Summer 1943, Britannia
I, Jane T. Godfrey, am a Witch of the Liberion Army Eighth Air Force. While I hold a rank as high as Flight Lieutenant, I'm not that special when compared to my compatriots -- who might as well be described as superhuman -- gathered in this briefing room, if I do say so myself.
The base commander's been pontificating at length to the assembly, as he typically does. I didn't quite get what he was saying, but it was stuff to the tune of, "Heroic Witches! You will be granted leave in celebration of Independence Day for our United States of Liberion" ...I guess.
A holiday? Joy was immediately apparent upon the expressions of all present, and exploded the following instant.
"Where should we go?"
"What shall we buy?"
An uproar started.
"Oy, you lot! I know you're happy, but keep it down!"
Everyone became quieter when the commander raised his voice, though it was like they would rise from their seats any moment. Of course, I too was delighted. I could mail local souvenirs to my family back home; or take walks on historical streets that would be impossible for one to find in an adolescent country like Liberion. Come to think of it, I remember seeing a tourist's guide to London lying around the base somewhere. Going over these thoughts, I turned to look at my formation leader, F/L Gentile, who was sitting by my side.
F/L Gentile, affectionately nicknamed "Don" by all of us, myself included, was wearing her usual bored expression, elbows on the table, gum swelling and shrinking. Even when she had heard the vacation announcement, she didn't seem particularly happy.
In the meantime, the commander's speech came to an end. Everyone was still fired up, animatedly discussing how to spend this precious holiday.
On this end, F/L Gentile said, "London."
"Shopping and sightseeing." F/L Gentile planned to sightsee around London and shop at a famous department store.
"Don, that's unexpectedly cliched, hmm?" It was amusing for that Don to have a plan which followed a guidebook's suggested course to the word, so I couldn't help but tease her a little.
In reply, said Don gave me a doubtful look as if to say, "You got a fever? Did you eat something bad?" W-what.
"That's what you said you wanted to do. Explore London and buy stuff."
Now that she mentioned it, I might've said something like that before. And I was just thinking along those lines, too.
"Sightseeing 'round London and shopping, will that be fine?"
"Okay, so that's settled."
From the look of it, the others in the unit were still in the midst of discussing topics such as where to go and what to eat. Don and I were the first to decide on our holiday plans.
Summer 1945, Romagna outskirts
I woke to gentle sunlight peeking through the curtains' gaps. It was a plain room, yet furnished with the barest of essentials. My sheets were clean; my pillow soft. A landscape painting of Romagna hung on the wall.
Such was a hospital ward.
I came here after my battle wounds had been treated with first aid...probably. That is to say, I don't remember what happened back then.
Operation Trajanus, executed with the intention of establishing contact with the Neuroi, had ended in failure. I bore no particularly strong feelings on this. Though one could note that Witches are, in some form or another, granted preferential treatment, I am still nothing but a single soldier on the lines. Conversation with the Neuroi? Thinking about that kind of thing can be left to scholars and professionals.
The problem lay in what would be to come after. A huge Neuroi hive, on a scale which had not been witnessed even during the various battles in Karlsland -- because "that" had appeared all of a sudden, Venezia fell. As did I.
My field of vision was fading to black as my magic was exhausted to its limit. I was no longer able to tell the individual Neuroi apart. The feeling of strong arms holding me in their embrace, and the voices of two Witches who worried over each other in battle, were the final vague recollections I had.
The owners of those voices were knocking on the medic room's door. The pair's squabbling over their timing could be heard, even from the other side of the door. I invited them both in.
"How's it going, Angie?" The one who asked me that was a tall Witch with an air of laziness about her, F/L "Don" Dominica.
"Don! Of course Angela-san would still be sleeping!" And this would be the slightly shorter F/L Jane Godfrey. Both are teammates from my unit.
"No, since I'm already up, pay it no mind."
When I replied so, they started talking about their objective for today.
"My apologies for visiting so early. I already said we should wait till noon, but Don wouldn't hear of it."
"'Cause Jane was frying those donuts so enthusiastically. I wanted to try being enthusiastic too."
"Wait, Don! Why'd you have to reveal that? I wanted it to be a surprise."
"Was it? Sorry."
Seems like F/L Jane brought hand-made donuts along. While I can't really call it a blessing, eating was not a problem as most of my wounds were external.
"Thank you. I'll tuck in." I promptly opened the proffered package, and was met with the faint sweet scent of batter and sugar. The donuts were simple, coated with sugar. "Why don't we eat together? You two were up early as well, right?"
"That'd be great."
"Like I said, Don! Have a little more discretion!"
The busy exchange soothed my heart. I had been worried as well, having heard that F/L Dominica was hospitalized for a period of time due to the injuries she sustained rescuing me, back when I became isolated on the battlefield. I did not know how to approach the topic. But if I missed this opportunity, wouldn't it be harder to speak of?
"I'm sorry." I ended up saying something like this.
"What for?" F/L Dominica asked in return.
"'What'...wasn't it my fault you were hurt?"
At my words, F/L Dominica tilted her head, looking perplexed. "Don't say stuff I can't understand. It was 'the Neuroi's fault' I got hurt, not yours."
The conversation with F/L Dominica proceeded in the same vein. What should I say to make it progress? Seeing the state I was in, F/L Jane stepped in just in time. "Sheesh, isn't Angela-san troubled because Don's acting like this?"
"Is that so?"
"But really, please don't worry about it. Don's injuries were more or less the result of her unreasonably charging in! Those are her just deserts! Why won't she keep in mind her support's position!"
"Jane's support was flawless. I was charmed all over again."
Gosh, I have zero interest in affairs of love, but looking at these two, I could feel my expression relax.
"She smiled," F/L Dominica said.
"Is it weird for me to smile? It's not like I'm a Karlslander."
"Nah, it's not weird." When she said so, I thought I spotted a hint of pleasure on F/L Dominica's usually-listless poker face. "Let's go back, Jane."
"Eeh! But we only just got here!"
Having accomplished their objective, the pair left with the same commotion as when they had arrived.
In the end, they didn't get to eat at all. Munching on the sweet donuts, I saw off the view of the bike carrying them from my window.
After the two lieutenants from Liberion left, I was alone once more. Were I to say what was different about this and any other of my mornings, it'd probably be the package of donuts placed on my small bedside table.
Now that I was alone, my usual thoughts rose to the surface again.
The people of Romagna had gladly welcomed me, a foreigner, going as far as to grant me the prestige of the elite Pantaloni Rossi. When I heard that the 504th would play a central role in Operation Trajanus, I deployed wearing the Pantaloni Rossi uniform, rather than my typical División Azul uniform. Though I was ribbed mercilessly by everyone on the team for it, I did not particularly mind. However...
-- I had not been able to defend Venezia --
There was plenty of time for me to be pensive. Roughly two hours later, there was a knock on the ward's door.
(At any rate, it should be the usual examination.) Without even raising my head, I invited the caller in.
"Yah, Angie, how're you doing?"
I was taken aback, having suddenly been confronted by an unexpected voice. My gaze fell on Flying Officer Patricia "Patty" Schade, who was a member of the 504th like me, standing there. She was an expert at shield control, and had repeatedly provided backup to everyone during the retreat before she had exhausted herself. I had been rescued by her, too.
"I'm...not doing too badly."
"Fhn, if someone reserved like Angie says so, then it must really not be that bad."
"Now that you mention it, how about you, Patty?"
"Me? I'm already perfectly fine. See," Patty extended the palm of her right hand, where a tiny shield sprang forth, rotating slowly. When I was thinking that it was about 15cm in diameter, it started to change in a puzzling way, becoming many times that size, and was now that of a baseball. Finally, I was shown the small shield going from her right hand to her left and back again, like she was some juggling street performer.
"Skillful as always."
"Why, thank you." Patty smiled mischievously and went on, "Anyhow, my trouble lay with Papa. He was wailing and saying 'I'm going to Romagna right now!', being such a bother to those around him. From Britannia, you know? Even though it's inconceivable for a civilian to be moving freely at times like these?"
Despite sounding shocked, Patty could not hide the happiness coming across her expression.
"Uum, if you mean the 504th, there's still a long way to go. Commander and Takei are running around every day getting things coordinated."
"As you know, it wasn't only our unit that had been done in. Well, it seems that famous 501st will be taking over from here...ooh, those donuts look tasty."
"Please, eat them."
"Is that okay? Wow...delicious! Ain't this hospital pretty good, to have service like providing such tea?"
"No, that was from Flight Lieutenant Jane."
Patty choked upon hearing that. "H...Hold on, you should've told me earlier. It's a visitor's gift, after all."
"Since it's those two, I doubt they'll get particularly angry. Besides, there's no way I could finish eating it all on my own."
"You're probably right...fhn, that happily married couple, eh."
It was my turn to choke.
"What? Did I say something funny?"
"No, I just thought that was an very straightforward way of putting it."
"But it's the truth. I reckon they'll know if we meet, but there won't be much of a problem if it's those two." Patty jokingly shrugged. "Looks like the Pantaloni Rossi trio paid a visit to the 501st base before this."
"You know, to greet them? Apparently, they met lots of people, Fer was talking about how there was an amazing healer named Miyafuji and how she wanted such power too."
"...I think Fer's performance under those conditions were plenty good enough. Patty's as well."
"Angie too." All of a sudden, Patty's expression turned serious. "Because of you, Takei and the Pantaloni Rossi trio could be saved. You did all you could in the best way possible. That's why nobody blames you, and why you shouldn't feel ashamed."
I was startled by how it was as though she had seen through what I was thinking about. Only in this unit will I find partners that throw me off.
"Thank you, Angie."
"Well then, the donuts were lovely. Ah, I should let Jane-san know." With a little wave, Patty left the room.
Alone again, I mulled over Patty's words while chewing on the donuts. There was plenty of time for me to be pensive.
“Why is it!”
Slamming hardly on the desk, I shouted with as loud as the sound it made when i hit the desk.
Asked that with an uninterested tone was Second Lieutenant Luciana, who’s got tall height and is always quiet.
“It must be about the Battle Commander, *nom* from Fuso *nom*.”
Sergeant Major Martina asked while she was balancing her chair diagonal.
A big piece of bread was sticking out from her mouth.
“If you speak in a hurry, you gonna choke.”
Luciana gave her a cup of milk in front of Martina.
“So, what’s the deal Fernandia? What happened?”
“It’s about the personnels!”
“Ah, just as what I thought. Eh, Luciana?”
Huh, Luciana always reads my mind.
This is my claim.
“Romagna’s skies should be defended by the Romagna Air Force!”
“That’s how the JFW thing works, right?”
“It’s formed form many countries.”
“The 501 is also formed by a Commander from Karlsland, and the Battle Commander is from Fuso.”
“Yeah I already know.”
Speaking with these twos is nonsense. Therefore, I need to speak directly to Major Federica to calm my mind.
Walking the long corridor, and then I knocked the Major’s room door.
“Yeah, come in~”
Prompted with a cheerful and tight voice, I entered the modern-styled room.
“Oh, it’s you! What’s up?”
Major speaks with a tone like a senior student has, and a soft attitude to talk with me. Well, she’s always like that to every person though.
“I have something to ask to you, Major.”
“Hmm, oh! It’s about that!”
Huh, I guess the Major already knew it. Maybe it was written on my face. But she said,
“Yesterday’s meal! The kitchen did it a hard work because someone talked something about the International Cooperative Unit. And that was a total mess. Even so, Britannian cuisine are very… oh, this is a politically incorrect thing to say. Anyway, next’s main will be Romagnian cuisine.
“Hm? No? Did you like Britannian cuisine?”
“That’s also wrong.”
“Come on, explain it.”
“About the personnel for the Battle Commander.”
“Ah, about that.”
“The JFW thing is pretty complicated. Nobody’s giving out their aces with a volunteer mind. I’m close to retirement, but also very thankful because I can be a commander.”
“You are still active, Major.”
“Oh, thanks. Well, I’m confident that I still can be active over the skies but, this is also a very stimulating occupation to be.
“You mean, by the characteristics of this unit, this is like a political thing?”
“You say it very directly. But yeah, Takei’s rank isn't some kind of a decoration, but I wouldn't deny 100% if you ask whether it’s political or not. I know you want to say something but, it just can’t be helped.”
After all, that’s the thing. It can’t be helped.
I spoke like I need to confirm,
“That’s right, that can be helped.”
She asked, and my heart skipped a beat.
“You think it'd be perfect if I brought a Romagnian Battle Commander?”
She knew it.
Major was from the same Red Pants Unit as me, and I came to the 504 because she invited me.
She also listened to my wish that I want Martina and Luciana with me.
She’s got a little over physical contact, but also adored me. It’s a little embarrassing, and on the other hand, she’s my benefactor.
People around me saw me as a successor for the Major, and I was also thinking that way.
Invited by the Major, and that Major said to bring a Fuso Captain because she wants to concentrate on running the unit. When I heard that, what kind of face did I made?
Calmly thinking, the Major and the more upper people are right. But, I wanted to think its reason as a political thing. And also wanted the Major to say from her own voice.
But, I cant hide that feeling against the Major. What am I doing…
“Hey, Takei sure "can do" her things. Follow her, and steal whatever you can steal.”
The Major gently hugged me when I remained silent and was depressing. This woman’s expression for love is always too much and too close.
“Can you do it? Ms. Lieutenant Fernandia, who I anticipated?”
Alright, let’s do this thing. I have to do this. I don't know what kind of a witch Takei is but, I’m really gonna do this!
——After Fernandia left, inside Federica’s room——
“Sorry, Takei. Any hurting spots?
“No, I’m ok.”
“But you sure have a good intuition. You immediately hid under the desk when that girl came.”
“I’m sorry for eavesdropping that conversation.”
“Don’t mind. It’s only between you and me. So hey, Takei. I’m counting on you.”