第 ５ 話
The group was quiet. Everyone was gathered around a few tables in the middle of the room. The flickering lights of the dance floor, as well as the decorative LED lighting around the walls, were all turned off in favour of a few select regular house lights, giving a subdued ambiance. The sirens had stopped, and even when they listened at the door they couldn't really hear anything from outside. Nonetheless, it was decided that it was best to keep sound and light to a minimum, on the off chance that somehow it might get noticed, even though that was unlikely given that the place was underground and the one entrance was shut tight. In front of the heavy door was a mass of tables and chairs, structured in such a way as to lend support to the door, but in all likelihood if the door opened the pile would collapse. At best, anyone coming through would be caught up in the mess.
After the task of fortifying the door had been accomplished, the group gathered and sat together to wait out the storm. The bartender found a pair of plastic bathroom slippers for Mari, stored in the back for the rare times when the bathroom was cleaned. He also brought out an old laptop that the management kept for accounting and other administrative tasks, but was mostly used by the staff for killing time when business was slow. He brought it out for everyone to use, though Mari, the only one without a phone, defaulted to being on it the most. Between using the laptop, their phones, the news, and conferring with each other, the group came to a single unified understanding of the situation. They were going to be trapped in the bar at least for the night, so they should settle in.
There was an initial round of bowing and greetings. The three women, Rie, Chieko, and Ana, all in their early twenties, recently out of university, worked for a regional bank in Aomori, and were in Tokyo for some kind of banking regulations seminar. They were all wearing work clothes, conservative blazers and knee length skirts in sombre grey and blue tones, with crisp white shirts. They found themselves in this bar because they didn't really know the area and which places were good, so they had wandered in, and after realizing it was not a very popular bar, decided to have a drink while they looked for other options on their phones. The man with the date introduced himself only with his family name, Tanaka San. His slightly too dark for any age hair, along with his silvery suit, made him look a little like a character in a mid nineties film about the yakuza, though he said he worked in talent management at a music production company. His date, Noriko, was clearly a hostess, with her extra long false eyelashes, light brown curly hair extensions, and her tight ankle length purple dress. It seemed likely to everyone else that Yamada San would be a regular at Noriko's hostess club, and Yamada San was buying a little alone time with her before her shift later in the night. The bartender, Ryouji, only a little older than Mari, wearing casual jeans and a t-shirt promoting some new alcoholic drink no one had heard of yet, was the only one on staff this early in the night, as this bar was more the kind of place where people came to kill time with cheap drinks after midnight until the trains started running again. Until about midnight, people were out at more fashionable or cool bars, which Ryouji joked about, having no illusions about the place he worked at.
Yuusuke introduced himself as working at a bicycle shop, but that he was supposed to have been DJing an event later in the night, and he had been waiting for friends in front of the Q-Front building when he turned and saw Mari standing at the main Shibuya intersection with no shoes. Mari said she was on her way to meet friends for dinner, omitting that it was a gokon , because, to her at least, that was slightly embarrassing. That she had been close enough to the infected that she had to throw her shoes at a man to get away was the cause of much fascinated conversation. Eventually, though, even that specific topic dissipated into the more general shock and amazement at the events surrounding them. They exchanged notes as they received information through their phones and would sometimes all focus on the television when one of them would call their attention to it. Like when the prime minister was shown to be surrounded by reporters and security as he made his way from his official residence to a large black car. Much to the disappointment of everyone in the room, the prime minister had nothing to say beyond vague pronouncements of being constantly updated and preparing a response as quick as possible. He was on screen for no more than a few seconds before he was practically pushed into his car by security, and the news cut to a different feed.
この役立たずめ "Useless bastard," Tanaka San muttered.
ね、みんな、電波はまだ届いてる？ "Hey, is everyone still getting reception?" Chieko asked.
うん、でも、どんどん遅くなる。 "Yeah, but it's getting slower and slower," Ana said.
みんなが連絡とろうとしてるからだろう？代々木公園の花見でも同じことがあった。人が多すぎると、繋がらなくなるんだ。携帯のネットワークって脆いよな。 "The network is probably getting jammed up," Ryouji said. "It's like hanami in Yoyogi Park. Every year, so many people gather that the mobile network can't handle the load."
パソコンは？ "What about the laptop?" Asked Rie. Mari was in the middle of reading an email that had her attention, so it took a few moments of no talking for her to realize people might be waiting on her. She looked up, and around, and saw that everyone was looking at her.
あの、インタネットはまだ繋がっているけど、サイトによって違うみたい。フェイスブックは遅いね、Gmailはまだ大丈夫。 "Um... The internet is still connected. But, each site is different. Facebook is slow. Gmail is still okay." There were a few nods as people considered the implications. At some point, it might be only the television and the laptop with a connection to the outside world, and at that time, Mari would have to share. For the time being, though, despite connections occasionally dropping and some things taking too long to load, everyone was still getting enough connection via their own devices that the topic of sharing the laptop could be put off.
The conversation turned back to the same things it had been all along. Someone might find a shocking video on YouTube or Instagram to show everyone else, usually of some innocent person being mauled to death while someone filmed from just far enough away to not be taken down themselves. Usually the videos were so shaky and low resolution that it was a little hard to tell what was going on. Sometimes, though, there was all too much clarity, and Chieko and Rie would not want to see it. There were tweets on Twitter and posts on 2chan describing assaults. Sometimes there were pleas for help by people trapped in other places. There was a lot of contradictory advice, some people saying that everyone should get out of the city as fast as they could, while others advised that people should lock themselves in where they were.
Almost all the channels on the television were now showing emergency broadcast images, some of which consisted of an alarm sound and advisory text scrolling on the screen, while networks with established news divisions showed a frame that had scrolling text covering part of the screen and a live news feed underneath. Ryouji had given up flipping through channels to try and get different information, as it seemed that most channels were relaying feeds from more established networks like NTV and NHK. They settled on leaving it on NHK, where the anchors were almost disturbingly calm given what was going on. Yuusuke pointed out that the news networks were not showing the more extreme images that were getting shared on social media, and Yamada San speculated that the octogenarians who still relied on old media probably couldn't handle it.
For all the information flowing in, they were all frustrated by how little any of it helped. Whether it was from a major media outlet or the collected input of countless people sharing on social media, it all just gave more details to what they already knew, which was that outside was a chaos of murder and violence. Some of the the information had hints of new details, like some police actions which gave some indication of a response from authorities. There were scenes uploaded to web sites of police in riot gear shooting water cannons at crowds, only to ultimately be overwhelmed. Other scenes showed police, and later, soldiers, shooting into crowds, but nonetheless being stormed by waves of people. In one video that that held everyone's attention for longer than the others, police holding a barricade somewhere near Harajuku were hit by a literal wave of people, as the crowd of infected running at the police was so dense that people were trampling and climbing over each other. For a few moments at the front edge, they were effectively lifting each other up and over, cresting like surf hitting a beach. The video was only a few seconds long, as the person holding the phone filming it was on a motorcycle and sped away before risking being overwhelmed themselves, but the image stuck with everyone in the bar for how clearly it conveyed the magnitude of what was happening.
Still, while the details in any one incident caught on video might be different, it was all just more killing and chaos. The information they really wanted was, what they could do, when help might be coming, or why was this happening. After a while, news stations began to bring in their go-to experts and pundits who speculated endlessly, but no one in any real position of authority came forward to offer anything concrete about how this situation would be handled.
With the help of a map shown now and again on the television screen, and sometimes shared across the internet, they could see that the madness was quickly consuming large portions of Tokyo, starting in Shibuya and radiating outward. The infection was spreading in all directions, but went fastest going north and northwest up the main roads of Meiji Dori and Aoyama Dori. The infection, passed like a relay from person to person, spread about as fast as a human could run. All the central areas of Tokyo, Shibuya Ku, Minato Ku, Shinjuku Ku, and Chiyoda Ku, were already over run before there were coordinated attempts to block off the roads and contain the movement of people, and by then it was too large an area to quarantine. The disease was mostly following major roads and train lines to large stations where it would then explode outward in new bursts. Tokyo doesn't have one central core, it has dozens of dense hubs, each of which is a major downtown centre in its own right. On this night, they acted as nodes in an expanding network, making the spread of the disease simultaneously nebulous and efficient.
As everyone watched the disaster unfold through their phones and on the television, they would share details and confer so that no one was missing out on the full picture. At the same time, everyone deliberately avoided discussing any implications of how their personal lives might be forever altered. Even when people would send messages that didn't get returned, everyone wanted to believe that their own friends or family were safe, it was countless strangers caught in the worst of it. Surely by morning this, like most typhoons, would pass.
Mari listened in, but didn't speak much. Her thoughts were on an email she had received.
マリどこにいるんだ、速く連絡してくれ。お前を安全なところに連れて行かなければ。メールを見たらすぐに連絡をくれ。 "Mari, where are you, please respond quickly," read the subject line. In the body of the email, it said, "Mari, we have to get you to safety. Call me as soon as you get this message."
It was from her uncle, or at least, a man she always referred to as uncle. Most adults in the community Mari came from were referred to as "aunt" or "uncle", but Yasutani San was especially close to Mari's father, even though he didn't live on the temple grounds. She never fully understood the connection between Yasutani and her father, just that whatever bonded them happened before she was born, and Yasutani was forever grateful. At the joint funeral for Mari's parents, he swore to Mari that if she ever needed anything, she should come to him, that he would always be there for her. Mari's hands hovered above the keyboard, held back from typing anything by the uncertainty of whether or not she should respond at all, let alone what she would say. While everyone around her spoke just above the constant hum of noise from the television, Mari's thoughts were far away. If her parents had been alive, how would they justify this? How special was she if she was just going to be wiped away like everyone else in some disease fuelled riot?
Not that she knew if she was going to start typing anyway, Mari was nonetheless interrupted. Everyone in the room sensed it before it was distinct. Something outside the building. Ryouji found the mute button on the remote and silenced the television. With everyone still, they could hear an alarm, different from the one before. Previously it was a long drawn out wail. This alarm cycled, going from a low tone and rapidly up to a high pitch, over and over. Then it would stop, and there was something else, an indistinct murmuring, a voice.
Ryouji and Yuusuke went to the door, and manoeuvring around the blockade of chairs and tables as best they could, tried to get close enough to hear what the voice was saying. They craned their necks to put their ears as close to the door as possible, but couldn't quite reach.
何を言っている…・ "What's it saying?" Tanaka San asked. Yuusuke held up his hand, half indicating for Yamada San to stay quiet, and half to get everyone to wait a bit more as he and Ryouji strained to hear.
えっと…『こちらは渋谷区防災センターです。これから』…何か…『が始まります。速やかに避難してください。』 "It's like..." Ryouji started, then paused to listen for a little more, "This is the Shibuya emergency centre.... something... will start immediately. Take shelter immediately." Ryouji looked at Yuusuke to see if he knew the missing words, but Yuusuke tilted his head to convey that he wasn't any more clear.
それ、当たり前だろ？俺達が何をしていたと思うんだ？ "Well that's fucking obvious, isn't it? What do they think we've been doing?" Tanaka said. He said it with an unamused laugh, and turned to look at Noriko for her to share in his sentiment. She merely smirked a little so as not to completely ignore him, but she remained quiet as she had for most of the night. The way she sat, with the posture but not the smile one would expect from a hostess, it was clear she felt out of place in the group, and equally unconnected to Tanaka San. Tanaka San didn't give any indication that he was aware Noriko wasn't sharing the moment with him, instead he sat back in his chair and looked up at the television, clearly unimpressed that this new alarm seemed to be hours too late.
Watching the television with the sound off, Tanaka San cocked his head in puzzlement, as it wasn't clear from the images alone what was happening. There was a new map on the screen. The maps displayed before were just broad areas coloured with translucent yellow to indicate the spread of the pandemic. Now there were circles with heavy red lines scattered all over, but not randomly. They seemed to be marking specific areas, but what could be so specific about a disease spreading? Tanaka San furrowed his brow. Something about the map and the alarm were related, but what? Then it hit him. The circles were targets. He took a sharp intake of breath, and then held that breath for a moment, knowing he should yell something out, but not exactly sure how to encapsulate it into few enough words to get both the information and the urgency across.
Before he got any words out, all at once everything in the room shook and there was a noise that was loud enough to be deafening and at the same time so low and heavy that it was like a silence that nothing could be heard over.
空爆だ！ "Air raid!" Tanaka San shouted through the thick rain of dust and fragments from the ceiling that created a haze through which it was hard to see. The television went out, the lights flickered. The three women from Aomori screamed and held on to each other, crouching down in front of their seats but not fully getting under any tables. Tanaka San grabbed Noriko and pulled her under a table, and also used part of his jacket to shelter her from the larger pieces of gyprock coming from above. For all her social discomfort, Noriko was no less appreciative to have someone, anyone, looking out for her. Ryouji scrambled, at first moving toward the back of the bar for shelter but turned away when he realized all the bottles of alcohol lined up on shelves on the wall were falling and shattering into a layer of broken glass in a pool of mixed alcohol. Instead, he scurried around to the front side of the bar where there was a slight lip of the counter above him, though it wasn't enough to cover him completely and he struggled to flatten his body enough to get out of the way. Yuusuke dove back toward the tables where everyone else was, putting him closest to Mari who was now hiding under a table. They were on the either side of the single leg in the centre of the round table, leaning in much like when two people share a small umbrella. Yuusuke put an arm around Mari's shoulder's, and she leaned back toward him.
The noise above rolled like thunder, countless loud and heavy explosions relentlessly rumbling one after the other, too close to each other to be individually distinct. They varied in distance, sometimes far enough away that the vibrations were barely felt, but sometimes they seemed right over head, making the whole room feel like it was about to implode. The air pressure in the room changed in waves, sometimes feeling thin as if all the oxygen had been sucked out, and then thick as if something heavy was compressing it from above. People's ears would alternate between feeling stuffed up, and then uncomfortably popping clear, and either way, everyone felt light headed and slightly dizzy.
The whole time dust and pieces of gyprock fell like hail, but when the explosions seemed directly overhead, lights, pieces of air duct, and large chunks of cement would fall. A light housing fell on Chieko, hitting her mostly on her shoulder but clipping her ear in the process. A large chunk of what looked to be the corner of a cinder block fell a short distance from Yuusuke's foot, and Mari grabbed onto him as if holding him tighter might make him safer from falling dangers.
Much like when she felt she might die on the train, Mari felt a sense of mortality that was bound up in the morbid specifics of how it might actually happen. Would the ceiling give in and crush her? Would it crush just part of her, leaving her to observe her own death slowly over hours? Would she be trapped and suffocate? Time was lost as every moment transitioned from having survived that last moment to thinking about the next moment which she might not survive. It was an eternity strung together by fleeting milliseconds of wondering how death would come, if it would come, and wondering if her light would go on after her candle went out.