第 ８ 話
They walked a short distance away, the opposite direction from the burning electronics store, to where the small road they were on ended at another road running perpendicular. They turned left, progressing slowly, the three soldiers constantly scanning the environment ahead, around, and behind them. The soldier carrying Mari faced mainly forward, his gun pointed ahead. The other two flanked him on either side and a little behind, so they were more or less in a triangle. Random noises, the crash of glass, a wooden beam burning and popping, and other unseen causes off in uncertain directions would cause them to all suddenly aim their guns in one direction in moments of tension before calming enough to move on. As they passed one store, against all odds the automated glass door was still operating, it's sensor picking up their motion and opening as they passed. The movement was caught by one of the soldiers who yelled intense bursts of words that Mari couldn't distinguish through the electronic distortion of the receiver of the soldier carrying her. It was a little like having been abducted by aliens, carried away to a world where nothing made the same kind of sense as it did before. The other two soldiers went down to one knee, their guns trained on the door in a practised military pose designed for effective aiming and firing. The soldier carrying Mari backed away from the door, his gun pointed at it. He didn't crouch as the other two did, but she could feel the arm he was using to balance her shift so that he was prepared to drop her if need be.
The three soldiers froze, waiting to see if someone would emerge from the door. After a little pause, it simply closed. More electronic communication. One of the soldiers stood up. The door opened. He crouched again, and after a pause, the door closed. All the soldiers then stood, and the soldier closest to the door walked up to it. He turned on the light attached to his rifle, and aimed it into the shop window, scanning from side to side. With his back to the other two, he raised one arm and waved his hand in a few quick motions, a practised signal. The three continued on their journey, the soldier who had inspected the store backing away from it slowly, his gun still aimed in its direction. There was no amount of caution that would be too much.
There was no laughing off the incident, no discussion about it at all as far as Mari could hear. The anxiety the soldiers felt precluded any interaction outside of their mission and their survival. Mari wondered if the eyes of the soldier who was carrying her hadn't been angry but terrified. Or maybe both, one a primal reaction to the other.
They came to an area close to what had previously been the large Tokyu Hands department store. The building had been reduced to two thirds of its size at least, and the remnants of what used to be its top floors formed a pile that filled the street up, spanning to the opposite side. The three soldiers had come this way before, and had cleared a slightly winding path through the lowest points of the hill of debris. They moved single file as they walked up and over, coming to the other side to reveal a large transport truck that had tracks like a tank. It was surrounded by four or five soldiers on guard, watching in all directions outward from the vehicle. The truck had two sections, with a boxy cab in front where a light was on inside and a single driver sat, nervously looking around and speaking on a radio attached by cable to the dashboard. The larger back end of the truck was covered in a drab green canvas. There was a floodlight attached to somewhere on the front of the cab, but Mari couldn't see more details because as soon as they came into view, the light swung over to them to track them as they approached.
Even though the light soon moved away again to resume scanning the surrounding area, Mari's eyes remained slightly dazzled and unable to adjust back to the darkness until the moment she found herself being lowered and put down beside the truck. She was placed into a piece of concrete, at an awkward angle but wide and flat enough for her to stand safely enough with her bare feet. The soldier who put her down didn't pause before moving off somewhere behind her for some other task. No one said anything to her, no one acknowledged her. She realized her skirt had slid up to her hips while she was on the soldiers back, and she was still exposed, so she pulled it down and straightened it out. There were about three soldiers standing near her, but none of them seemed to have the slightest interest. She felt the lack of being evaluated by men, and also women, around her for her looks that was a constant in her day to day life before this.
She thought back to a time in a hospital in Naha, when her parents were in the intensive care unit, their sickness so far along by that point that all there was left to do was give them comfort. They were in a shared room with four beds, and in one of the others was an older woman, always behind a curtain so that Mari never saw her. Mari constantly heard her, though, farting and burping, and making wet sounding noises that Mari didn't want to identify. When the nurses came in to see the old woman, they would have completely frank conversations with unrestrained voices about every bodily function the woman had, when she had them, and all sorts of details about what they were like. That was when Mari learned that a hospital is a place where all sacred illusions about the kind of constructed people we make ourselves out to be day to day are destroyed. All the biological functions that the human body has are no longer hidden away, but laid bare, equalizing everyone, rich or poor, pretty or not, down to the animals that we try to elevate ourselves away from. Mari felt similar now, that to these soldiers she was something like that old woman, just a body, a person either infected or not, to be disposed of or transported. Her skirt and all its symbolism and style and sexuality were an artifact from a different reality.
The voice cut through Mari's moment of reflection to draw her attention to its source, a soldier standing nearby. He waived at her with a sweeping motion to tell her that she needed to climb into the back of the truck. His motion was dismissive, as if he felt like she obviously should have done so already. He didn't even keep looking at her while he waved, turning his head mid motion to keep scanning the horizon around them. Stepping carefully and stumbling a little, similar to crossing a stream with slippery rocks, Mari avoided the worst of the debris and made it to the tailgate of the truck. Finding some metal bars positioned as a ladder, she climbed up and through the canvas flap.
There were a few lights running in a line down the centre of the interior of the back of the truck, weak LED tube lights that cast a harsh sterile blue white light. On either side were long flat metal benches, populated almost in full by a collection of people, all of them completely silent, most were too lost in their own worlds to care enough to look at the new person. The ones that looked up when Mari entered were startled, as if the flap opening could be the moment when the next attack came. Mari didn't feel out of place at all, though. Her empathy for the people around her being immediate. The specifics would be different, but they had all been through exactly what she had been through.
They all came from completely different walks of life. A man in a torn suit, a woman in casual jeans and a black hoodie, a young girl with cultivated club attire. There were about a dozen people, but none of them were noticeably elderly, and no children. All of them looked reasonably fit. Circumstances favoured those who could move quickly. Mari sat in the remaining empty space on one of the benches, closest to the entrance flap. As she lowered herself into her seat, the man across from her in a navy blue windbreaker nodded mostly from his neck and a little from his shoulders, the way one does in casual situations in place of bowing fully, but it was so automatic, a habitual way of acknowledging someone, that Mari wasn't sure the man even knew he did it.
Another unifying feature was that everyone was covered in the same grey dust, obscuring shades of hair colour and muting bright clothing, bringing everyone into the same baseline of appearance. Mari realized that they were a mirror of her experience, and she looked down at herself to see the same grey dust over her clothes and her legs. She held her hair up to see the dust there too. She didn't bother to brush it out. She just put her hands in her lap and looked down at the floor like everyone else did.
The silence remained unbroken except for the low clattering rumble of the idling diesel engine, and the occasional sound of boots on debris from outside when it was close enough to be heard above the truck. On the one hand Mari didn't want to talk with anyone because words just reduce feelings, but on the other hand the lack of interaction kept alive in her mind the reality that even though help had come, she was far from safe.
Without any warning, the truck's engine revved and there was movement, rocking everyone first in the direction of the back of the truck, then toward the front. The motion was strong enough that some people had to grab onto the bench or one of the bars that arced overhead, and others grabbed or bumped into people beside them. There were a few quiet bows of apology, and then a return to everyone's individual world. The truck continued to bump and shake everyone as it slowly progressed. The flap on the back of the truck wasn't pinned down, and Mari had an angle that she could see outside, the amount she could see varying with every swing of the flap. She could make out that the truck was only moving forward as fast as the soldiers outside could walk, with one of them just in her field of view. Just as before when being carried by a soldier, the soldier she watched was constantly turning from side to side as he walked, scanning every direction for possible dangers.
The truck went up an incline, and then when it reached the top of the hill it picked up a little more speed but progress was constantly halted by having to navigate side to side, sometimes even stopping and backing up a little, to navigate around piles of rubble too large to go over. Large bumps that jolted people from their seats were frequent, and between those there was a constant shaking. Through the gap in the canvas, Mari watched the rubble pass by, noting the bodies cut up and disturbed by the tracks. The tracks would scrape off the dust and expose the burnt flesh, and blood, and torn clothes. When she was carried by the soldier, they would step around bodies, but now, the truck, with no motivations or feeling of its own, nonetheless asserted that these bodies were now no different from any other material strewn across the ground.
Mari could hear some shouting outside the truck, from some point nearby that got closer as the truck moved forward. They were passing through an intersection, and as a corner across from Mari came into sight, the truck stopped. With the truck not moving anymore, the flap had come to rest, but Mari had seen just enough of something that she knew she wanted to see more. By reaching her hand out, she could open the flap just enough to see outside, but it felt like she would be doing something wrong. She glanced around at everyone else, and there were a couple people looking toward the flap, made curious as Mari was by the sounds of shouting. No one, though, looked in any way concerned with what Mari did, so she decided to risk it. She gently nudged the corner of the flap, cautious that a soldier might be angered if he noticed her, and opened a sliver of view that she could see out of if she leaned forward a little.
On the corner Mari could see, there were three soldiers, and three boys in their late teens or early twenties. Or at least, they looked to be about that age from their clothing, baggy pants and fake brand name t-shirts. Two of the boys were on their knees, facing toward the wall of the Parco department store, with their hands behind their heads and fingers interlocked. Both kneeling boys had a soldier standing behind, assault rifle aimed directly at their head. The third boy, the most muscular of the three, was standing and moving animatedly, yelling at the remaining soldier, who stood in front of him. The soldier had his rifle up and braced against a shoulder, pointing at the standing teenager. Sometimes, the soldier would take the hand that was placed on the grip under the barrel and move it in a waving motion, what Mari assumed to mean, "calm down." The teenage boy was talking and moving around anxiously. Sometimes he would point at the other two. One time he pointed at the truck. Mari couldn't make out most of what the boy was saying, he was too far away and the truck's engine too loud. But sometimes he yelled at the soldier and she could make out words and fragments of sentences. Mari remembered the eyes of the soldier that first examined her to make sure she wasn't infected, and wondered if boy was yelling at similar eyes because that's how he dealt with his fear.
…他にたくさん殺す奴いるだろ、なんで俺ら… "... killed so many, so why are we..." Just as he said that, the boy suddenly swung his arms out, possibly as if he was emphasizing his point, or maybe it was something else. Just as he did, the soldier fired, the shot so sudden that the boy was caught mid sentence with no idea it was coming. Three quick shots ripped through him, so fast that they were part of a single burst shorter than the blink of an eye. Two bullets went into his upper chest near his neck, and the other straight into his head, exploding out the back of his skull. The two boys on their knees flinched, but it seemed that even if they hadn't, their fate was sealed. The two soldiers trained on them shot them with one shot each, straight into the back of their heads. The boys collapsed where they were. The soldiers, after a moment of conferring with unseen voices coming and going through their walkie talkies, turned and walked back toward the truck.
Mari let go of the thick canvas flap and let it fall to close the gap she was looking out of. She looked back in to the people inside the truck and saw four or five looking toward her as if she might explain the shots. She looked back, not knowing if she should say anything. She didn't have to, though, as everyone just dropped their gaze. The key point was made by Mari's limited reaction and the lack of any more shooting. So long as whatever was going on had passed and no new dangers were running toward them, there wasn't anything else that really mattered. Mari sat back and decided she didn't want to watch the outside anymore. She just wanted to wake up in a place where there would be safety and comfort.
The truck progressed, slowly, haltingly, as it had been doing before. They went down a hill, and the debris and rubble started to thin out, exposing more road underneath. The bumps and shaking in the truck became much less, though the type of transport it was would never settle into a very smooth ride. Although Mari was not watching the outside as she had been, there wasn't much else to look at, so she sometimes noticed buildings or intersections, and when they passed under the tracks for the Yamanote line. Just past the tracks, the truck stopped. Mari could hear the soldiers moving with urgency outside. There was a pause and the truck shifted gears and the engine noise changed to the uneven rattling it made when it idled. The driver could be heard shouting. Everyone in the back of the truck straightened in their seats, anxiously turning and twisting as if a different position might let them hear better. Being inside the truck changed in that moment from being a safe oasis to a box that they were trapped in, unable to know when something outside might come inside.
The sound of machine gun fire came from all sides, but mainly from near the front of the truck. Followed shortly by a few heavy thuds, large heavy objects falling onto the street. It was clear they were encountering some infected, jumping down from somewhere overhead, but how many was impossible to tell. Would it be more or less than the number of bullets the soldiers had?
A body landed on the back of the truck, pushing the canvas inward where there weren't metal bars to hold it up. One of the infected was on top of the truck, and through the canvas, everyone in the back could see as it scrambled toward the back. People recoiled away from the flap, pressing into each other. Mari was the only one to stay where she was. She felt that if it tried to climb in, it would be better to fight to get out rather than be trapped inside with one while more came. Within moments, it was coming in, through the canvas flap, using both hands to climb over the tail gate and pushing the flap forward with its head and body. It was a slightly heavy set man with a plaid shirt and shaved head, and what had been a perfectly perfectly groomed pointed goatee before it had been matted down with blood. He made the now familiar growl as his face came into view. Mari screamed, and for all her intention of trying to push the man out of the way and get by him, found herself instinctively turning away, pulling her arm up to protect her head on one side.
With a short burst of machine gun fire, the growling stopped abruptly like a radio being turned off. Mari felt blood spatter across her body, along with fragments of flesh or bone. She cautiously turned back to see the man collapsed with just his arms and what remained of his head hooked onto the tailgate so that he didn't fall out. Before she could think too much about it, the man was pulled out of sight, and a soldier burst in, the light attached to his gun shining in Mari's face. She couldn't see the soldier behind it, she could only hear a voice from beyond the blinding white light.
目や口に入ったか？ "Did any blood or anything get in your mouth? Your eyes?" The voice shouted at her. She couldn't see the barrel of the gun but felt its presence, as if any hesitation would make the white light switch to endless black.
いいえ！いいえ！何も入ってない！ "No, no! Nothing went in!" Mari screamed as fast as she could, and then, with a deliberate display of trying to be helpful, she opened her mouth, to show her tongue and her throat. The light moved closer, examining her. A gloved hand grabbed her by the chin and turned her side to side.
目を見せろ！ "Show me your eyes!"
Mari opened her eyes as wide as she could and held them still, waiting for permission to blink. The light went rapidly back and forth between her eyes, then backed off a little. The gloved hand grabbed her shoulder and turned her to the side, examining the spatter of blood down the side of her clothes. The hand pushed her back to facing forward, and pressed her backward so that her shoulders were up against the canvas behind her. For a few heartbeats, nothing in Mari's world moved. Mari realized the soldier was probably waiting to see if she turned. Then it hit her that if she was infected, she probably wouldn't know until it started to happen, and maybe not even then. Would she feel a fever or nausea or anything, or would she not have any idea of anything changing before the gun in her face ended her? What if she flinched or twitched in some way that the soldier decided would make it too risky to wait any longer? She held herself as motionless as she possibly could, not even blinking. The tears now streaming from her eyes having at least some benefit in helping her to keep her eyes open.
It was an endless moment in which Mari had no sense of time passing. The light suddenly went out, and Mari's eyes went blind trying to adjust to the sudden dark. She heard the soldier climbing out, speaking through his walkie talkie words she couldn't make out, no doubt something to the effect that the back of the truck hadn't been compromised. She held her eyes shut to help them readjust as soon as possible, and for the comfort of not having to hold them open for judgement. When she opened them again, she was looking down into her lap, and saw her two hands, like the rest of her, shaking uncontrollably. She had no impulse to try and stop them, she just stared at them. The shaking was a sign of life.
She turned to look at the other people in the truck, fearing they were going to turn on her, that they might want to do something about her before she became a threat to them. The eyes looking back at her, though, were expressionless, looking at her without it being about her. The people behind the stares lost to their individual stories of horror experienced before this moment. It occurred to her, that for all she knew, just before she was put in the truck, many times before, any one of these people might have had something similar happen. A close call of some kind, something that could have put any one of them in doubt. They had never really been together, each of them as much a danger to everyone else as her.