Chapter 1 : The First Meeting
The skyscrapers and streets of New York were aglitter with lights from people working late and cars driving out of the business areas, heading for home after a full day's work and Alice Kirkland's car was one of them as she drove her fiancé back to his apartment. He had his own car, they just carpooled on the busiest days so they would only need to look for one parking space. Alfred F Jones looked over the presentation they were holding the next day to begin the new business venture being started between himself, his brother Matthew Williams, Alice and, somehow, the god-son of their banker, Feliks Lukasiewicz.
Everything was riding on this and Alfred had been moving toward this point ever since he graduated college and moved into the food industry with Alice at his side. And with his brother's help, support and investment, he was now ready to make his food producing début with a new line of pre-prepared meals, The Fine Diner's Choice (name courtesy of Alice), under the name of their company, Hetalia Foods Ltd.
Tomorrow was do or die. They had to impress the clients or everything that they had worked for would be for nothing but a massive business loan that they would have to pay back. To say nothing of the future of their employees.
Alice gave a sideways glance at her blue eyed, blonde haired fiancé from the driver's seat as he pushed his glasses up his nose, the cowlick at the front of his hair bouncing with the movement of the car and knew he was worried. The silence gave him away and she knew it had to be about tomorrow. Not that she blamed him, they all had a lot riding on this and Alfred had been working on this for a full year. Tomorrow was make or break!
Alfred looked up at the girl who had stolen his heart back in college but it had not been love at first sight to begin with. Alice had caught Alfred's attention because, unlike most of the other girls on campus, the green eyed British girl with the long blonde hair, often in two ponytails, did nothing to try and attract his attention. Instead, he began doing the chasing. Alice had been very prickly toward him and Alfred had wondered why he bothered at times but he persevered and, eventually, the prickly exterior fell away and Alfred found that it had been well worth the time and energy.
Alfred had been an energetic and annoying fellow college student, the harem entourage had not helped and Alice had done her best to ignore him but this had, for some reason, drawn his eye. He spent the next few weeks, plaguing her and she did her best to make him give up but he was like a dog with a bone. After a few events where she saw his real character and not the energy filled, blue-eyed all-American boy façade he put on, she softened toward him and was very glad she did, she could not imagine being without him now.
Alfred's apartment building came into sight and Alice pulled in as Alfred closed the presentation file, looking at the building and then back at Alice.
"You wanna come up?" he asked. Alice winced slightly. One of Alfred's faults was his tendency to butcher the English language but she knew she stood a snowball's chance in Hell of changing that so she let it pass her by, or tried to.
"I don't think that would be a good idea," she replied. "You still have to write your presentation speech and you don't need the distraction." Alfred sighed, resignedly and nodded.
"Okay," he agreed. "I'll see you tomorrow." He leant over and gave his fiancée a quick kiss and got out of the car. She gave him a goodbye wave and pulled away, looking in the rear-view mirror as Alfred waved after her. Neither one noticed the old man, wearing a black coat and a black homburg hat against the cold New York night, briefly illuminated in Alice's headlights.
Alfred went into his apartment building and entered the elevator, punching the button for the fourth floor. He hummed to himself as the elevator rose, thinking about what he was going to say in his speech to the clients. He had a beginning in his head when the elevator stopped and the doors opened and Alfred made his way to the second door on the right, opened the door and went in.
He turned on the side-lights, lighting his living room in a soft glow and illuminating the two couches, coffee table and various pictures, like framed action movie posters, and artworks on the wall. Some photos, mostly of Alfred and Alice or Alfred and Matthew also graced the walls and stood on sideboards by the walls. Pictures of happy moments in time, caught for prosperity.
Alfred took off his jacket, revealing an opened shirt, with a t-shirt underneath, hanging down over his jeans. He flung the jacket on the couch, picked up a voice recorder and was about to turn it on when there was a knock on his door. He put the recorder down and went to see who was outside.
He opened the door and, on his threshold stood an old man in a black coat and wearing an old style hat. He looked to be in his mid-sixties or almost seventy with blue eyes and large, greying eyebrows, looking at Alfred as if he was trying to work something out.
"Can I help you?" Alfred asked when the old man did not say anything.
"Mr Jones?" the man inquired, British by his accent. "Mr Alfred F Jones?"
"Yeaaah!" Alfred said, slowly, wondering who this stranger was and what he wanted with him.
"This might be a strange question," the old man told him. "But …. are you ….. all right?"
"Totally fine," Alfred replied, wondering if he had made a mistake opening the door to this guy.
"Has anything happened in the past few minutes?" the man asked. "Anything …... unusual?"
"Only you," Alfred replied. He did not mean to be rude but he was tired and he still had work to do so he wanted this man to get to the point so he could get back to it.
"May I come in for a moment?" the old man asked but Alfred was already wary of this man.
"I'm kind of busy at the moment," he said. "So, unless you can write a speech ….." The old man was silent for a moment.
"Do you have the time?" the man asked. Alfred decided to indulge the man so it might get rid of him faster and he looked at his watch.
"9:15 pm," he replied. "Exactly." The old man took out a pocket watch and checked it.
"9:15 pm, exactly," he muttered. "I don't understand, it should have already happened!"
"Look," Alfred said. "I don't wanna be rude but I have a speech to write for tomorrow and clearly, you've made some kind of mistake so do you mind if I ….. go?" He indicated going back into his apartment. The old man sighed.
"I'm sorry for the inconvenience, Mr Jones," he apologised, tipping his hat. "Good evening." And he turned and left. Alfred shut his apartment door and went back to his work.
"Whack-job!" he commented, picking the voice recorder up and turning it on. He put it back down on the table and began to rehearse his speech.
"Welcome, ladies and gentlemen," he said in his best announcing voice, walking around as he spoke. "I would like to thank you for coming today to …..." A rumble of thunder distracted him and he frowned. There had been no mention of any storms in the weather forecast but …. meh, weather!
"I would like to thank you," he continued. "for coming today to the launch of the first venture of our new company, Hetalia Foods Ltd and I am proud to present to you, The Fine Diner's Choice!"
Suddenly the thunder came again and seemed to be inside the apartment, followed by lightning that danced around the room, leapt into Alfred's hands and then jumped into his body.
Alfred was blinded for a while by sudden light and then he could feel water seeping into his shoes. He looked down and found he was stood in a muddy puddle and he looked up and round. He realised that it was light because he was now outside in the daytime, in what appeared to be a muddy field with a few spindly trees here and there, along with piles of debris and barbed wire. The whole place looked like pictures Alfred had seen of battlefields.
'What just happened?' he continued to stare around him in shock. 'Where's my apartment? Why am I in the middle of nowhere? Why is it day and how did I get here?'
Alfred's t-shirt and shirt did little to keep out the cold that permeated the air and he began to shiver. He never did like the cold and it came with a hint of ice on the wind that seemed to be spluttering in the spindly trees.
Then Alfred realised that it was not the trees that were spluttering and the spluttering was getting louder and was coming from the sky and he looked up as, in the sky above him, came what looked like an old-style bi-plane. Other than pictures, Alfred had never seen a bi-plane before and he felt as if he needed to duck as it struggled to fly over his head. He watched as it hit the ground several meters away from him, flip over and came to rest upside down.
It took a moment of staring at the downed vintage aircraft for it to occurred to Alfred that someone had to have been flying the plane and he made his way through the mud to reach the bi-plane. He came around the wing, bearing what looked like the logo of the British RAF and saw something moving about in the upside down cockpit and he knelt down beside the plane.
"Hello?" Alfred called into the cockpit and a face appeared, wearing a leather flying helmet and goggles.
"Hello there, old chap," the pilot said with a British accent, like he was meeting a new acquaintance at a party. "Would you mind giving me a hand? I'm in a bit of a sticky wicket here."
"You don't say," Alfred muttered, kneeling down to help pull the pilot out of the plane as the man struggled out of the seat harness but his legs seemed to be stuck inside the cockpit.
"Hurry up!" the man said, urgently. "They'll start to whiz-bang us any time now." Alfred did not know what 'whiz-bang' meant but it did not sound good and he pulled the man harder. Whatever had trapped the man's legs gave up the struggle and Alfred pulled him out of the upside down plane and helped him to his feet.
"Better get away from the plane," the man suggested, grabbed Alfred's arm and pulled him away from the plane and around a large pile of debris. There was a whistling noise and the pilot pulled Alfred down to the ground and there was a deafening explosion with bits and pieces raining down on their heads
When Captain Arthur Kirkland's aircraft was hit by whatever new weapon the German Empire had developed, he found his plane had become almost uncontrollable, as if Sopwith Camels were not difficult to handle as they were but it was all he could do to bring it down without smashing head first into the soil but the wheels still caught in the mud and the Sopwith Camel performed a slow somersault on to its back.
He had to get out fast. The Hun would know the general area he had gone down and start shelling the spot so he had to relocate fast and he began undoing his seat restraints.
"Hello?" The English word was spoken with a bit of an accent that Arthur could not identify with that single utterance but it was not French nor German and he looked out of the cockpit at the upside down sight of a young man's face with blonde hair and blue eyes. The man looked confused as if he did not understand what was going on.
"Hello there, old chap," he replied with a friendly tone, hoping that this was an ally and not an enemy. "Would you mind giving me a hand? I'm in a bit of a sticky wicket here." The man muttered something like, "You don't say!" as he put his hands under Arthur's arm and began pulling him out but Arthur was not really listening as he realised that one of his legs had gotten trapped in the harness and he was struggling to free himself. They did not have much time before enemy artillery began raining down on them.
"Hurry up!" Arthur advised with an air of urgency. "They'll start to whiz-bang us any time now." The man pulled harder and the harness released its hold on his leg and he was pull free of the downed bi-plane. Arthur got his feet under himself and looked into the sky,
"Better get away from the plane," he said, taking the man's arm and dragging him to a large pile of wood and wreckage, the largest piece of cover he could see and, as they reached it, Arthur could already hear the whistling sound of an incoming shell and pulled the man down behind the debris, just as the plane exploded.
Alfred's head inched over the top of the wreckage that he and the British pilot had taken cover behind, to see the plane he had pulled the pilot from in flames and surrounded by pieces that had been blown off the plane when it was hit by the shell. The plane they had been standing beside only a few moments earlier.
Someone had fired something at the downed bi-plane! Actually shot at it! With the intention of killing the pilot but why? Why would someone shoot at a vintage plane? Why?
Beside him, he heard the pilot curse and Alfred turned to see the man pull off his helmet and goggles, revealing a head of messy blonde hair, green eyes and the biggest eyebrows Alfred had ever seen, bigger even than that old man's had been. The pilot ran out to pick up a piece of wreckage that had been part of the plane, apparently. It looked like a camera but one of the old kind with the concertina style lens on it and it looked damaged. The pilot checked it and then threw it down in frustration.
"Blast!" Arthur had hoped that the photographic plate in the camera had survived damage after everything he went through to get a picture of the German secret weapon but luck was clearly not on his side as the plate was smashed and broken. "Lost the bloody photograph!" Arthur was going to have to go out and try again, once he made it back to Base because they needed information about whatever the enemy had developed. Then he remembered the man who had pulled him out of the plane, giving him the chance to live and do just that.
He finally got a good look at the man and his first sight of the man had been correct but now he could see the weird lock of hair that stood up above the rest of his head, somewhat taller than him and he noticed that the man wore glasses and some very strange clothes, certainly not clothes for a battlefield on a cold day. But strange clothes or not, Arthur owed this man his life.
"Thanks for the help," he said to the man who seemed to still be in some kind of shock. Arthur held out his hand for the man to shake which he did in a kind of trance. "I'm Captain Arthur Kirkland."
The last few moments had left Alfred in a complete state of confusion as the world had seemed to go mad around him and, when the pilot held out his hand, Alfred had just automatically shook it. He heard the pilot introduce himself as Captain Arthur Kirkland but he was too dazed to comment on the man having the same last name as his fiancée. After shaking Arthur Kirkland's hand, he took a business card out of his jean's pocket and handed it to Arthur.
"Alfred F Jones," he replied, still slightly dazed. "Hetalia Foods Ltd." Arthur took the card, giving it a good look. He could understand Jones's name and he believed that some kind of address was printed on the card but what did E-mail address mean? Then he placed the accent.
"You're American!" he exclaimed. Arthur knew the Americans were entering the war but he did not think it would be this soon. "I heard you chaps were coming over." He looked Alfred's clothes over again. "Unusual uniform. Or hasn't it arrived yet?" Alfred looked down at himself and then at Arthur. Arthur was wearing some kind of uniform jumpsuit but it was old fashioned, like he was looking at a picture from years back. And what did Arthur mean ' I heard you chaps were coming over?'
"Well, it's not safe here," Arthur declared. "It's time we moved, come on!" Arthur began running toward the trees but Alfred had finally had enough and he wanted answers.
"Right, this is not making any sense," he declared. "HEY, ARTIE!" Arthur turned to look back at Alfred with a somewhat disgruntled look on his face at the name Alfred had called him.
"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!"
The fire consuming the plane must have hit the fuel tank because the plane exploded behind Alfred and he was thrown through the air....
.….And bounced off his couch on to the floor beside his coffee table.
Alfred looked around in another state of shock as he found himself lying on the floor of his lounge. There was no indication that anything unusual had happened in the room. It was still dark outside and Alfred began to wonder if he had fallen asleep on the sofa and it had all been a dream.
But his feet still felt wet and he looked down at his dirty shoes, proving that he had stepped in something muddy. He ran his fingers over his head and winced as they touched a fresh wound on his forehead that had not been there before. He might have been hit by flying debris when the plane exploded. That's if it really happened.
Did it really happen?
Alfred was still tired after a restless night. He had not slept well, thinking about the strange events, not knowing if they really happened or if he had dreamt it. And the wound on his head, where he now had a wad of gauze taped over it, did not help and that was after he finally got his speech done. He had already had two mugs of strong coffee and he needed another one. Maybe he could catch a couple of hours sleep after the presentation.
He took his own car to the office and, as he got out of the car, he heard noise that sounded, at first, like artillery shells hitting the ground and Alfred dove for cover behind his car.
'Damn, it's happening again!' Alfred's mind screamed in panic. Then the sound settled into the more familiar noise of a pneumatic drill, being used by the road-workers on the other side of the street. Some kids standing nearby saw him laid out on the concrete on his stomach and began sniggering.
'Okay,' he thought. 'That was embarrassing!' He picked himself up, gave the sniggering kids a smile, like he had meant to do that and went into the building.
He was collared, just as he got to their floor, by his blonde, violet-eyed brother who was really mad, the curling strand of hair that fell between his eyes quivering with anger, not at Alfred but at their unofficial colleague who had made an advertising decision without consulting anyone. After asking about the bandage on his head and being assured that it was nothing, Matthew dragged Alfred over to where the prepared meals were laid out for the potential clients to view, to see what the problem was.
"Look at that packaging!" Matthew said. The original style had been to show a well-groom, butler-type man present a prepared meal on a silver tray. There was a maid holding the tray instead, in a very skimpy costume with very large, barely concealed boobs who was bent over slightly over the meal, giving a good view of her cleavage, one straining button away from a wardrobe malfunction. "We're supposed to be selling a fine dining experience, not dinner and a show."
"Hey," came a European sounding voice, followed by the appearance of a blonde man? Woman? with green eyes who wrapped their arms around Alfred and Matthew's shoulders. Feliks Lukasiewicz was coming to defend his advertising decision, despite knowing that at least one of his colleagues was very unhappy with him right now.
"You just have to, like, know what sells," he continued. "And it's, totes, sex appeal. We've got, like, one for the ladies too." He held out another meal box.
"Oh maple!" Matthew groaned, face-palming. On the box was the butler, very buffed up and wearing nothing but a shirt collar and tie and a short black apron, just about covering his meat and two veg. Alice wandered over after seeing that Alfred had arrived, taking one look at the packaging and putting her foot down.
"Under no circumstances are we using THAT!" she declared, disgusted. "Where would we advertise it, a porn channel?"
"Come on, Alfred," Feliks begged. Alfred shook his head.
"Sorry, Feliks," he said. "It's not the image we want." The problem was that it was too late to change it so that was the first thing to go wrong. Alfred hoped it was the only thing as he looked over the cooked meals ready for the clients to try, being kept at full temperature on the food warmers. At least nothing had been changed there.
"You could, like, almost want to eat it, couldn't you," Feliks commented, although Alfred could not tell if he was being facetious but did not want to argue so took him literally.
"Looks delicious," he replied and went to deal with other details before the presentation and so did not see Feliks pick up a chicken leg from one of the meals, take a sneaky bite and put it back.
Matthew caught up with Alfred as he walked to his office, grumbling about their meddling co-worker.
"I like Feliks," Matthew complained. "I do but I just wish he was not involved with the company."
"He's not that bad, Mattie," Alfred replied. "And not all of his ideas suck. Besides, while his godfather runs the bank that holds our loan, we're kind of stuck with him."
"More's the pity," Matthew commented as they went into Alfred's office, not knowing that someone was about to further disrupt Alfred's day.