Chapter 5 – One of a Kind

Sprawled on top of the bed, Livy couldn’t tell whether it was day or night. What made it particularly hard for him to decipher the time was the splitting headache which forced his eyes shut.

Aside from his first flight simulation back when he was still studying at the Air Force Academy, it had been a long time since he last felt this unsteady.

However, after the haziness and confusion ebbed away, Livy found the corners of his lips slowly curving up into a smile. Despite everything that had happened, he was unable to suppress his excitement. His current state of lightheadedness was proof that the Pure-Hued Lady’s speed was superior among all the warplanes currently in use today. It was even faster than the Blue Crisis… they actually had an aircraft that was on par with the alien fighter jets.

Moreover, the attack system of the Pure-Hued Lady was more sophisticated and had more features than that of the Blue Crisis. If used properly, Livy supposed it could definitely kick those alien invaders to the curb.

Just the thought of literally kicking alien butts made Livy laugh.

“What are you laughing about?” Suddenly, an elegant voice flowed into Livy’s ears and broke his reverie. Even without opening his eyes, he could already tell who that voice belonged to.

Exasperated, Livy turned to his ‘newfound’ companion and said, “Last time, you said you broke into my room because I didn’t report for duty. What’s your reason for trespassing this time?”

Livy felt the edge of his mattress sinking in and heard the rustling of fabric as Claude sat on the edge of his bed.

“Do I need a reason to visit a subordinate who’s on sick leave?”

At Claude’s answer, Livy groaned and rolled over onto his side to get away from the major general.

“But, the last thing I want to hear right now is your voice.” However, due to his dizziness, Livy’s sense of direction was completely skewed, and instead of rolling away from the object that was worsening his headache, he found himself doing a nosedive towards it. Luckily, the ‘object’, Claude, was able to steady Livy with his palm. He held the sergeant with his outstretched hand; the whole time Livy kept his eyes closed.

“If you wish to feel less miserable, may I suggest that you open your eyes and look at some fixed place?”

“I don’t want to look at anything.”

“I have no reason to trick you with bad advice.” For Livy, Claude seemed to have infinite patience. “Just open your eyes and try to focus.” His tone was even slightly coaxing him to let go of his stubbornness.

Livy decided to grudgingly do as he was told and swallowed a big lump in his throat before opening his eyes.

A wave of dizziness even worse than before suddenly crashed into Livy. He was just about to close his eyes again and sink back into his bed when his head was held up by Claude. He could feel Claude leaning closer to him, “Look at me.”

Claude had a firm and commanding tone, and Livy couldn’t help but obey him.

When Livy opened his eyes, he was met by Claude’s timeless and handsome face, but, of course, he was never going to tell him that, “I’m going to throw up on your face.”

“No, you won’t. Because you’ve already emptied everything inside your stomach.” Claude laughed at him so brightly that Livy suddenly wished he could puke on him; but, at this time, he couldn’t even vomit bile.

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“Now, look into my eyes.”

Livy struggled to meet Claude’s irises.

“What color do you see?” Claude asked him.

“Blue.”

“What kind of blue?”

“Ocean blue.”

“Does this color remind you of anything?”

Livy squinted his eyes at Claude, as if really thinking about what the color reminded him of, “It reminds me of… the first time I flew a fighter plane over the sea.”

**

Claude only stared at Livy attentively as he said those words, and so the latter found himself continuing on with his story.

“At that time, the instructor said our piloting skills were too atrocious, so we were forbidden from flying too close to the sea, because if we fell in, then they would have to be troubled to fish us out.” Livy looked as if he had recalled some funny memory and unconsciously chuckled to himself.

“You don’t come across as an obedient child, however.”

“Oh yeah, I wasn’t. I flew against the surface of the sea, even as that annoying instructor kept screaming in my ears.”

“To be able to fly so close to the sea on your first flight; you’re a genius.”

“Well, thanks for your honest praise.”

“What was it like? Flying against the surface of the sea?”

“It’s as if there’s some moisture sweeping across the soles of your feet; then, there’s also the wind brushing against the sides of your ears, and you can also feel the humid air… even though I know it’s all just in my head, it doesn’t make all these emotions less vivid. You know, those of us who’ve lived all our lives in fortress cities have never truly been exposed to the sea, at all…”

For people like Livy, they could only imagine what the night skies and the sea looked like. So, even if he wasn’t really experiencing the water or the wind, he could still feel them. Because he existed in the same space as the sea, he could feel its soul even though in actuality, it remained out of reach. If he were to describe his feelings more poetically, he’d say it was like feeling the closest thing to heaven on earth.

“But now, you can fly the Pure-Hued Lady to see the sea whenever you want and no one will nag you about it, and the speed with which you’ll fly it will stir up the waves. You’ll see the tides rise and fall because of you, and because of you, the line between the sea and sky will start to blur.”

Claude’s voice was very soft when he talked to Livy, and the latter could feel him effectively diverting his thoughts from dwelling on his current predicament.

What vertigo? What desire to vomit? At this moment, Livy no longer felt any of those.

“You are now free, and nothing can tie you down.”

With those words, it was as if Claude had cast a spell on Livy’s mind, and the spinning furniture he used to see earlier now rounded up and slowly came to a standstill.

“The Pure-Hued Lady is also free, and it is waiting for someone to fly it across the vast blue seas.”

Everything in the world became immersed in the ocean inside Claude’s eyes.

※※※

When Livy regained consciousness, eight hours had already passed. This time, he slept very deeply and awoke with a tremor in his fingers. He found that he was still seeing the ceiling spinning above him, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been yesterday.

Livy tried to get up, but he stumbled slightly. His feet were still a bit unsteady as he made his way towards his bathroom. Lilith, his A.I., greeted him: ”Hello, Livy. You slept for exactly eight hours and twenty-two minutes.“

“Thanks for the calculation.” Livy grunted as he tried to hold himself up on the sink, “Hey! When did that guy… Claude Sien, leave?”

”He left one hour and six minutes ago.“

“Huh? Then, what was he doing in here for seven hours?” Livy asked as he dizzily fell back onto his bed.

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As soon as he sunk into his mattress, Livy realized that he didn’t feel sleepy at all. To be honest, this was the most refreshed he felt after what seemed like days of being trapped in a lethargic state.

”Major General Claude Sien was watching you.“

“Watching me?”

”Yes, watching. If you’d care for another more literary definition, ‘gazing’ would be just about right.“

“Well, what else did he do besides ‘gaze’ at me?”

”He also had a cup of coffee, finished reading yesterday evening’s newspaper, then rested at your bedside.“

Livy was confused by this piece of information. Claude, that guy, if he wanted to sleep, he should have just gone back to his own room. Why did he even try to squeeze into a single bed with a grown man like him? Did he not feel uncomfortable???

“And then what else?”

”While you were sleeping, the Major General also said; ’When are you really going to fly?‘”

Livy rolled over to his side and stared silently at his wall.

※※※

After being unconscious for two days, Livy was finally able to stand up straight.

It was around dinner time when Livy left his quarters and hobbled over to a small pub which he had been to during his first night at the base.

When he entered the establishment, he saw many of his fellow officers gathered around; it was, after all, their off-duty hours. The bar’s lights were quite dim, but the atmosphere was not gloomy at all. The music gently spread around like moonlight.

Upon reaching the bar area, the bartender greeted Livy and offered to fix him his drink and food, “Fried squid rings and a large beer, right?”

Livy was surprised but also pleased that the bartender had remembered his preferences, despite only meeting him once.

“Right! Thanks.”

To be honest, Livy was still feeling a bit dizzy. During his whole walk here, he still occasionally felt that the world was spinning, and even though he knew that his stomach had been empty for days, the smell of fried squid still made Livy want to throw up again.

While looking at the large mug of beer placed on his table, Livy thought that he really wanted to dunk his head inside of it and just drown.

An officer suddenly approached and knocked on his table. Livy gave him a sideways glance. His eye caught the rank slide he was sporting; a second lieutenant.

“Hey, you’re Livy Van Perle, aren’t you? You’re the one who spent five minutes in the Pure-Hued Lady’s simulation system!”

When the officer said this, it caused some of the other patrons to look over in Livy’s direction; some even started to come over to where he was seated.

Livy shrugged his shoulders listlessly, “After spending five minutes sitting in that perverted system, I couldn’t even tell the difference between north and south.”

“That’s right; it’s the craziest flight system in the world. To fly the Pure-Hued Lady, you’d have to be just as insane. So, as far as I’m concerned, the sickest pilot is you, Livy Van Perle.” The second lieutenant bumped his glass against Livy’s shoulder and winked conspiratorially.

At first, when Livy had heard the officer’s footsteps coming near him, he thought the man had come over to mock him. Especially because Livy was certain the news of his ugly vomiting and fainting to the point of needing an IV must have been spread throughout the K11 Air Base. Livy was actually expecting to be laughed at by the entire air force. But now, after hearing the second lieutenant’s tone, why did it sound like he was praising him?

“Has no one lasted for longer than five minutes before me?”

After Livy asked this, he noticed several officers had also arrived by his side and were now circling around him. He felt rather strange now.

“Kid, are you gloating right now? Even the most elite pilot of the Gaze Space Station, Firio Zolun, only lasted for more than three minutes. Because of that, the Pure-Hued Lady came to be known as the fighter that was impossible to be piloted.”

“But, is it really that big of a deal? Five minutes…” Livy cradled his head, his words barely audible “…a battle can’t last for only five minutes.”

“But, here’s the thing; you’ve only just arrived! Plus, you haven’t undergone the specific training to master the system yet. Although right now you’ve only lasted for five minutes, after a month, you may be able to last ten minutes, and after two months, maybe even twenty minutes. Who knows; after a year, you may be able to beat the crap out of those invaders!”

“You must fly the Pure-Hued Lady into the sky and bring honor to your fellow pilots. You don’t know how cocky Claude Sien is! These past two years, so many people have been criticizing the Pure-Hued Lady, not only because it cost a lot of money to make but also because it has been a useless machine for several years. However, despite not making a navigable aircraft, that guy dares to put the blame on us and say that while there are pilots who can’t fly warplanes, there is no warplane that can’t be flown by a pilot!” One of the officers pitched in.

“He insulted the ability of our entire air force!” The crowd around Livy suddenly grew excited, and robust yelling filled the pub.

“Yeah, go teach that devil a lesson!”

Livy suddenly buried his head into his hands while his shoulders shook with laughter.

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It seemed to him that that guy Claude Sien had always been a rude guy, but apparently, he was quite well known for it, too. He supposed Claude was a guy who couldn’t keep up his calm and collected façade after all. Just like any regular guy, sooner or later, his mask would have its cracks.

“Hey, Livy, what’s happened to you?” The guy who first came over to talk to him asked when he noticed the young pilot crouching on his seat.

“No, there’s nothing wrong with me. I just feel a bit lightheaded.”

“If you’re still feeling faint, then don’t drink beer; alcohol will only make your headache worse.”

A low and melodious voice flowed into Livy’s ears, and slender fingers circled the mouth of Livy’s beer mug before lifting it up and putting it to the side.

In just a split second, the previously charged and heated atmosphere in the pub instantly mellowed down; it was as if someone had suddenly poured a pail of cold water over a campfire.

Livy could easily recognize that voice anywhere. He craned his neck to look at his new visitor and grinned widely at him, “Hello, Major General Claude Sien.”

Two seconds later, all the officers that were huddled over Livy instantly stepped back and gave a military salute to Claude.

Despite the fact that everyone was standing at attention, Livy could see the nervousness in their eyes. After all, they had just been caught trash-talking Claude.

“Hello, Sergeant Livy Van Perle.” Claude casually greeted Livy. Based on his tone, he seemed to have either not heard the comments everyone had just made about him or perhaps merely disregarded them.

“At around this time, you should be in your quarters waiting for the doctor to come and give you an IV, not out here, eating greasy food such as fried squid rings, which will only upset your stomach.”

“I’m very sorry.” Livy apologized with a faux look of seriousness painted on his face.

“No need to put on such an act.” Claude told him as he grabbed onto Livy’s collar and pulled him out of his seat.

Despite being dragged away, Livy nonetheless did not forget to bid ‘goodbye’ to his companions. He actually felt quite close to them, even though their time together was quite brief.

※※※

When he finally arrived back at his dorm, he saw that a doctor was already waiting for him. The doctor proceeded to check up on him while Claude started making tea for himself. Claude then plopped down on a chair across from Livy.

After the doctor’s visit, Livy raised his eyebrows and looked directly at Claude, who was still nonchalantly sipping on his black tea.

“Claude Sien, why do I feel like you’re unnecessarily concerned in my affairs?”

Hearing this, Claude smirked. It was as if he already knew Livy had more to say than just this.

“Yes, you’re right. I’m keeping an eye on you, because right now, you are the pilot who is most likely to fly the Pure-Hued Lady.”

“You’re coddling me because you see hope in me,” Livy spoke in a low tone.

“Let’s say I can really pilot the Pure-Hued Lady. After I am successful at flying it, won’t it prove that the Pure-Hued Lady is not inoperable? Moreover, you’ll be able to prove to your critics that you did not waste money or resources to create merely a piece of junk. Since you made it, you must already know what the Pure-Hued Lady’s fatal defect is: that it’s hard to operate. Therefore, you need someone to overcome this weakness, so they can serve as the proof that the Pure-Hued Lady is not some failed experiment.”

Livy glared at Claude as he said this. He knew that the latter was desperate. He was obsessed with Livy’s success only because his career depended on it.

“Exactly.” Claude’s eyes did not waver even though Livy was openly provoking him.

“You’re a selfish b*st*rd that wants to use the entire air force just to save your reputation and pride.”

“You’re wrong about that.”

Claude then made his way to where Livy was sitting. He stretched out his arm and lifted Livy’s chin with his index finger, forcing the latter to peer closely into his eyes.

“I have always believed that the Pure-Hued Lady that I designed was not meant for everyone but for some people or maybe even for just one person. Due to its novelty, it’s not easy to understand and learn. Such one of a kind1This phrase, ‘one of a kind’, was originally a Chinese idiom, 独一无二 (dú yī wú èr), meaning ‘only one, no other’. brilliance deserves a one of a kind pilot, too, don’t you agree?”

At that moment, Livy felt tension seeping deep into his bones.

Livy then looked away, because if he stared into Claude’s eyes any second longer, he felt as though he would be sucked into those blue orbs and would be unable to free himself.

 


**Special Note: Image by Pexels from Pixabay
To access the unedited version of Chapter 5, please click here.
  • 1
    This phrase, ‘one of a kind’, was originally a Chinese idiom, 独一无二 (dú yī wú èr), meaning ‘only one, no other’.

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