6. Even If the Sky is Falling Down I Know That We'll Be Safe and Sound
Hiyashimizu found Sousuke and Kaname as the torches were lit and the people of the settlement began shuffling away from the fires.
"I'm going to give you the tour of the place, but I'm going to make it quick since we try to keep things quiet after dark. We don't want to attract any of the infected in the area at times when it's harder for us to see them," Hiyashimizu explained, his white hair glowing in the soft fires of the encampment. Sousuke and Kaname nodded in understanding.
"Jindai High School was kind of ideally built for defense. It really helped that there was a lot of sturdy scaffolding up across the opening into the courtyard. We think it was for some kind of school festival or event. No one here is sure, since all of the students either turned infected or escaped. But the original settlers here were able to kill the infected students and reinforce the scaffolding so that the entire courtyard is nearly impossible for infected to infiltrate. Some manage to get into the school via broken windows and doors, but we patrol the halls every morning and evening, so they never make it into the main courtyard."
"How long have you been here?" asked Kaname.
"I live nearby and I was in the second wave of settlers here, about two weeks after the outbreak. There are about 200 of us and I'm in charge of newcomers and I speak at the Round Table for teenagers without parents through 25-year-olds. If you have any issues, you talk to me and I'll bring them up at the weekly meeting. You've also met Kagurazaka. She speaks for 26 through 40-year-olds. And then there's Mei. She speaks for anyone older. We've found it's best this way. It's democratic, people vote for their representatives and we help make the decisions for the settlement."
"Have you always been the representative?" asked Sousuke.
"Since we started the Round Table, yes. But if anyone else wants the responsibility and if the young people prefer that person, I'd be willing to step down. But no one has ever challenged me. Now here's the front gate, which you already know. You can see the torches up on the gate's scaffolding. That's for the shooters on gate duty. There are only two at night because we stay quiet. There are four during the day. Sousuke, you'll have gate duty twice a week since you've told us you can shoot. Those two days are your rest days. The other days, you'll be a runner."
Sousuke felt Kaname grip his sleeve at his elbow. "A runner?" she asked.
"Yes. We need supplies to keep Jindai functioning. We have to send out runners to collect supplies and eliminate any infected they find. We like to keep the area surrounding the settlement as clear as we can to keep everyone here safe. Almost half of the settlers here are runners or have been runners at some time. It's dangerous, but we haven't lost anyone in two weeks. I think the system works. So, tomorrow, Sousuke, you meet here at dawn and we'll issue you a weapon and assignment. You get the weapons from the armory here," Hiyashimizu motioned to a haphazardly built shed with three locks securing it just inside of the gate.
Sousuke nodded. The settlement was impressive and the way they handled the new world was making a lot of sense.
Hiyashimizu took them west along the south scaffolding wall to an impressive metal tower. "This is our communications center. It's powered by two of our gas generators. So far, we are able to send and receive radio signals and we're working on more complex means of communication with the outside world. We need to know what's going on out there, what is working, what isn't, and how people are fighting these infected."
"Does Shinji work here?" asked Kaname. "He said he was studying computers."
"Yes," he answered. "He's only been here a few days, but he's already introducing new solutions to our issues. I'm optimistic for how he can help us connect to the rest of the world."
Hiyashimizu then turned north along the east wall of the school. "On the right is our hospital. It's connected to the old nurse's office in the school. There were a few first aid supplies and we just built this tent area out from there. You come here if you have any injury. It's really easy for things to get infected out here and our doctor will wash you out and patch you up pretty well. She's always on the lookout for more and better meds, though."
"You have doctor?" asked Kaname, unable to hide the happiness in her voice.
"Yes. Dr. Yoshi came here about three weeks ago. We're incredibly lucky to have a doctor and she has done really well here. I think she was an emergency room doctor and I know she's seen a lot. She's glad to have a safe place to work from and we're glad to have her."
"That's incredible," agreed Sousuke. "I would have thought most doctors would have become infected themselves since they would have dealt with them before any of us knew what was going on."
"Dr. Yoshi is a survivor, that's for sure. She sees people all day long so stop by if you have any need for her."
Sousuke saw Kaname give a slight nod out of the corner of his eye. He knew her well enough to see the relief and joy wash across her features. Sousuke felt both himself. They now had someone that could see Kaname though her pregnancy.
"Now, on your left is the mess tent. Kaname, this is where you'll report tomorrow. They don't start as early as dawn, but they do get going for lunch pretty early. It's nearly centrally located and it feeds all of us twice a day when we have the supplies. Our other generator is here and we've moved a lot of the equipment out here because the cafeteria had too many low windows to stay safe. We really have to be careful about food that's been going bad. Food poisoning has been a problem before and if you can cook, as you say, you're going to have to be both careful and inventive. Eating the same thing prepared the same way every day has a real effect on morale here."
"I understand," said Kaname with confidence.
They turned left and walked along the far north wall. "This is what we call the Farm. It's mostly our food pantry and where we collect rainwater in case the water stops. Here, we cure any meat we're able to bring in fresh, we store our canned goods, and there's a vegetable patch. Or the start of one. The warm weather has been helping and a few of us are working to grow some vegetable seedlings and keep the frost from them. It's very promising right now."
Sousuke regarded the straw covered dirt that used to be a baseball diamond. His mouth watered at the thought of fresh vegetables. Though the unseasonably warm early spring weather had been a disadvantage when dealing with the infected, if it meant an early crop, Sousuke couldn't help but feel glad for it.
Finally, they made another left and walked along the west wall. "Here is the outdoor housing. It's connected to the school's locker rooms. The locker rooms are safe and the water is still running. Here's where you will use the bathroom and the showers. We have a schedule for most of this, so please ask around for where you two will fit in."
There were five large white canvas tents set up all along the wall. "Women are on the north end, men on the south, near the armory, and couples are in the middle." Hiyashimizu stopped at the entrance to one of the middle tents, signaling that this one was theirs. "As I said, couples share a cot. There's only one available." He paused and shuffled a little. "We ask that couples refrain from… affection."
Sousuke instantly felt the hot blush rise into his face.
Hiyashimizu continued, "There are some rooms available inside the school that are small, private, and safe. We rotate sharing those at night and you'll be eligible for one of them in about two weeks. But until then… show some discretion."
"Yes sir," said Sousuke as Kaname nodded. Her own cheeks were bright red.
"Good. Quiet hours are beginning now," he whispered. "Welcome to Jindai and have a nice night."
"Good night," they echoed in unison.
Hiyashimizu gave a small bow and left them, making his way toward the men's tents. Sousuke and Kaname let their eyes adjust to the darkness as they took in the rows of cots with sleeping forms on them.
Kaname found the empty cot and Sousuke's heart leapt into his throat. He had been hoping that the couples' cots were larger than the standard issue. They were not.
Kaname had gone about the business of settling in. He could see exhaustion in all of her movements. She had been stifling yawns through most of Hiyashimizu's tour. She settled her pack underneath the cot after taking out some of her clothing. She shoved most of the clothes into a t-shirt and plopped it at the head of the cot as a makeshift pillow.
Sousuke followed suit in stashing his pack under the cot. He took off his shoes and contemplated the bed situation. He felt almost feverish with the amount he was blushing. They'd slept in close proximity the last few nights, but this seemed… premeditated. They were safe. She didn't need him like she had. But this was going to be the status quo for the foreseeable future. It made Sousuke nervous.
Kaname was eyeing the cot carefully, too. She was blushing, but she seemed much less skittish than Sousuke felt. Finally, she said, "Maybe if you just lay on your back, I could lay on my side and we could fit…"
She was really trying to figure out the dynamics of sleeping in the cot while Sousuke was having a mild panic attack about the situation. He wasn't afraid of her, of course, he was afraid that sleeping so closely night after night would put him in danger of wearing down his defenses enough to tell her the truth about how he felt about her. What he wanted from her.
Instead of voicing any of his apprehensions, he just laid down on the cot like Kaname had asked. He scooted to one end as far as he could, but there were still mere inches left for Kaname. She did not seem daunted. She just sidled up to him, pillowed her head on his shoulder when he wrapped his arm around her and leaned most of her weight against him. In fact, she threw her top leg over his and snuggled into him, hugging him around his waist and making herself comfortable.
Sousuke felt some emotion he hadn't yet experienced in his life. It was somewhere between mortification and elation and he found he didn't hate it.
Kaname's breath felt humid against his collarbone. She had fallen asleep almost immediately. As he drifted off, Sousuke stared at the canvas roof above him, deliriously happy and comfortable with Kaname's weight on top of him. At Jindai, he felt safe in a way that he hadn't felt before the outbreak.
The shuffling around of the other settlers awoke Sousuke. His arm was asleep and he was temporarily confused as to why. Then, he shifted and felt Kaname stir a little on top of him. Ah, he thought, that's why. He didn't mind it at all.
Sousuke reached with his other arm and lightly traced around the outside of Kaname's face. Like before, the feathery touch woke her up gently, allowing her to rise out of her slumber without panic or alarm.
"Mmm. Sousuke," she murmured. Sousuke blushed at her mumbled sounds but was definitely pleased. Kaname opened her warm brown eyes and smiled when she saw her cot-mate. "I was having the nicest dream…"
"Oh?" asked Sousuke.
"Yeah. You and I were having dinner. It was so good. It was chicken curry and there was so much of it."
"That sounds wonderful, but it's time to get up."
"Mmm. Go get us some fresh chickens when you're out running today, okay?" she teased.
"Affirmative," he grinned.
They waited in line for the bathrooms among the other settlers who all seemed too sleepy to make much conversation. Only about half of the people were up and moving. Sousuke guessed that the different schedules had something to do with the different chores that people had around the settlement. He could see neither Kyouko nor Shinji in the bathroom lines.
After using the facilities, Sousuke walked Kaname to the mess tent. She was early, only the first reds and oranges stained the dark, early morning sky. Still, she didn't walk him to the front gates, instead, she just waved at him and said, "Be careful out there." She looked apprehensive.
"Not a problem," Sousuke responded. "I'll see you at lunch, I guess."
Kaname gave a small smile and Sousuke turned toward the gate.
There was a group of runners already amassing there. A man in his twenties with a clipboard stood in front of the now-opened weapons shed. He made eye-contact with Sousuke. "Are you the new runner?"
"Affirmative," Sousuke answered. "Sousuke Sagara, reporting for duty."
The man nodded. "I'm Jin. I organize the runners and issue weapons. We just had a runner reassigned to tending the vegetable patch full time, so your designation is Runner Seven. Do you have a weapon of choice?"
"There are the guns I brought in…"
"Negative. Runners get melee weapons: clubs, machetes, etc. Quiet weapons, especially so close to the settlement."
"I was using a police baton."
Jin looked into the shed and handed Sousuke a baton. It wasn't the one he came in with, but it would do.
"Okay, Seven. We have two types of runners. One are the Runner Gunners. Their main responsibility is clearing the area of infected. Take about two or three hours, but no longer. You can pick up necessities that you come across, but if there's an infected, you spill their brains first, got it?"
"Then there are the Runner Scavengers. You're issued a grocery list and a pack and you pick up everything you can on that list. Once you do, you can come home. If you can't find everything, then you come home after two hours. That way we know who might potentially be in trouble. We run again in the evenings. Any questions?"
"Good. It looks like everyone's here. Okay, Runners, listen up," Jin said, raising his voice. "Runners One through Ten are Running and Gunning this morning. The first two who return take hall duty in the school. Runners Eleven through Twenty-five are our Scavengers. Gunners, line up. Tower tells us that most of the infected from last night came from the northeast, so concentrate your efforts there to begin, then spread out through the area. Got it?"
Heads nodded all around. "Good," Jin continued. "Scavengers, you're out in 30 minutes. Raise the gates!"
The front gate started its slow process of opening, sending out a metallic squeal. The Gunners assigned with Sousuke shifted with anticipation. Once the gate was high enough, the runners ducked through and sprinted out into the street.
Sousuke followed. Though the Gunners didn't talk, there seemed to be a kind of routine they followed. They silently fanned out in the northeast direction. Two infected to the west were handled by a single runner before she joined in with the others. There were a dozen infected clumped a block away, not including a few stragglers who were not with the group. The gunners brutally cut or beat down any infected in their paths. Sousuke found himself toward the outside of the street, carefully watching to see where he would most be needed.
Once the line of Gunners reached the mass of infected, each runner worked to surround the horde. Once everyone was in position, they all started making small noises. It made sense. The infected were each most drawn to the runner nearest to them. Instead of having to deal with the entire group of infected coming at them all at once, each runner only had to deal with one or two infected.
Sousuke struck down the infected nearest him and hit it again to make sure that the skull was truly broken. By the time he looked back up, all of the infected were taken care of.
The runners then moved a little more to the northeast, but found no more large groups of infected. A fellow runner, Sousuke thought she was referred to as Runner Five, told him that it was time to split up and to take out any infected he could find. The usual radius was two to three miles out from Jindai depending on the infected concentrations and the routes that individual runners took. Five told him that the previous Runner Seven usually liked to take one of the southeast corridors.
That was fine with Sousuke and it put him within range of the storage shed he had secured the previous day. He didn't plan on visiting it yet. It was too soon. But he would find a way to it before the end of the week.
So Sousuke ran. He ducked in and out of alleys and jogged down the nearly barren sidewalks in the cool morning sunshine. It was quiet. It was almost nice. If the city hadn't looked so dilapidated and looted with its broken windows, trash, rotting corpses, and blood-spattered sidewalks, it would have almost been like a peaceful morning jog.
He encountered half a dozen infected in the first 30 minutes he was out. He maintained good sight lines and was careful about where any crawlers might be lurking. Sousuke zigzagged outward, widening his area of patrol every block he travelled further from Jindai. Based on his pace and the number of infected he encountered, he figured he would probably travel about 10 miles before he would make his way back to the settlement. The running wasn't that bad; he was in excellent shape.
That first run, Sousuke concentrated more on killing infected in the area than he did on collecting any useful items. By the time he returned, he had taken out about 20 infected. He made it home safely. He felt good. He was a part of a group of people who had a plan and were working hard to survive the new world. Sousuke indulged himself briefly in feeling of hope for the future.
When Sousuke reentered Jindai, he was asked for his kill count and route, and relieved of his weapon. Jin clapped him on the back with the first smile Sousuke had seen on the man's face.
"Not, too bad, Seven," he said. "Be back here by 4:30, got it?"
"Affirmative," Sousuke responded.
He left the gate area and wondered if it would be okay to go find Kaname. This was the longest they'd been apart since the world had ended. Sousuke made his way to the mess tent. The settlement was surprisingly louder and more boisterous than the evening before. The generators were gas-powered and rattled noisily. People talked softly, but above the harsh whispers of the night before.
The flaps of the mess tent were raised all around to allow for ventilation. Sousuke saw Kaname before she saw him. He saw her taking orders from an older woman, her forehead wrinkled in determination as she manned an industrial can opener that was clamped to the side of the table. For the first time in weeks, she didn't have that edge of despair in her features.
Sousuke didn't move, but something made Kaname look up. She locked eyes with Sousuke and broke into a wide smile. She put the can of beans aside and sprinted out to Sousuke with a high-pitched laugh. When she reached him she threw her arms around him in an enthusiastic embrace.
Sousuke was nearly thrown off balance with the force of her body crashing into his. He was almost too surprised to take note of the curves of her figure pressed against him. Almost.
"I was worried!" she exclaimed.
"I'm fine. It wasn't a problem." Sousuke couldn't stop his smile.
"Well, it's a little bit of a problem," Kaname answered as she disentangled herself from him. "You're kinda sweaty…"
"New Girl, get back here and stir that pot or it will burn!" came a voice from the mess tent, the older woman who was showing Kaname the ropes.
"She can't remember my name," she whispered in Sousuke's ear with a giggle. She then gave him a quick peck on the cheek before she ran back into the tent.
Sousuke was frozen. Before, all of the signs of affection Kaname had given him could have been interpreted as simply friendly, frightened, in need of comfort, or in need of human contact.
But she had kissed him. There was no mistaking it. Sousuke felt his knees go weak as the realization washed over him. Kaname liked him. Possibly romantically. This really was a whole new world.
Sousuke was famished by the time that lunch rolled around. He wished he could have said that it was the best thing he had ever tasted because Kaname had a hand in making it. But beans and rice without much other flavoring was not his favorite.
But it was filling and it gave him strength. And Kaname had given him a smile when she had ladled his beans. It was more than enough.
That evening, Sousuke and several of the others ran Scavenger duty. Sousuke wasn't as familiar with that part of Western City, so he wasn't as able to fill the grocery list as he would have liked. He did mentally note a hotel in his area that might be ripe with supplies, but he was worried about infected roaming the halls. He'd have to return again later to get supplies.
But Sousuke was able to find a bar with a lot of matches behind the hostess stand. He took them all. Along with over two dozen rolls of toilet paper he found in an abandoned house, his haul made him pretty popular with the other runners that evening.
After his turn in the shower, Sousuke made his way to the mess hall for dinner. It was rice again, only this time with some canned vegetable that tasted mostly like the can it came from. But Kaname had given him a wink from a prep table behind the chow line, so he probably wouldn't have tasted even the best meal served on fine china that night, anyway.
After dinner, Kaname and Sousuke made their way to the fire pit they'd sat at the night before. Shinji and Kyouko were already there.
They shared more stories of life before the infection as the sun set.
Sousuke was exhausted. He had probably run fifteen miles that day. Before, when Jin had mentioned tower duty, Sousuke couldn't imagine looking forward to it. Now, he wondered if he could volunteer for it the next day.
He lay back on the cot and looked up at Kaname expectantly. She looked uncharacteristically shy about joining him. She had taken off her jeans and stood in a long shirt and socks that sagged around her ankles. Her hair was still wet from her shower. She looked unbelievably beautiful.
Sousuke inched over to give her more room. She slid under the covers onto the cot next to him. Sousuke realized right away that Kaname wasn't wearing a bra.
No doubt it was more comfortable to sleep that way, but it put Sousuke on edge, even as tired has he was. He desperately hoped he would awake before Kaname the next day because there was no doubt in his mind that his attraction to her would definitely make itself known in his southern regions in his sleep.
But it was a situation that couldn't be helped. He would deal with it if and when it happened.
The next morning, it happened.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Author's Note: Sorry for the delay in getting this chapter up. I just ran out of steam when it came to this story this summer. But, as I said, I have the thing all planned out, so it will all get written and posted... eventually. Thanks to everyone who is reading this and letting me know you like it. You've been what has kept me going with this story.