第 １４ 話
"Our orders are no locals," a male voice called out from the direction of the van. It was parked half on the driveway leading into the building, and half on the road in front. It didn't look like a special military van in any way. It was a dull colour somewhere between silver and tan, a Japanese make, the kind that would probably get used by some tour company that only needed to transport a small group of people. Near the van, and up into the open area just past some guard gates, there were a few bodies pushed up against a fountain that was turned off, but mostly there were random things like abandoned suitcases, some clothing strewn about, as well as books, cups, and whatever else people had dropped and left behind as people scrambled to evacuate.
"She spoke English!" The soldier who had fired called back. He had lowered his rifle and was walking toward Mari, keeping a watchful eye on the road. One of his hands was outstretched, palm up, indicating that Mari should come to him. She stood up and hurried over to him. He didn't grab her, he just guided her to go behind him and on toward the van. As she went by, she could see that he was young, possibly even a year or two younger than her. He had an innocent boyish face, but taller than Mari and even through all his military gear it was clear he was extremely fit.
The van had a sliding door that was open. Mari stopped just before it, not sure if she was allowed on. She could see four people in the van, lit dimly by barely effective interior lights. The man who had yelled out before was in the driver's seat, a dark skinned man, slightly overweight and with a shaved head. He was turned around so he could see her through the open door.
"Well, get in already!" he said in an impatient tone, as if he hadn't said anything before about not taking her. Mari started into the van cautiously, but then the soldier who was behind her pushed her in, with just enough force to get her moving quickly, and slammed the sliding door behind her. He then jogged around the van and got in the passenger seat. Mari sat in a seat in the middle, the seat beside her folded away to create access to the back. Behind her on a bench seat the width of the van was an older couple in civilian clothes. One was a man who looked to be in his late fifties or early sixties. His skin was pale and his hair was almost completely white, but overall he was very fit for his age, his skin a little loose over what used to be a more muscular body. With him was an Asian woman who looked to be ten or so years younger, long black hair and a very dark complexion. She was very curvy and just a little overweight, and her face had the wrinkles of someone who smiled and laughed a lot. Behind them was another soldier, sitting awkwardly in the very back where ordinarily there would be luggage. She couldn't see him clearly, but he seemed like he might be Asian or South American. Behind him, the square window on the back had been knocked out, presumably so he could shoot at anything behind them with the large rifle he had at the ready.
"You Japanese?" The driver asked.
"Yes," Mari said quietly. She didn't know the exact situation, but clearly these were Americans evacuating their own, so she worried they might kick her out for not being one of them.
"We could at least drop her off somewhere... away from here..." The young soldier in the passenger seat said, not sounding very convincing. The driver glared at him.
"Whatever! Let's get the fuck outta here!" Yelled the soldier in the back. He had an accent, but Mari had no idea where it was from. It could have been Caribbean, South American, or African for all she knew.
"Fine, be a knight in shining armour," the driver said sharply to the young soldier as he put the van into drive and rolled forward, "but your Cho Cho San isn't going to be allowed on the helicopter."
"What's 'cho cho' mean?" the young soldier asked, resting the barrel of his assault rifle in a ready position on the edge of the open passenger side window.
"It means you're culturally illiterate," the driver said, as a dismissive afterthought while he was more concerned with getting ready to move. The van shuddered a moment as he shifted gears into drive, and the engine's idling took on a lower tone. "Hey, you just came from back that way," he said, turning to Mari and tilting his head for a moment in the direction Mari had come from, "what's going on down there? We heard explosions..."
"They were using guns," Mari said. "And bombs."
"The JDF?" The driver asked.
"No, the..." Mari couldn't remember the English word for 「感染者」, "infected," so she said, "the sick people." Everyone in the van paused a moment to take in the implications of what Mari was saying.
"Fuuuuuck," the young soldier said, in a low, reflective tone.
"Alright, let's get the hell outta here," the driver said, and he turned sharply to the left, to head away from the intersection Mari had run from. The van moved forward smoothly for a few seconds, as the road seemed to be clear of other cars or debris. Then they came to a barricade made of cars similar to the one near the intersection Mari had come from. This one, though, had a gap in it, seemingly formed by a large truck having pushed its way through. It wasn't perfectly straight, so the driver had to slow down and manoeuvre through with a little care. Once through, the van was able to get up to speed again. There was some random debris, and the occasional car abandoned in the road, but the wide road had enough clear space to go forward relatively easily, just a little side to side motion to find the most space.
On their left were mainly apartment buildings, and at the speed they were passing it was hard to tell if there was any activity in any of them. The power was out in this part of town, so there were no interior lights on. The streetlights were also out, so the only light was the headlights on the van, and sometimes from an abandoned car or truck. On their right was an elevated highway, with a canal below it, the same canal Mari had been in earlier. Some of the lights on the highway were still on, their light trickling a little to the road below. Overall, it was a quiet road, mostly inactive. They would sometimes see stray infected by the side of the road, usually near a side street, but the van went by too fast for the infected to react in any way that mattered. There were bodies, mostly on the sidewalks, but no living uninfected that they could see.
"I'm Jessica, and this is Tom," the Asian woman in the back said as the van made its way down the main road. She had an accent that Mari recognized as being from the Philippines. Her voice broke the silence in the car unexpectedly, and Mari had to take a moment to compose herself for a response.
"You can't go around all night in that," Jessica said, and it was the first moment that Mari was conscious of the fact she was wearing only a patient's gown made of some plasticy paper material. It was still secured at points near her waist and shoulders with small tabs of double sided tape, so she wasn't exposed, but it was hanging a little loose, having been yanked and stretched by all of Mari's actions since the earthquake hit. It was dirty and scuffed, but surprisingly not ripped anywhere. However, near the bottom edge, it was damp where the canal water had soaked into it, softening the fabric. It was only a matter of time before the gown would fall apart. She felt a little embarrassed and tried to straighten the gown in a largely futile attempt to make it a little less revealing. "I think I might have something that can fit you," Jessica said, shuffling through a duffel bag beside her on the seat.
"Officially, I'm Private First Class Kirkson, but call me Mike," the young soldier said, pulling Mari's attention back to the front. "Our chauffeur here is Corporal Chuck Coleman, and in the back there is Private First Class Diya. Call him Rafe." Mari just nodded her head a little. She was aware that Mike was stealing an extra glance now and again. She found it surprising that even in this situation that he, or anyone, would be thinking in terms of attraction. That, along with the informal introductions of everyone, made the feeling inside the van strangely casual, which sharply contrasted with the harsh intensity of the Japanese soldiers she had encountered before. It was hard to say which made her more or less comfortable. It was a relief to not be shouted at and carried around like luggage. But on the other hand, this group didn't come across as focused as they might need to be.
"Here you go," Jessica said as she handed Mari a white t-shirt with a print on the front of a collage of gold and sepia photographs of tropical beaches, with small hints of blue, blended together to the point where it was almost abstract. Somewhere near the bottom, it said "Cebu", in text that blended into the background. Jessica also handed Mari a pair of small turquoise shorts with white trim around the seams and edges. "They might be a little small, you're a little taller than me, but they should cover you better than that thing."
"Thank you." Mari was tense and unsure of where she was going and how this group felt about her, but she forced a smile and a slight bow to convey her gratitude. With the same kind of motions that one would use to take off a bra without removing the shirt over top, Mari put the t-shirt over her neck, and then by pulling her arms out of the sleeves of the gown and then through the t-shirt, she was able to change without ever having to expose herself. Nonetheless, everyone in the van made a very deliberate point of looking other directions.
"We shouldn't have stayed in Asakusa so long..." Jessica said.
"We couldn't have known..." Tom replied.
Mari slipped the shorts up under her patient's gown, and once she was clothed, she took off the gown and used it to wipe her feet, which were wet and dirty from the canal. Not knowing what else to do with it after that, she folded it neatly and placed it on her lap. The shirt and shorts fit, but on the small side. The shorts especially exposed the length of Mari's legs, but it was still better than a disposable paper gown that was on the verge of disintegrating entirely.
The inside of the van went quiet again, with Jessica and Tom holding hands and taking a moment of quiet care for each other. There wasn't much activity inside or outside of the van. While there was occasional movement of what might be an infected or someone looking for shelter, it was hard to differentiate in the shadows, overall it seemed strangely quiet for a metropolis that was being overrun by people turning into murderers. The soldiers scanned the surroundings for anything that might indicate a problem. Mari looked out the windows just to confirm if the area really was as quiet as it seemed to be.
"They couldn't have evacuated the area, could they?" Mike asked. His window was on the side facing the buildings, and he kept an eye out at entrance ways and the shadows between parked cars.
"Beats me," Chuck replied, "but don't assume anything. Keep your head on a swivel." Just as Chuck finished speaking, there was some electronic beeps along with some static noises. Mike shuffled in his seat, searching down near his feet, and then produced what looked like a very large dull grey mobile phone.
"Base command, Private First Class Kirkson requesting authorization to the evac point, copy," Mike said. There was a pause, and a voice responded, obscured by static to everyone except Mike. Mike then said, "My cargo is three soldiers, three civilians, copy." Another response of voices under static. "I read you, base command. Tsunami inbound. Proceeding expeditiously and with extreme caution. Roger that." Everyone heard the word "tsunami", making them focus all the more on Mike, who turned to speak to Chuck directly. "We got a mountain of water coming our way. It's like all this country does is come up with natural disasters to kill people with."
"Shit," Chuck said. "Big enough to come in as far as where we are now?"
"All they said was to get our asses to the evac point ASAP. Like, ASAP ."
Tom and Jessica held hands and looked to each other for comfort. Rafe, in the back, muttered something in a language Mari couldn't identify, let alone understand. Mari listened as best she could to the world outside the van, above the engine noise. There were sirens off in the distance, but of a few different types, with differing cycles. It was hard to know if they were tsunami warnings, or related to any one of a number of things going wrong this night. What Mari was aware of, though, was the return of a feeling she had while in the canal, the threat of being swallowed by dark waters.
The main road joined with another large road, and turned toward the left, the canal and raised highway also branching off so that both were still on their right. On this section of road, there were more lights on, and more scattered obstacles, so that the van had to swerve more, as well as speed up and slow down at intervals that, to Mari, were random and slightly nausea inducing. Jessica leaned forward and with her free hand touched Mari lightly on her arm, and Mari turned in her chair.
"Do you have family or someone to go to?" Jessica's tone was very gentle, very sympathetic.
"I don't know..." Mari was unsure how to answer. She was still in the process of settling into her new life, and to get away from her upbringing. She has family that she was unsure about seeing, and friends she didn't know how close they were yet. "I lost my phone earlier, I can't..." Mari's voice trailed off. Jessica looked at Mari for a few moments, simply conveying sympathy, and then pulled back as if she had a realization.
"You can take my phone!" Jessica said. She searched inside the large leather purse she had with her.
"You sure you should..." Tom began, but then Jessica cut him off by slapping the side of his thigh dismissively.
"Oh, we'll be fine! And she needs to be in touch with her family! She's just Kari's age! Imagine Kari running around in a situation like this without any way to contact you. People need to help each other in times like this." Whoever Kari was to Tom, it was the deciding factor that completely closed off any more objections. Having made her case with unarguable finality, Jessica pulled out a small smart phone and turned it on with a button on the right side. "Hang on... let me turn off the screen lock..." Once she was done with some adjustments, Jessica handed the phone over to Mari.
"Really? I can use this...?" Mari said. She couldn't hide that she was a little giddy with all the possibility of connection to the world that this little phone represented. She took the phone with two hands, to convey it was a precious gift.
"No, no... you can have it." Jessica said, as she leaned back into her seat. "It's got a SIM with a pre-paid plan, and it might not have too much time left, so be careful. But I want you to take it, keep it until you get back to your family. They must be so worried!" Mari didn't want to spoil anything about this helpful gesture by mentioning her parents had passed away, so she smiled as if talking to her parents was something she might do. She looked at the little phone, it was some model that she had never seen before, probably not available in Japan. The interface was in English, and all the icons were familiar enough. She clicked a mail icon, and realized she'd have to log out of Jessica's account and enter in her own.
A circular progress indicator went round and round, frustratingly long, and Mari remembered what the bartender in Shibuya said about the phone networks being clogged up, and that was even assuming the cellular network hadn't been destroyed in the bombings or earthquake. She knew she would have a limited opportunity to get through to anyone, so she would have to pick someone she was sure would be willing to help. At long last the screen filled with recent emails. There hadn't been any since she checked in the bar earlier in the night, but most of her friends were probably on other social network services anyway. That was okay, though, because Mari had already resolved that her best shot of any kind of help was from her uncle Yasutani who had mailed her earlier. It felt like a step backward, to connect with someone from the community she deliberately left behind. But at the same time, there was no question that the people from that world would do anything to make sure Mari was okay.
六本木の近くにいるの。携帯をなくしちゃったから、電話番号を送ってください。 "I'm near Roppongi. I don't have my own phone. Send me your number." Mari pressed the send button, and then paused to consider if she might be able to reach any other friends by logging into some other apps. Before she did anything else, though, she felt something inside, a feeling that had been growing inside her for a while but only now became strong enough to catch her attention. It was the same tension in her gut, the feeling she got in the canal, the childhood fear of swimming over a bottomless ocean.
"Aw shit!" Rafe yelled from behind everyone. "Go! Go faster!"
"What the fuck's going on?" Mike yelled back.
"Water! There's water coming!"