The fighting has really escalated out here. Before, it sounded like small skirmishes and firefights. Now, it sounds like a full blown siege from the north. What’s changed? Is this the Protectorate’s counter-attack? It might be the empire landing more troops, like that officer mentioned before. Regardless, I should hurry.
Tanawat’s address points to an apartment complex a few blocks north from my house, so I need to sneak through more main and side streets. I move as carefully as I can, but I need to hurry. I pass by a few patrols on the way, but they’ve relaxed a lot. No more busting into buildings or checking every corner.
After I enter the side street with Tanawat’s address, I hop from yard to yard on my way north. I think I can see the tops of Tanawat’s apartment from here.
On my way through the last stretch, I see a group of flashlights approaching from the north, coming down one of the streets. I quickly head into a yard, then hide behind the thick trunk of a tree. I’ll wait for them to pass, nice and easy.
I hear them before I see who’s waving the lights around. Alien speech, like normal, but they’re all saying the same thing, and there’s a melody to it. Are they singing?
They get closer and I peek out from around the tree trunk. I can see over the bushes and fence. The soldiers have their arms around each other, taking wide, exaggerated steps, stumbling and swinging large bottles of alcohol this way and that. One soldier is swinging his flashlight around by the strap. Looks like they’re celebrating their grand victory.
Part of me wants to yell that they haven’t won yet… but really, they basically have. Nothing can stop them.
I’m not stupid enough to try anything when victory is so close, so I’ll wait behind this tree and let them pass. They’re too drunk on victory (and beer, by the looks of it) to notice me.
They come closer, and closer, then their radio starts blasting something in that odd language of theirs. The soldiers drop their bottles, the glass breaking against the asphalt, and run off to the north in a hurry. They’re yelling at each other, and trip a few times on their way out.
That’s unnerving. I know there’s something big going on, I can hear it in the distance, but I don’t have any details.
I continue on and only have to deal with two patrols as they sprint north. I see their flashlights and hear them running long before they can see me, so I always have plenty of time to hide. They’re also so distracted by whatever it is they’re doing that all I have to do is jump into a back yard and stay in the shadows. I wonder what they’re doing, but I also really don’t want to find out. With all this gunfire, hopefully the Protectorate is keeping them busy, or counter attacking. That’d be a good start to making up for their total failure.
I reach Tanawat’s apartment complex before long. Each apartment building is four stories tall, and the hallways are exposed to the air, similar to motels. The front of the apartments face inward to a communal space shared by three more apartment buildings, while the backs face outwards towards the main street. Built on the side of each apartment building is a door which leads down into bomb shelters.
I climb over the chain link fence that separates the apartment complex from the rest of the neighborhood. The inner, communal space has a small park, a playground, and a large pool. I remember coming here a few times over the years, mostly for parties since I have a few friends at work who lived here. From my position on the ground, with the faint light from nearby fires, I can see the first floor of the apartments. It looks like all the doors have been bashed off their hinges.
…If I take a closer look at the playground, some of the equipment has been scorched. There’re bullet holes everywhere, there’s dead bodies floating in the pool, and I see blood stains on the concrete. I can only hope the gurant pay for what they’ve done here.
If I took out my flashlight, I wonder how many people I would recognize…
I can’t focus on this now, I have a daughter to rescue.
I start my search with the bomb shelter by Tanawat’s apartment. The door is heavy and made of iron, with a reinforced glass window. There’s no lock on these, I twist the handle and pull it open. I enter inside and am met with the stench of cold, stale, dry air. Closing the door behind me, I activate my flashlight. There’s a staircase heading down, and I keep my shotgun ready in my right hand.
“Hello?” My voice echos slightly, “anyone down there? I’m looking for a missing person.”
I steel my heart and head down. My boots tap loudly as they hit each concrete step. “If anyone’s down here, I’m a monsoorai, with the Protectorate.” I guess it’s possible there are imperials down here, but based on what I’ve been seeing, they should all be heading north. I’m more worried about there being some scared civilian with a shotgun who’ll blow a hole through my chest as soon as I get down there.
I enter the main bunker, it’s small and compact. Here in the city, there isn’t much room below ground. The sewers, basements, the in-ground pool, there’s too little space. Not like the bunkers under our assembly yard, where there was nothing beneath the concrete but dirt and rock.
I flick my flashlight around the small room and see nothing but a few blankets and chairs. No people, not even corpses or bloodstains.
I guess it was a long shot. No reason why anyone would stay down here all day. I look around to see if there’s some sort of ‘evacuation plan’ written down, but there’s nothing. I head back upstairs, into the smokey, warm air of the city.
I could check the other bunkers, but I feel like I should try Tanawat’s apartment first. I head to apartment two and run up to the third floor. I have to step over a few more bodies on the way, and I’m… I’m a little worried about how easy it’s getting to disregard them. When I reach the third floor, I can see over some of the main street buildings to the south. A lot of the surroundings are hazy from the smoke, but there’s enough fires illuminating the city to spot a few landmarks, like the bridge. Some fires are small, others are raging infernos, I guess the gurant haven’t taken over any fire stations yet.
I continue to Tanawat’s apartment, room 312, and my heart sinks as I look at the door. Knocked off its hinges, the wooden doorframe sheared off.
“Oh no…” I whisper. “Please, no, just give me some sort of hint she’s alive, or something..!”
I gulp, and force myself to step into the apartment.
The kitchen is on the left, the living room on the right, straight ahead is a hallway that leads to the bedrooms.
There’s a small lump in my throat, but I force myself to speak anyway. “Sopa? Are you here?” No response. My jaw clenches as I walk into the living room. “Sopa? Come on out, daddy’s here.” Nothing.
Despite the broken door, the living room isn’t a mess. Some pictures knocked off the walls, a clay potted plant fell and shattered against the floor, but my house was the same. Maybe it was just due to the bombardment? Maybe the soldiers kicked the door in, but nobody was home.
I turn on the flashlight and check the kitchen. There’s an island in the middle, with chairs standing upright around it. Why aren’t they tipped over? I circle around the island and my body jumps! My heart nearly bursts from my chest. There are two dead bodies, a man and a woman, laid atop each other. The woman was shot in the back, the man in his chest, and there’s a puddle of blood beneath them.
I can only imagine it’s Tanawat’s parents. Poor kid… But that means they, Sopa and Tanawat, were here when everything went wrong. Maybe when the bombardment started, everyone evacuated into the bunkers. When the bombings ended, they came out and went about their usual lives, but were soon after caught in the empire’s attack. They must have heard the shootings going on around the pool and playground, but couldn’t leave the apartment building since there’s only one staircase. What a terrible way to go, hearing all the rooms below you getting their doors kicked in, and the occupants murdered, knowing it’ll happen to you soon.
But if Tanawat’s parents were here when the empire burst in, where would he and Sopa be?
Memories of those two kids from earlier being dragged off by those soldiers come flooding back. If Sopa was taken away, then it’s over. If she’s in one of their outposts, then there’s nothing I can do to rescue her. Of course… maybe they didn’t bother taking her away, but it’s not good to think about that.
If it was me hearing everything going on outside, I’d try to hide Sopa and Chalerm. There’s still rooms to check, so there’s no reason to give up hope!
I head towards the back of the apartment. “Sopa? Are you in here? It’s alright, come on out.”
Entering the bedroom on the left, I hear a faint murmuring. Whimpers, like soft crying. There’s a closet built into the right wall, it’s coming from there.
“Sopa? Is that you?” My bottom lip quivers and my chest tightens. Please… please be her.
After a moment of pause, there’s shushing and slight rumblings. I hear some things inside rustle and get pushed aside
I get down to one knee and try to keep my voice strong and steady. “It’s me, come on out.”
Carefully, the closet door creaks open just a tad. I quickly turn the flashlight on myself, holding it above my head so the light shines down on me.
A small voice slices through the darkness. “D-daddy?”
I let out all the air in my lungs as a wave of relief washes over me. It really is her. Everything I’ve gone through was worth it. “Yep, it’s me.” I frantically nod, the corners of my mouth curling up as my lips tremble.
Sopa bursts from the closet door, tears streaming down her cheeks as she leaps into me for a hug. I wrap my arms around her small body, the flashlight falling to the ground. “Daddy! I knew it! I knew you’d come!” Her speech is broken up by sobs, sniffles and stutters. “I was so scared, it was awful!”
“That’s alright. I’m here, I got you, I’m here now.” I pat her back and focus on just trying to breathe, my heart’s beating like crazy. “Everything’ll be fine.” I’m so glad I didn’t try to escape the city. “Everything’s fine.”
There’s a slight rumbling, and I look up. Partially hiding behind the closet door is Tanawat. He’s illuminated by the fallen flashlight, shaking and on the verge of tears. If it really is his parents in the kitchen… does he know?
“Oh, daddy!” Sopa pulls away slightly and uses her sleeve to wipe the tears away. She steadies herself, quicker than I do, actually. And gestures to Tanawat. “This is my husband, Tanny. I don’t think you’ve met.” Sopa smiles brightly, as if she wasn’t hiding in a closet for hours.
What a strong little girl. She must take after her mother.
Actually, no. I’ll give myself some credit, I’ve adjusted to a lot of horrible things today.
Tanawat fidgets in place but doesn’t speak. Even though he’s stealing glances, he keeps looking away after only a second or two. He’s shivering, but silent. Even his sniffles don’t make a sound. He’s a child who’s been hiding in a closet for half a day while a war rages on outside, I assume this is the natural reaction.
I extend a hand and give him my best smile. “Married, eyy? Well then, step-son, c’mon over here!”
He’s hesitant at first, and looks to Sopa. She gives him a nod and extends a hand as well, so he finally shuffles over. I wrap an arm around him, and he cries softly into my chest. It must have been so hard for them, sitting for hours, silent, in the darkness. If they heard what happened to Tanawat’s parents, they must have been terrified the same would happen to them.
…Tanawat’s parents. I don’t know exactly what happened to you, but Sopa’s alive and not a hostage. You’ve done so much for me and my family, I’ll return the kindness as best I can. I’ll get your son out of here. No matter what else happens, I’ll make sure he escapes this city alongside Sopa, I promise!