I pull the heavy bulkhead door, holding it open for Sopa and Tanawat to slip into the pump room.
“Finally here…” I head inside and lock the door behind us. We’ve entered onto the second-floor scaffolding, and everyone’s still here. We’re finally safe.
“Hey!” Surat climbs up the metal stairs to our level, “you’re back! I knew you would be, haha.”
“Well, a lot of stuff happened,” I say, my voice strained. “How long until your brother gets here?”
He waves me off, “about an hour, don’t worry about it. Now come on, we’ve got plenty a’ space left. Find a spot and get comfortable.”
Sopa and Tanawat lean against the railing, eyes wide and mouths agape as they look out over the all the blankets which had been strewn about to form makeshift tents. There’s a lot of people out there, more than I remember. Surat must have been busy. “What is this place?” She asks.
“Well!” Surat gets on one knee so he can look the kids on their level. “This is a pump room for the sewers, this is what sends water to your toilets, baths and sinks,” the kids nod along. “For right now though, it’s a bit of a refugee camp. I got a brother who went out to get some boats, and he’ll be back soon to take us away from this dustbin of a city. Don’t worry about the bad men, this place is safe. Super safe!”
“Super safe?” Sopa asks.
“Super-duper safe,” he winks.
Tanawat’s face brightens with hope, “th-then, sir, excuse me. Do you know if my parents are here?”
“Your parents?” He raises an eyebrow, then looks up to me as I lean against the wall. “Isn’t your dad right there?”
Sopa steps in, “no! Tanny’s my husband, which makes him daddy’s stepson.”
“Son-in-law,” I correct.
“Yeah,” she nods.
“Ah,” Surat looks to me. All I can do is close my eyes and shake my head, he gets the idea. “Well, Tanny, was it? I haven’t seen your parents yet, but plenty of people made it off the island in different ways, maybe they left earlier?”
Tanawat slumps his shoulders and sighs, “okay, sir. Sorry to bother you.”
He’s such a polite kid! I hate how we’re just kicking the can down the road. It might be better to rip the bandaid off now…
Surat rises to his feet and claps his hands. “Now, head along. Your daddy’s earned himself a break after all he’s been through.”
I step forward to grab the kids’ hands, then we head off. “Thanks for everything, your map was great.”
Surat pats me on the back as I pass. “Don’t sweat it, you did the hard part. I’ll come ‘round to bring y’all some blankets and water soon.”
With a weak nod, I head to a quiet little corner of the room. It’s a spot next to a large boiler, perfectly warm and humid, just like a real monsoorai likes it.
“Haaa…” I let out as I sit down, my back against the wall. The guns hanging from my back are bothersome, so I take the straps off and let then fall to either side of me. “What a day… glad it’s finally over.”
Sopa sits down to my left and raises my arm so she can drape it behind her shoulders, using my bicep as a cushion against the hard stonewall. She then taps the ground next to her, prompting Tanawat to follow suit.
I’ve yet to form an opinion of that boy. Partly because I’ve had to focus on so many other things, and partly because any thought needs to be qualified with ‘his parents are gone, and he’s rightfully shaken up by the day’s events’. I have no idea what he’s like normally.
Surat comes around before long and delivers three blankets and three cups of water. Sopa promptly shoos my arm out of the way, wraps one blanket around herself and Tanawat, then rolls the other blanket into a tube, making a much better cushion then my arm. Is she smart, or is that normal for a nine-year-old? When I was nine, I sat on the coast and stared for hours as ships rose into the sky, completely ignoring all the bug bites and ants since I was so engrossed. Mom always got mad and kept telling me to pay attention, but I never listened.
Sopa must get it from her mother.
I lay the third blanket on my lap and finally give my body time to rest. My legs ache, my eyelids are heavy, my heartbeat pulses through my veins and muscles. I can’t believe how much I pushed myself today, I’ll certainly feel it tomorrow. Still, so long as we’re not in Mae Hiarin, I’ll hell soon enough.
I turn to the two on my left. “How’d you two meet, anyway?”
Tanawat opens his mouth, but Sopa jumps in with a bright smile, “Tanny was sad and alone and never participated in class, so I decided to help him stop being such a loser!”
“Hey,” I point at her. “That’s not nice, don’t call people losers, especially not in front of them.”
Tanawat speaks up, “n-no, sir. It’s okay, she’s right. I didn’t really have any friends or anything until she came along. I’m… really glad we met.”
Sopa turns to him, “oooh, Tanny!” She wraps her arms around him in a big hug.
She’s her mother’s daughter alright. Natcha basically did the same to me. Find a quiet boy, insert yourself into his life, subtly groom him to fit your ideal. Sopa probably isn’t doing it intentionally though.
I would have loved to meet Natcha when we were their age, rather than when I was almost an adult. I hope it goes well for them. They’ll have plenty of time to fall in love after we get out of here.
Just another hour, and our nightmare is over.
Something’s not right here.
My stomach hurt.
Past the boxes, pipes, and hanging blankets, I look into the crowd. From what I see, a lot of people are smiling, or relieved that we’ll be escaping, but some look devastated. Everyone’s situation is different, so the variety of emotions makes sense, but I can’t help but feel like our worries aren’t over. I look to Sopa, and she’s holding Tanawat tight, beads of sweat lining her brow. Is she feeling the same unease I am?
I toss the blanket off my lap, “I’ll be right back,” and I grab the shotgun as I go. Sopa’s safe, the rest of my family has left already, what’s wrong?
I climb up the stairs to reach the scaffolding on the second floor. There’s hundreds of people out there and nothing is popping out at me. What am I looking for, exactly? I’m feeling déjà vu.
Sopa hops up the steps, still wrapped in a blanket. “What’s wrong?” Her face is twisted in worry, and she’s holding her stomach
I’m certain she had the same feeling I did. I had the unmistakable urge to head home, which led me to rescuing her. She refused to leave the closet, which resulted in me finding her. Now, the unease is plain on her face. “When you look down at the crowd, what do you think?”
She raises an eyebrow, then looks out. For just a moment, her lips crinkle in disgust. “It looks cool, I guess.”
I gently reach down and put a hand on her back. “Something’s wrong, isn’t it? You feel it too.”
“…my stomach hurts,” she nearly cries
Tanawat climbs up the steps and glances between us. “What do you mean?” His eyebrow is raised, but otherwise, he looks fine.
I shake my head, “I don’t know yet.”
Sopa grips my shirt, “Daddy, I wanna go home.”
I kneel down, then brush the hair out of her face so I can kiss her forehead, “it’ll be fine, I’ll make sure of it.”
Many times today, I’ve seen imperial agents wearing plain clothes to hide amongst the populace. Why wouldn’t they be here, with us? This place is hardly a secret, Surat brought back everyone he came across. What if he accidentally approached an imperial soldier?
I don’t know what I should do with this idea. I’m not a spy or an investigator, there’s nothing I can do to figure out if there’s a spy. If Hizan’s god doesn’t spell it out for me, I’m not gonna know what to do.
I see a lot of guys who are armed to the teeth, though that means nothing since I guess I’m one of them. Most of them also have wives or kids, same as me. If there are one or two imperial soldiers here, there’s not much they could do before getting killed.
Maybe they’ll call a gurant to come down here instead. What a terrifying thought. A nine foot tall, armored behemoth with a gatling gun, stomping his way through the sewers. Though, I doubt one could fit through a manhole, so maybe they’d send a patrol of soldiers instead.
I scoop Sopa into my arms to keep her from shaking, then head down to find Surat as he’s delivering warm, freshly purified water. I tell him my thoughts about the possibility of gurant troubles in the future, and he agrees to send some guys out to keep watch in the sewers.
It’s really all I can do until the boats arrive.
I return to our spot, then keep hold of Sopa and Tanawat as we wait. I’ve come this far, I won’t lose either of them, and I’m not throwing my life away either.
We’re all making it out of this city.