Battle of Haibi Chapter 15
Previous: Battle of Haibi Chapter 14: Siege
Chapter 15: Flying Lessons
Hagane polishes off his planning document titled "Siege Operations for Kikotsu no Haibi Years 77 and 78." He tosses the tablet back on his desk. He anchors his elbows on either side of it and rests his head in his hands. "If the Toga don't come back soon, life will really suck by next winter."
Someone knocks on the door. Hagane welcomes Kammy into his office.
Kammy glances at the tablet and flips through the first couple pages, "You've only gone ahead for two years," she notes with disappointment.
"I wish Taka were here ... she's wayyy better at this sort of thing." He looks up at the human technician and says, "I'm a doctor, I'm trained for triage, not," he waves at his tablet computer with derision, "I don't even know what to call this."
"The Siege of Haibi," she reads, "Why have you planned only until next spring?"
"Because that's when the food runs out and people start starving by the thousands," he sighs, "The area inside the wall was designed as a keep for a population this size, and the wall able to cover farms outside. I don't know what we're going to do, and I've scrounged through everything Taka ever wrote and..."
Kammy watches the screen in disbelief, as a relatively old portrait of Taka begins to speak. In it, she appears middle aged. She sighs, "Since three months ago, when I realized that Haibi's food demand far exceeds our domestic supply, and of course, knowing the reality that is outside the wall and the history of the Final War, it can be safely assumed that at some point in the future, our trade with the Toga may break down. Gozen assures me that the covenant we forged with the Toga is very strong, and that we do have the ability to defend their holdings outside Haibi." She sighs, "Delta radiation levels outside the wall are at eight milliSieverts per hour and continue to increase. The gates will soon lock down, and our economy is not sustainable at our current level of population."
"This was made almost forty years ago!" Kammy gasps.
The portrait of Taka sadly intones, "I'm implementing ordinances to have food and other supplies stockpiled in the wall and Defense Towers that will at least give us some time to liberate the Toga or restore their farms under our flag should they get wiped out by enemy action. If the sort of siege that I'm trying to evaluate here ever happens, we'll have no choice but to take the fight to the enemy, no matter what the radiation levels are outside. To that end, Gozen has commissioned a new type of battle suit with a protection factor in the thousands, along with research into ways to enhance our paragliders with hikarinium. If that siege ever happens, we will be counting on a military solution to overcome it. Otherwise, I'd hate to be the one to decide which ten thousand of us survive."
Kammy gasps, "Only ten thousand?
"We've made some progress," Hagane says, "It's twenty-two thousand today, but still, Haibi's population is a hundred and sixty-five thousand."
"The Defenders?" Kammy asks.
Hagane smiles, "That's where the good news is. The armor suit she was talking about was sure put to the test on Tuesday. And the hikarinium flyer ... got Kabocha from Defense Tower Four to Central in under four minutes on Monday. Appropriately, I think, Gozen flew the prototype himself to the Western Grove, set it on Flight Well, and then Flew without it along with the other forty-eight in that group."
"I hope they have things under control," Kammy whispers, "Most of my human friends think that the Haibane Renmei have dropped the ball. Ruby flew, and then Taka, and the Toga." Kammy takes his hand, "Hagane, I've seen your wisdom. It's obvious you have a lifetime of experience as a doctor, even if you look like you're under twenty."
Kammy looks down at his hand, and sighs, "But the third generation humans don't have faith in the ashfeathers. We've never seen a featherwing, and believe now, that not a single haibane alive today used to be one. They really are questioning whether it is appropriate for the three thousand haibane to run Haibi while they, a hundred and sixty-two thousand strong are regarded as merely the masses." She looks him in the eyes and says, "I used to be one of them. ... After hanging out at Western University, I know your sincerity too well to get along with most humans." Her eyes drift to his feathers, "You need to be like that to keep your wings, right?"
"Yes," Hagane says, "although these wings are stronger that way than the wings of the flyers were in the past. With either kind, haibane or haoto, you cannot hate someone for long and expect to keep them. Warn any haibane you know who is cheating or lying, or slandering, or stealing ... being jealous or envious, bitter or vengeful, that his wings will not last very long."
"I've never seen a haibane lose his wings," Tammy says, "What happens to them?"
Hagane weeps, "I can't tell you. Even were I allowed, it hurts very much to know. It's not something you want to think about. Trust me. Not all haibane know, and often I find myself wishing that I did not." Tears flow onto his cheeks as he closes his eyes, "Please don't ask me again."
Kammy regards this reaction as answer enough.
Tori paces slowly through the Western Grove. A hand is guiding him. "Please," he weeps aloud, "God, please just let me go back for one hour to say goodbye ... Just one hour." The boy falls to his knees, unable to continue, and he weeps, "I wanted to see Juurokuban spread his wings ... just once. Shinzoo, bless you, I'm sorry for leaving you like this." He bawls on his knees.
Tori looks up from his hands. He crawls through the snow patches towards the fallen leaves at the base of a gnarled tree.
Another peep. Desperate. Weak.
He clears the leaves to find a crow, lying on his back. Gently he lifts him, finding the desperate bird surprisingly light. He hadn't thought to bring his stethoscope, so he puts his ear to the bird, and the bird kisses his cheek, so desperately cold and dehydrated that he starts drinking Tori's tears.
His personal crisis forgotten, he rushes to Flight Well, Haibi's foundation-filtered aquifer. He taps on the panel and draws a bit of the sparkling clear water into the drinking fountain. Carefully, he lowers the bird to the thin stream, careful not to get his feathers wet, since it is well below freezing. As soon as he figures the crow, Juunanaban, the seventeenth he's rescued this year, is well enough to make it back to Western University, he runs back home, feeling rather foolish thinking that the guiding hand was leading him to his Day of Flight. He is grateful, however: he knows it is soon, for his halo is dimming, and he can no longer read in the dark for it winks out at the worst moments.
He gets home to his aviary, the three crows within it fluffed up. Juuyonban studiously preens his new array of imped feathers, trying to keep warm. As the only one of the three that is awake at that moment, Juuyonban is the first to notice the new arrival.
"Well, little fella," Tori expains to the crow perched on his hand, "It looks like you just had a bout with dehydration. I'd like to keep you in here, just overnight. I got some corn you can munch on. Once your bowels start working again, you can go. Probably in the morning if you haven't got any viruses."
Tess quits her preening and squawks at Freddo with all her might.
Freddo wakes up, rather annoyed, observing the sweet twinkle of revenge in her eye before she flits her head to indicate Tori. Freddo pins, recognizing the new arrival, then blinks.
Nick points his bill at Freddo's perch, and Tori holds him up to it. Nick hops onto it easily, then slips. Recovering, he realizes that he's still a little dizzy from his marathon flight.
"Take it easy, Juunanaban," Tori softly advises.
Once Tori has left, Freddo asks in the gathering dusk, "What the heck happened to you?"
"Nothing," Nick signs with his foot, "But try flying thirty kilometres at thirty below into a ten knot average headwind with no thermals to speak of."
"I get it," Freddo says, "but why would you do something that silly?"
"The enemy has encircled us that deep," Nick signs.
Freddo flattens out his feathers in surprise, looks at Nick with both eyes, "Oh." Recovering from the surprise, he switches to his other foot and signs, "You must really like corn."
"They attack on Saturday," Nick signs, "How do we tell Samurai?"
"We can't communicate directly very easily at all," Freddo replies, "He found a rather creative way of asking whether the wraith could transmit while cloaked. I think I gave him the correct answer. I don't see how we can tell him, even if he stops by for a visit, which is very unlikely."
"Even if we can tell him," Nick signs, then bows his head sadly, "We still need a miracle to survive this assault."
"We've had the miracle of not being assaulted for seventy-six years," Freddo signs, then switches to his other foot, "God will do something. Rest, my friend, if you're to fly out of here. I will make my peace." By very slowly flexing his toes, Freddo says, "It looks like I might be dead by Sunday."
"I'm going, now," Tori says with a tear. "I've left my diaries with Shinzoo. He'll take good care of you."
"I promise," Shinzoo says.
"Keep your eyes on the western sky," Tori says.
Tori, with tea in a vacuum jug, sets off for the Western Grove as the stars appear in the sky. A haibane girl, seven years of apparent age, wanders alone just across the stream, her halo dim and wobbly as she picks her way among the icy patches on the narrow road.
"Oh, hey, sweetie," he says, "How come you've got no shoes?"
"I gave them to my sitter," she sniffles, "she has a six year old daughter, they'll fit her perfectly. I don't need them anymore."
"What about your toes, you poor thing?" Tori asks.
The girl shakes her head, folding her wings neatly over her back, "I don't need those anymore either."
Tori hoists her on her shoulders, and together as tall as Samurai, they march into the Western Grove to join a huge gathering at the Flight Well. Haibane arrive in twos and threes, and Tori is shocked to discover that he is physically the oldest, the only one over twelve apparent years. Tori lets his new friend down.
Each of the young haibane, one by one, reach over their heads and pull their halos free. One by one they go dark. Tori gathers the two hundred and fifty-four rings in amazement. They grab each other's hands, and all face west towards the wall. They know it will be only minutes.
"Okay, you're the fourth call I've gotten myself this evening, Louise," Roku says, "Please be patient, we're doing the best we can at the moment." Roku listens to the Defense Tower Four emergency call line.
< I don't know where she is,> the frantic voice says, <It isn't like her to just wander off ... and she left her shoes for Pete's sake. Why would she do something like that?>
"Ma'am," Roku assures her, "We're getting so many reports of runaway children right now, we're activating the flyer sections as we speak. We'll find your daughter as quick as we can."
<Oh,> she says, <She's a haibane we adopted, such a cute little th->
"Haibane?" Roku gasps.
<Well, yeah. Is that important?> Louise asks.
Roku scans the sixty calls that have just come in. Fifty are haibane. "Keep your eye on the western sky," she whispers, "I'm going to look myself. I think I know what's happening."
Roku drops the headset at her desk and runs to the elevator. In moments she is on the Tower's roof with a pair of binoculars. She approaches the edge and scans the Western Grove a couple kilometres to the south. Zooms in the area near Flight Well, and spots faint humanoid shapes. They have wings, but not the halos which make haibane so easy to find.
Suddenly everything goes white. She lowers her binoculars and turns away, closing her eyes. All she can see is white. She can feel the gentle heat on her back.
The four crows in Tori's aviary watch the brilliant beams twinkle in the twilight, huddled together on a single perch.
"Defense analysis has counted the beams," Kabocha gasps, covering his mouth, "That can't be right. ... two hundred fifty-four? Can anyone confirm?" a hand touches his shoulder.
He turns about to see a glazed over tiny-pupilled Roku staring blankly through him, her shoulders cradled by a merciful colleague. "I saw it from the roof," she weeps, "I'm blind."
Next: Battle of Haibi Chapter 16: Willow Branch