusion, but all he received in reply was the T-shirt that was lying on a nearby chair.
“Let’s go grab dinner together.” Claude told him after the shirt had landed on Livy’s face. “After that, I’ll take you to see a warplane that’s faster than the Blue Crisis.”
When Claude’s words registered in his mind, Livy froze for two full seconds. Then, realization dawned. Slowly, the corners of his mouth curved up into a smile, “Then, there’s really a fighter faster than the Blue Crisis?”
Claude smiled at him, “Why don’t you try flying it first? Then, tell me.”
After the two left Livy’s dormitory, Claude took the former to a restaurant called ‘Dawn and Light’. Installed on the high ceilings of the restaurant was a hologram displaying the starry night sky. It was obvious that the aim of the place was to have everyone who dined therein enjoy the feeling of being enveloped by the midnight skies. For citizens who had lived their entire lives in a fortress city, seeing the sky was a rare occurrence, so restaurants such as these ones were very avant-garde.
Claude ordered a variety of dishes, from appetizers to a main entrée and even dessert. It was clear to Livy that the former was someone who enjoyed luxuries beyond the basic standard of living that he and the majority of the populace were acquainted with.
For his part, Livy didn’t even bother glancing at the menu and just casually placed an order for a sandwich. After doing so, he raised his eyes to stare at the enchanted ceiling as if spell-bound by the star-filled sky above their heads.
“Have you ever gone on a night mission?” Claude looked at Livy. His left hand cradled his chin, and his pleasant smile drew the eyes of many of the customers dining at the restaurant.
“Yes. But, during those times, I wasn’t really in the mood to admire the night sky.”
Just then, Claude’s aperitif arrived. After a splash of wine was poured into his glass, Claude began to lightly stir the red liquid around the goblet. His long fingers caressed it with expert ease. Claude’s aristocratic countenance and the simple swirling motions of his wrist evoked a bit of an artistic feeling, “Looking at a view like this, how does it make you feel?” He suddenly asked.
“…It makes me think about how we used to believe we could conquer the universe… but, ultimately, it was the universe that conquered us,” Livy told him. Then, he lowered his head, and his fingers drummed against the tabletop.
Livy’s light tapping sounds created a slow rhythmic beat, and Claude couldn’t help but smile at him, “It doesn’t sound like you’re one of those aspiring for the universe, though.”
“What can I say: I prefer the ground beneath my feet.”
Livy’s sandwich had arrived, and he took a big bite from it. While chewing, Livy’s cheeks became puffier with food. By the time he finished his meal, Claude had only just eaten his appetizers, which arrived shortly after his aperitif.
Having nothing more to do, Livy grew a little bored. Reaching for a toothpick, he held it between his teeth while he looked around the premises of the restaurant.
As he inspected the décor of the restaurant along with the profile of its patrons, Livy noticed that most of the restaurant’s customers originated from the upper class, i.e., the fortunate few who did not need to worry about money except on how to spend it. Just then, Livy eyes settled on a fair-skinned girl wearing a long emerald dress. She was sitting at a table that was close to theirs and chatting with the boy next to her. Her sweet smile looked very charming; Livy unconsciously did a double take at her.
“That’s Colonel Ames’ fiancée. If the colonel sees you this fascinated by his fiancée, he’ll blast your head off,” Claude kindly advised him.
Livy took this info in good stride and started casting his attention elsewhere.
His eyes traveled to the other side of the restaurant where he found a young woman wearing a simple black dress. The lady was cradling her head with one hand while her fingers caressed the rim of her wine glass. The air surrounding her seemed melancholic yet also inexplicably sexy. She seemed out of place, as if she had been drawn from another world and placed therein by mistake. Needless to say, Livy did another double take.1Image by Concord90 from Pixabay
“Ah—” Claude also tapped his fingers against the table. Not only did his actions perfectly mimic Livy’s, but he was so precise with his movements that they quickly became synchronized.
“That’s Mrs. Smith. More precisely, Brigadier General Smith’s wife. Although they are currently in the process of divorce, Brigadier General Smith has always been hoping to salvage the relationship between him and his wife. If there were anyone who was thinking of hitting on his wife……”
“He would blast my head off.” Just as before, Livy didn’t dwell much on this fact and started a new quest to find another target. His eyes swept across the room once more.
Finally, at the corner of the room, near a space between the restaurant’s windows, he saw a short-haired figure. Judging by her attire, Livy surmised she was a female officer.
The lady was laughing heartily. The dimples on her cheeks added a bit of comeliness to her face and softened it to make her look more feminine.
Claude followed Livy’s gaze towards the female officer. “Ah… Second Lieutenant Elise!”
The female officer seemed to have heard this call and looked in their direction. Seeing who the other party was, she immediately stood up and performed a standard salute. Claude waved at the lady; he looked very agreeable. Following this, the lady began walking towards their table.
When she arrived, she performed another standard salute and said, “Good evening, Major General Sien!”
“It’s your break time right now, so there is no need to be so formal,” Claude maintained his charming smile. His following words, however, nearly caused Livy to swallow his toothpick.
“Are you out on a date with your girlfriend today? You should spend more time with her,” Claude’s words were very casual, but Elise’s face beamed beautifully at the mention of her lover.
“Yes, we’ve even planned to go to the movies together,” She replied happily.
The fondness in Second Lieutenant Elise’s eyes was unmistakable.
Livy’s lips twitched slightly at this new information. He didn’t expect that Second Lieutenant Elise also liked women.
After exchanging pleasantries, Claude returned to enjoying his dessert.
Claude’s nonchalant attitude slightly irritated Livy. All throughout dinner, he couldn’t help but suspect that the major general was enjoying antagonizing him, “It seems as though you are deliberately trying to upset me,” Livy said as he threw the toothpick that was in his mouth onto the table.
Under normal circumstances, people would rebuke such a vulgar action. However, when Livy did it, it looked so casual and unpretentious that those who saw it did not feel offended at all.
“It seems you’ve misunderstood me,” Claude told him while wiping the corners of his mouth with a serviette.
“I just don’t want you to waste your time dwelling on meaningless fantasies,” Claude reassured. Livy, for his part, rolled his eyes.
“Then what, pray tell, do you not consider as a ‘meaningless fantasy’?”
“I want you to train honestly and familiarize yourself with a new piloting system. This piloting system is one which you’ve had absolutely no prior exposure to, so you would have to study like you’ve never studied before. I want to see you sit in the Pure-Hued Lady and fly it into the skies…” Claude paused; he then continued in a voice that mimicked Livy’s tone, “…and kick those ‘alien b*tches’ out of the solar system.”
Livy stared directly into Claude’s eyes and, for a moment, caught the glimmer of elegance that emanated from them. It was a bit bewitching, as if his mind had subconsciously decided to follow every word uttered by Claude and fly along with them and the so-called Pure-Hued Lady to the heavens.
However, though Livy was young, he was not simple or naive. From the very first moment he saw Claude, his intuition told him that underneath Claude’s amiable and dignified smile lay only cold indifference. In his mind, Claude seemed like the type to focus on his goals no matter the consequences; the type who had not much care for other people… unless, of course, they were useful to him. In short, he was stone-cold and calculating.
But, for a second, when their gazes collided just now, Livy saw a vision, a dreamlike illusion wherein the air around them crackled and burned. It was during this moment that Livy could sense, for a fleeting moment, that Claude was not a block of ice.
After they ate dinner, Livy followed Claude to Zone Z.
Zone Z was the nucleus of the K11 Air Force Base and a place where a lot of sophisticated research experiments were being quietly carried out.
Lining both ends of the corridor were different research rooms. The area was mostly made of glass windows, and looking down from above, one could see that everyone was fully absorbed in their respective tasks. As they walked deeper into the facility, Livy noticed a large holographic computer that was continuously running various programs. It displayed different kinds of data, and each one flashed rapidly on its expansive screen. The information on it was being constantly updated.
Livy reckoned that he was in the place where research breakthroughs were being born. He knew that the people of Zone Z were continually working to push the boundaries of the human imagination, just to develop new technology for them to use during a confrontation with the alien invaders.
It was already ten o’clock in the evening, but there were still many experts and scholars who remained in Zone Z just to conduct calculations and tests.
When Claude walked into Zone Z, Livy noticed that the fall of his footsteps became lighter than before. As they passed by the rooms, Claude would send a gesture from time to time to the researchers, who, upon seeing him, had been ready to salute. Seeing this gesture, they lowered their hands, remaining quiet and not disturbing others.
Livy followed him closely. He asked in a low voice, “Are there any alien bodies in here? Maybe you’ve even captured a living one and have it locked up somewhere in this facility for research purposes?”
Claude glanced at Livy, “You haven’t seen an alien before?”
Claude lightly pressed his finger against the fingerprint recognition system. After he did so, the security doors slid open to reveal a long and slightly illuminated passageway.
“No,” Livy replied with a shrug. It was his signature gesture for expressing indifference.
“They always stay in the aircrafts, so I’ve never seen them. But someone once told me what they look like. I’ve also seen their pictures before in the newspapers. I remember they have an almost translucent appearance, and supposedly, their brains are actually their hearts or something like that…”
Claude let Livy ramble on as they walked.
Livy then started recounting other tales he had heard about aliens while growing up, when two minutes later, a light suddenly appeared before their eyes and cut off his chattering.
After Livy’s eyes finally adjusted to the sudden surge of brightness, he saw a showroom the size of a swimming pool. At its center stood a white warplane. It had fluid lines that seemed to hang freely in the air, and light coursed over its surface and flowed down in a glistening manner.
Livy stood glued to his place near the entrance. He was completely transfixed by the vision before him.
Leaning against the wall, Claude looked at Livy’s side profile which was still staring at the white aircraft. The young man’s mouth was slightly agape.
“This is the Pure-Hued Lady,” Claude said.
“It is the result of our research of the first intact alien aircraft that was captured three years ago. The Pure-Hued Lady’s speed, including its other specs such as its attack power and the offensive weapons it is equipped with, is essentially equal to that of the alien invaders’ aircraft. If someone can pilot it, it means we have a chance of regaining air leverage and controlling our airspace.”
“You mean it’s really that fast?” Livy asked. The surprise coloring his voice was noticeable.
“Yes, and it doesn’t overheat. Not even after ten hours of extreme flight,” Claude added.
“If we had this weapon all along, why doesn’t anyone fly it? Is it because of its speed? Do pilots have a hard time controlling it?”
“That is correct. Until now, I still haven’t been able to find a pilot whose response time can match its speed. Moreover, supposing there were a few whose response times were able to adapt, albeit barely, to its speed, there is still the matter of operating the system at the same time. It is just hard to find someone with dexterity and fast reflexes,” Claude explained.
“Its positioning and LOAL abilities are all quite advanced. Most of the time, pilots would feel overwhelmed by its advanced technology; they either become catatonic or their nerves would get the best of them. In such a state, how many pilots do you think can last ten minutes in battle while flying the Pure-Hued Lady?” Claude turned to Livy when he asked this question.
Instead of answering him, however, Livy decided to slowly walk towards the Pure-Hued Lady. He placed his hand on the fuselage; that touch made his heart beat violently.
“Now that you see it, tell me what you think.”
Livy cast a sideways glance in Claude’s direction; his eyes stared at him with intensity before replying, “I think… it’s meant to be mine.”
He sported a smile that pulled at the corners of his lips, which caused Claude, who was now by his side, to be slightly at a loss for words. There was no hint of malice or arrogance in Livy’s tone. Claude knew that the young pilot had answered him sincerely. He also thought the same; however, it was far too early to admit that.
“Whether it is yours or not will depend on how well you perform in the simulation system tomorrow.” Claude told him before turning and leaving.
As he walked away, Claude kept up his normal speed. His back was still straight as if he was unaffected by what he had just heard. However, when he was far enough, Claude found himself lowering his head slightly; he let out a soft chuckle.
Claude then found himself laughing.
The next morning, Livy woke up to the sound of his smart alarm. He then quickly donned his battle fatigues and made a bee-line for the washroom.
The newly installed intelligent system in his room was named Lilith, and she had manifested on the main computer screen as a cute loli avatar.
Lilith was able to hold very simple conversations with Livy, and Livy also enjoyed asking her some illogical questions, to which Lilith would then respond with seemingly logical answers when in actuality they were just circling around ridiculous topics. Other times, Livy would just throw in a few commands, and as long as his requests to the system were feasible, the room’s electronic equipment would be promptly activated to cater to his needs, e.g., making coffee, boiling hot water, washing clothes, setting an alarm, and other menial tasks.
“Dear Lilith, why does the sun rise in the west?” Livy asked mischievously while brushing his teeth.
“The Earth’s axis is a hypothetical axis through the Earth’s core and the North and South Poles that is perpendicular to the Earth’s equatorial plane. The direction of the Earth’s rotation is from west to east, which is the result of relative motion……”
Lilith began to elaborate on relative motion. Her explanation continued long enough for Livy to have finished putting on his camouflage suit, and even as he left the room, Lilith’s voice still echoed on.