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弱荷 (Fragile Cargo)
Nijima, 21 Haoɂdzuɂ 760

Quote:Yamada Goro’s phone was ringing. He excused himself from the feast he was sharing with the diarchs of Hoenn and their family, entered an antechamber, and answered the call.
  • “Haaai, Hoen Koku no Yamada Goro de gozaimasu.”

    “This is Park Nam-Kyu from Micras dispatch. How quickly can you be at Nagame Aerodrome?”

    “As soon as I’m done eating dinner with the Queen, of course.”

    “…Yamada. You’re needed to fly to Lindström, Natopia, immediately. Wake up.”

    “But the caviar!”

Nam-Kyu huffed, channeling her grandmother on so many school days.
  • “Wake up, Yamada!”

Goro opened his eyes. Gone was the Palace of Eons, replaced by his prefab studio apartment. He looked at the time on his phone; he wasn’t supposed to wake up for another five hours.
  • “I’m up, I’m up.”

    “Wake up!”

    “I’m up, Park, the fuck.”

    “Get dressed. You’re pushing off in twenty minutes. Got it?”

Goro’s eyes went wide. It takes forty-five minutes to get from the front door to the cockpit on a good day. He’d never had to hustle this badly before in all his years as a commercial pilot.

    “I’M UP ALREADY! I’ll fly you to Yomi while I’m at it!”

    “Whatever. You’re at gate 29. Have a good day~”

She made sure to lay on the fake sweetness with that statement, before hanging up.

Goro threw the blanket aside and climbed out of the top bunk, hastily throwing on his pilot’s uniform. He ran out of the door with only one shoe on, grabbing a pre-made bento box.

Pinching the box under his chin, he hopped down the hall to the elevator, pulling his other shoe on, and stuffed the box lunch into his mouth on the ride down to the ground floor.

He tossed the empty bento into one of the trash cans, put on his cover, and boarded the bus to the airport, watching the dog-ugly pilots’ quarters recede from view for the umpteenth time.

Exactly six minutes later, he arrived at Nagame Aerodrome, and power-walked to gate 29, where he found… four National Police officers waiting for him?!
  • “Tomare. Shiɂbeɂ seyo.” (Stop. Identify yourself.)

The largest of the four officers, a lieutenant named Nagano, held his hand out at Goro, who dug into his pocket and produced his passport.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“One passenger: head of state.”

Goro nodded. He didn’t pretend to understand what was going on, but nod he did anyway.

“We need you to come with us.” The four officers surrounded Yamada and his copilot, a rookie named Imahara, and escorted them to airport security. Unusually, there was an X-ray machine and millimeter wave scanner lined up next to the other equipment.

Goro was reluctant to go through the rigamarole, due to the tightness of their schedule. Conspicuous in its absence however was an alternative, so he doffed his hat, belt, and shoes.

Ten minutes later, Goro and Imahara were cleared to reënter airside, and so were escorted back to Gate 29, where they boarded the plane, the four police officers behind them, and entered the cockpit. He flinched as the door was locked behind him; so it’s one of those flights, he thought.

After forty-five minutes for fueling and start-up procedure, at 1:37 pm, only 41 minutes behind schedule, Air Hoenn flight 10004 took off from Nagame Aerodrome, bound for Raspur.
With co-writer credit to Ardy.

Over Raspur, 5 Mordad 1660

Quote:Yamada Goro emerged from the lavatory and resumed his seat, just in time for co-pilot Imahara Reka to disengage copilot.
  • “Perfect timing, Yamada-dono. We’re on final to Raspur.”

Goro looked through the airplane’s windshield down at Raspur Airport, an oddity among its brethren: four runways arranged in a well motif, ringed by a… circular taxiway?, with the control tower within and the hangars & terminals without. Flight 10004 was lined up on final approach to runway 22L, the only craft in line for that runway.
  • “Was there something in my drink?”

His medicham copilot looked up from her seat, a smile on her face.
  • “No, sir! They built the taxiway in a circle like that!”

    “…Weird. At least the runways are straight.”

A few minutes later, Raspur air traffic control piped up over the radio.
  • “Rayquaza one zero zero zero four, we can confirm that we have a visual on your craft. You are clear to commence your approach. Taxiway is clear for your arrival. On landing your attention will be directed to the armoured personnel carrier with the flashng sign board. You are to follow it onto the taxiway and to obey all instructions received from the vehicle until you reach the designated fuelling point. Please acknowledge.”

A chill went up Goro's spine when air traffic control mentioned the armored personnel carrier, but he supposed nothing was too careful for picking up a head of state.
  • “Copy all. Clear to commence approach, taxiway clear for arrival, follow armored personnel carrier with flashing sign to designated fueling point.”

    “Response acknowledged. Safe landing. Welcome to Raspur.”

    “Copy. Rayquaza one zero zero zero four out.”

Goro hung up the mouthpiece.
  • “Sose ga bo wo mo‘mas.” (I have the stick.)

    “Wakarimas, ota‘-dono ga bo wo mo‘mas.” (Understood, you have the stick.)

Goro took the stick and pushed the ACJ319's nose down, beginning their descent into Raspur.

A familiar clattering sound, following by the squealing of tires, heralded flight 10004's touchdown at Raspur Airport. As the plane slowed to taxiïng speed, Goro noticed a tank-like vehicle parked on the inner taxiway, with a flashing sign affixed to its nose. The Raspurid Sotvam, operating the controls for the signal board from the cupola of the APC, watched the Hoennese flight touch down. ‘I wonder if they will have any of those aliens we hear so much about on board?’, he muttered to himself, before swivelling round to kick his driver in the left shoulder. It wasn't a gentle kick, but then, in Raspur, things seldom are.
  • “Hamid. You donkey. We go now. Drive!”

The driver duly grunted, shifted gears, and the armoured vehicle lurched forward & sped away towards its rendezvous with the passenger jet. As the aircraft hurtled down the runway at full reverse, the APC sped along with surprising nimbleness towards the point where Runway 22L converged with the orbital taxiway, the singular design feature of which the Raspurid Emir was so inexplicably proud. The Sotvam's intercom sparked to life; at the other end, the gruff tones of the airport's governing Sarhang, a full colonel, whose writ eminating from the control tower was on a par with that of blessed Zurvan itself.
  • “Sotvam Habbish, place yourself ahead of the kuffar aircraft at the earliest opportunity. Ensure no obstacle impedes its swift progress to the fuel depot or it will be your head that I present to the ESB representative.”

    “Bale, sahib,” acknowledged the Sotvam with the utmost servility.

The plane slowed down to taxiing speed right as it entered the far touchdown zone. The APC, now ahead of the aircraft, flashed a message on its signal board, an array of lightbulbs, that merely stated, in Istvanistani, FOLLOW. Goro complied, turning the seventy metric tons or so of airplane onto the taxiway, keeping close distance to the ground vehicle as it led them to the fueling depot.

Goro sat in the cockpit, eating a kebab torsh procured from a food cart just inside the gate. Another one sat in front of Reka, even though she wasn't hungry; she eventually offered it to one of the cabin attendants. After about ten minutes, they pushed off again, taking off toward Doza in Athlon.
Over Doza, 5 Butterary 1660

Quote:Imahara Reka looked down at the Pacary archipelago. Internally, her mind strained against the sensory burden foisted upon it by the physical world, begging Reka to be allowed to meditate again, but she thankfully demurred; the law, after all, forbade both her and the sleeping Yamada from being off the controls at the same time. She stretched her legs every one of the few centimeters available in the copilot's seat, to little avail. The islands loomed in the distance, and with them their next stop, Doza city in the Natopian associated state of Athlon.

Reka leaned forward and switched the autopilot off, grabbing the stick and making the wide right turn to align with Athlon's runway. As she did, her vision blurred and the noise of the engines began to fade away, signs that she was about to slip into a meditative trance, like it or not, for the umpteenth time today. She reached over for a bottle of caffeine pills and finished it off, hoping to buy herself time until they were on final and Goro could be roused without incident. I'll have to buy Athlon out of wake-up pills, she thought to herself, dreading the final leg of their journey: a ten-megameter slog from Doza to Lindström, the sole reason the corporate Airbus was provided instead of a 737 — any politically sensible route from Pacary to Tapfer was out of the latter's range.

The plane's wings leveled off, and Reka's newly-caffeinated mind reached out to telekinetically shake Goro.
  • «Yamadadonowe'reonfinalit'stimetowakeup,» she telepathically transmitted to her pilot, perhaps a bit too energized for her own good.

    “Nngh… Five more minutes, Dad.”

She shook him again.
  • «We'llbeontherampinfiveminutesandIreeeaaallyneedtomeditatenowwakeup

She punctuated her transmission with a telepathic not-quite-shout, intending to pull Goro firmly out of the dream world.
  • “Ugh, not so loud. Okay, I'm up.”

He tilted his chair back to upright, looking out at the myriad pinpricks of light that composed the Athlonese capital. He reached for the caffeine pills only to realize that the stim-greedy medicham had lifted them all, so instead he asked the cabin crew for a coffee.

A few minutes later, himself properly caffeinated, he took the stick and touched down in Doza.
  • (Placeholder.)
With co-writer credit to Ardy, Octy, and Ric.

Lindström City, 6 Butterary 1660

Quote:Armoured personnel carriers, hovercraft bearing multiple-rocket launchers, and row upon row of armoured infantry lined the concourse leading from the spaceport terminal towards the runway. Between these phalanxes of Natopian troops, drawn from the regiments of the Tapferite Army of Vengeance, now proceeded the Kaiser, a callow blond-haired youth of fifteen, flanked to his left and right by four Sentinels, the Shirerithian bodyguards assigned as his close protection detail and charged with defending the Kaiser to their last breath. These Tribunes were replacements for their unfortunate predecessors, who had been left with the traditional tumbler of whisky and a revolver after failing to secure the Kaiser against the Chamberlain's Coup. Their scowls showed that these new officers were not going to play nicely if anything unexpected happened to their charge. Behind the Kaiser trailed his Holodomatic Confessor, a number of aides reporting to various ministries and agencies — both Natopian and Shirerithian — and Soraya Octavius-Parini, the much-put-upon Imperial Chamberlain from the court of Raynor's Keep.

Even through artillery-grade earmuffs, the Kaiser's salvation could be heard coming from miles away. Ayreon IV, Kaiser of Shireroth, looked on intrigued, never having seen a Terran aircraft before. Watching it land, he thought it looked so elegant and different to him, but he could immediately appreciate its aerodynamic qualities. However, it was also a very loud machine, and Ayreon wondered whether the ride would be comfortable. In any case, he was quite happy to return to Shirekeep. Even though he had only spent a few minutes on his own with Emperor Nathan II, it had been so good to know he was safe, that Nathan still cared for him, and that all would be good.

As the plane touched town, its doors opened, and a staircase drove up to meet it, a gentleman of decidedly non-Natopian ethnicity, clad in a black and blue robe came out and greeted the Kaiser, flanked by police officers who appeared to be the man's countrymen, wearing a green-red bicolor, fimbriated with white, on their sleeves. The robed man kowtowed to the Kaiser as soon as he touched the ground; the policemen stood at attention, saluting Ayreon. The Sentinels, immaculate in their grey and beige variant of the Imperial Service Uniform, eyed these new arrivals with a professional curiosity tinged with guarded suspicion. The policemen gazed back, matching the hostile stares with expressionless disdain. The impression must have been favourable, however, for the Sentinels' sidearms remained firmly holstered.
  • “Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am so excited to be going on this airplane — what's its model again? Shall we go onboard?”, said the Kaiser with a cheerful voice.

The robed man, whom Ayreon surmised was the pilot, stood back up, before speaking in oddly-accented Istvanistani.
  • “We are more than excited to be serving Your Imperial Majesty. The airplane behind us is an Airbus ACJ319, which is capable of a flight range of over eleven megameters. We humbly ask that Your Imperial Majesty please allow us to lead you onboard.”

Ayreon whispered to his chamberlain Soraya, asking her for permission to go. With a silent nod from her, Ayreon started walking slowly toward the air stair. Next to the Kaiser walked Soraya and the anonymous Confessor, and after them followed the Sentinels, making perfectly sure not to lose sight of the Kaiser.

Standing just onboard, at what in the military would would be termed “parade rest”, were the rest of the pilot's crew: three more people in the same robes as the first gentleman, four more police officers, a man in pilot's dress, and next to him a four-foot-tall gray humanoid creature, also in pilot's dress. The pilots and officers snapped to attention, saluting the Kaiser, while the robed people bowed deeply. Suddenly a Sentinel stepped between the Kaiser and the creature unknown to them. He rested his hand on his sidearm, still in its holster, while another Sentinel stepped forward, heavy with equipment…
  • “My apologies, Your Imperial Magnificence. This is just a precaution.”

…whereupon he raised the business end of some manner of scanning device. It clicked mildly as the Sentinel flipped a heavy switch on the belt attachment, then went silent once pointed at the creature. It stood at attention, feigning disinterest in the device pointed at it.
  • “One of His  Magnificence's illustrious predecessors met an untimely end after encountering an alien species  in a confined space. This is necessary to ascertain whether any extradimensional contamination is present.

The Kaiser whispered to Soraya,
  • “What, the plane hasn't been checked before? Are you sure this is safe?”

    “Not by us,” she answered mildly. “But I am sure that our esteemed friends would not risk an incident having gone to this much trouble to be of assistance.”

    “So we're not sure? Why couldn't the IAC just send one of our planes?”

Soraya shrugged.
  • “Under the present circumstances it might have been misconstrued by certain hostile parties. Especially while you were still regent. But the Hoennese? No one would object to them.”

    “Even Auntie?”, asked the Kaiser.

Soraya stffled a laugh.
  • ”That might be a bit of a stretch. But even she can see their value."

The scanning device was waved over the creature again in a close pass, going from head to toe, without additional clicking from the belt attachment. The Sentinel pressed a button on it and a short length of thermal paper spat out. Seemingly satisfied, he switched off the device and declared the creature clear, causing her to exhale in relief. Her companion called out Sousoɂ!, whereupon the crew of the aircraft stood at ease. He pulled out what looked like a hand terminal and pointed it at the creature; a moment later, it recited the following in a synthesized voice:
  • [Medicham, the Meditate Majuu. It is said that through meditation, Medicham heightens energy inside its body and sharpens its sixth sense. This majuu hides its presence by merging itself with fields and mountains. It elegantly avoids attacks with dance-like steps, then launches a devastating blow in the same motion.]

The medicham — nodded as the hand terminal spoke, seeming to be proud of what it had to say.

All these security precautions bored the Kaiser, but he found some enjoyment in not having to think, not having to wonder so much. But just as he realized he was at peace, not really thinking about anything, being bored, he started thinking about Nathan, how they didn't get any time together, how Nathan had just disappeared like that to go to on some spiritual retreat. This pained him immensely, he felt hurt, rejected… He looked out of the tiny window, saw his companion's land, and thought to himself, “will I ever see this land again? will I ever see him again?”. The Kaiser's dejectedness must have shown, as Soraya leaned slightly into him in a soft nudge. She whispered, “don't worry, we're almost home.”

One of the officers, an older gentleman with four stars on his shoulder boards, stepped forward, speaking to the Kaiser and his retinue collectively.
  • “I trust that all is well and we may proceed according to plan?”

Soraya replied for the Kaiser.
  • “Yes, indeed, thank you. Please proceed.”

The officer nodded to the pilots, who nodded back, and walked backward into the cockpit. As soon as the cockpit door closed, the officers and flight attendants took their seats, Soraya bidding the Kaiser and his retinue follow suit. Once they were all seated, the jet engines roared to life, the sound muted by the plane's cabin but still noticeable.
  • “How do Terrans fly so much? The sound is so grating… but at least the chair is nice!”, said the Kaiser.

    “Many of your subjects fly in ‘aircraft’ such as this as a matter of daily routine, Your Magnificence,” replied Soraya, who began to fall back into schoolteacher mode. “Shirekeep has an aerodrome that services them. We've generally avoided needing to use it ourselves, thanks to facilities within Raynor's Keep itself.”

    “I'm sorry... I need to check my privilege more often.”

    “Who taught you that phrase? I'll be obliged to report it to the IAC if you persist,” she said with mock anger. Her assumed scowl broke to a grin once it became apparent that the Kaiser had taken her threat seriously. After all, the conference calls with the IAC had during the Natopian regency not been anything Ayreon had enjoyed in any way; in fact, he felt revolted by the very thought. "No, perhaps we shouldn't."

    “I learnt it from attending an Ayreonist workshop in Lindstöm the other day. It encompasses so many things!" Ayreon sighed as he sank into his seat. "Anyway, when will we be home? Do you know?”

Soraya nodded, not answering the Kaiser's question, but making a mental note to report the Kaiser's confession of attending some Ayreonist event. Another Sentinel would be due for an awkward conversation with the Crypteia if this supposed workshop had actually occurred.

The Kaiser attempted to catch a Hoennese officer's attention.
  • “Sir, please excuse me, when will we arrive in Shirekeep?” asked the Kaiser with a beaming smile.

The older officer pulled a paper out of his pocket and examined it.
  • “The flight plan calls for a nine-hour flight to Novi Nigrad, a stop for refueling, and a further seven-hour flight to Shirekeep.”

Sensing the Kaiser's disappointment, the officer continued.
  • “Don't worry, though, Sire, we will make sure to offer Your Imperial Magnificence the best comfort possible. There'll be plenty of good food, and whatever else Your Imperial Magnificence would like.”

Hearing that, the Kaiser's thoughts immediately turned to Nathan, but Soraya nudged him carefully and gave him the look.
  • “Thank you, officer. I do look forward to the Hoennese cuisine. May I ask, what your name is, sir?”

The officer scooted forward, giving Ayreon a good view of his name tag, into which his surname was etched in Istvanistani and his full name in some other script that looked like a rebus puzzle from Balgurd.
  • “Shibutani Kagetora, Commissioner-General of the Royal and National Police, at your service, Sire.”

    “A pleasure, officer. Please tell me more about your hometown, about your home. Tell me everything. Are you married?”

Soraya coughed on a drink of water, which took more than a brief moment to clear, waving off concerns from the crew and police detachment.
  • "I am sorry, commissioner I'll let you perform your duties. Perhaps we'll find some time to talk later.”

The officer bowed again and scooted back, while the Kaiser turned back to Soraya, whose coughing conspicuously ended then and there.
  • He was handsome,” the Kaiser whispered, in equal parts cheeky and defensive, once Commissioner-General Shibutani was out of earshot. “What does it matter? I won't be seeing him again. Just let me find some distractions."

    “You are the Kaiser,” Soraya replied, making her discomfort known. Ayreon's face demanded more, so she continued. “If it were your wish, we could build up a stately facility in the Keep or at Montreano for an entire seraglio of amusements, but please, do not interfere with the people who are just trying to do their jobs.”

    “No, I don't. I'm sorry, Soraya. I just miss him so much." Him, Soraya noted to herself. He's developed a bit of an attachment to Nathan. "I don't understand why he did this to me. Have you ever been in love?”

    “Yes.” She said, hesitating after that. It wasn't something typically discussed. “But it is of no matter; it would not have been compatible with my station. You know that we do things differently on Kezan. But no, that does not mean that we are strangers to such… feelings.”

    Then she sighed. “Similarly, the Emperor, although he is also young, has complex duties both to his nation and to his gods, who tend to be rather demanding. The pressures he comes under are not the same as those you've experienced. Yes, there is the need to balance the interests of subjects, advisors, family, and such, as with you. Nathan has to attempt all that whilst under the continual scrutiny of a Church Militant and a wrathful deity of a distinctly interventionist inclination."

    She could perceive that this was unsatisfactory to Ayreon. The personal connection. “I would like to say that I am sure that he means no personal slight towards you, only that it is when the obligations of his position overtake his personal concerns.”

She hadn't intended to defend the Natopian Emperor, whom personally she'd regarded as somewhat neglectful and prone to spiritual flights of fancy, but the Kaiser needed to understand that there was a burden attached to wielding sovereign power, a burden that took its toll., and his own bruised ego needed some comfort.

Instead of responding, the Kaiser looked down for a bit, then looked at Soraya, smiled sadly, and nodded. She reached out and rested her hand on his arm. There was a slight tremble in her hand that he could sense, no matter what she did to stifle it.

The Holodomatic confessor, meanwhile, took the opportunity to sneak a quick sip from the flask concealed under his white robes, while the others were distracted by the Kaiser's prattling to the barbarian police officer. The commissioner followed suit more overtly, leaning over to one of the flight attendants and asking her something in another language, whereupon she produced a blue-and-silver-counterchanged drink can, which Kagetora emptied in one go.

One of the flight attendants stood up and entered the cockpit, standing in for the medicham as she walked to the lavatory.

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