An understandable panic fills the bunker, and there’s a lot of shouting over what to do next.
According to the broadcast, the gurant are in the city and they’re taking over. They say our leaders are dead, and maybe they are, but maybe they’re lying. There’s no way to know exactly what’s going on out there. They said not to resist or else we’d be shot, but of course they want us nice and docile while they take over.
This bunker may protect us from artillery, but ground forces could easily rip off the door, then storm in and kill us all. As we’re indirectly responsible for untold numbers of gurant deaths, I doubt they’ll be kind to us.
But the Protectorate won’t take this lying down. It’s going to be a bloody street fight for the city of Mae Hiarin. The peldaks will die before they give up a single block to those violent savages.
We’re all in agreement, we have to leave before the fighting gets bad. But how? Mae Hiarin consists of a large island to the west, three smaller islands off its coast, and bridges which connect all four. The gurant have been hiding in the jungles of the big island for months, but all parts of the city should be under attack soon, if they aren’t already.
So how do we escape? We’re on the south island. We could try heading to the east island and evacuate via the military base, but getting to the east island could be dangerous. We could head to one of the many harbors around the city and find a boat to get us out of here, but what if the gurant brought a navy? Some of the younger guys suggest heading home, grabbing our guns, and joining the Monsoo forces to defend our city, but they’re quickly talked out of that nonsense.
There’s a long back and forth, everyone giving their ideas. Should we wait for the peldaks to clean things up a little, or should we get out as soon as possible? Each option has their own set of pros and cons.
Personally, I feel somewhat detached from the conversation. How we get out doesn’t matter to me. My kids are at school, my wife is at the military base. They’re all protected and will get out just fine. What I need to worry about is how to find them after I get myself out of the city. Where do we go? What land accepts refugees? Where would the military take them? My stomach hurts just thinking about how many islands they could be sent to. What if they’re sent to different locations?
“Gamon, what do you think?” Eka asks.
I’m ripped from my thoughts to find the worried, eager faces of my subordinates and peers. I’m not sure why they’re expecting anything from me, all I know how to do is build ships.
“I… think we have a big tugboat to bring our ships into the water for pressure testing. We could go around to the other bunkers, get everyone on it, then set sail.”
“What about a potential gurant navy?” One man asks.
“What about it?” I respond. “They’d be busy fighting the peldaks, or the coast guard.”
A young man grumbles, “I can’t believe you’re all just going to abandon your homes like this.”
I shrug and head to the door, “so stay and fight, don’t let us stop you. I’m more of a threat to the gurant if I build warships, not if I get my head blown off right as the shooting starts.”
I get a few chuckles from that, and everyone follows me up top.
Looking outside the reinforced glass window on the door, everything looks the same outside. Craters, clear sky, busted crane, nothing has gotten worse since we were last out here.
Slowly, I unlatch the door and pull it open. Right as there’s just a crack, we immediately here faint pops and bangs from the distance. It gets more noticeable as I open the door, but it always stays in the distance.
We head outside and look to the north. Our assembly yard is on the south side of the south island, so we’re looking past our dock’s warehouse, into the city. Pillars of smoke twist between the high, twenty story buildings. The bright glow from hundreds of small fires and explosions competes with the brightness of the sun, and the noise! There’s explosions, gunfire, machine guns, it’s well and truly a warzone out there.
“What the hell? We were only down there for an hour or two!”
“Didn’t they come from the jungles of the west island? What are they doing down here?”
“What are they shooting at? Did the peldaks respond already?”
“No, they must be shooting at cops… Or civilians.”
My stomach doesn’t feel great, the frantic questions of my comrades doesn’t help. Today has been bad in a lot of ways, but this is just… I’ve never had to live so close to a warzone before. There are people dying, just beyond warehouse and buildings.
Standing out here in this wide, empty yard… I feel small.
I shake those thoughts from my head, “it doesn’t matter what’s happening over there. Run to the other bunkers and tell them we’re leaving in the tugboat!”
I hear shouts of confirmation from the guys.
“No, hold on!” Eka points to the distance and forces our attention. “Someones coming.”
A small bit of panic runs through my heart. I look out and, through the heat mirage that runs above the concrete, I see a few trucks head our way. They’re big and bulky, the Protectorate military model for transport trucks.
That… should be a good thing.
The trucks speed by, with one urgently screeching to a halt in front of us. A peldak kicks open the door and jumps out of the passenger seat. He’s fully decked out in the blue and grey fatigues of their military, with his fair-skinned face exposed, and bumps in the helmet to give space for his long, pointed ears.
“Good!” He says in his thick peldak accent. “We won’t have to break open the door this time. Listen, the gurant have invaded the city and we need to get you all out of here.” He slams his fist against the back hull, “hop in.”
Huh. What luck. “You came all this way just to evacuate us?”
“Of course. You’re the guys who know how to maintain the navy. We can build new shipyards elsewhere, but replacing you would be hard.”
A bit of pride wells in my chest, but then panic sets in. “Is there a danger that this shipyard will be destroyed? Will the gurant take over the city?”
Murmurs spread among the men behind me. We knew there’d be a fight over the city, but will the peldaks lose?
“We don’t know yet, the fighting only just started.”
That’s a real sucker punch. One sentence completely destroys our faith in the Protectorate.
“B-but don’t worry, citizens!” He puffs out his chest and slams his fist against his vest, “they merely caught us off guard, you see. Once we properly orient ourselves, we can launch our full counterattack. They thought a city would be a good hiding place, but they didn’t realize that this concrete jungle will become their tomb! A-anyway, get in the truck and let’s head on to the next bunker.”
That doesn’t alleve our fears at all, and all my subordinates start talking. How fast will the gurant take over? Did they really kill all the people they say they did? Are there going to be evacuation routes to get our families out? How did the gurant manage this?
I sigh, a lone pocket of relief in a sea of uncertainty. “Man, sure am glad my kids are at school. At the very least, I’m glad you peldaks can evacuate the people around you.”
The soldier raises an eyebrow and most everyone turns to me.
I glance between them, “what?”
Eka puts a hand on my shoulder, “boss. Today’s an in-service day. There’s no school.”
“School was canceled today.”
Colors fade from my eyes, the world loses focus and sounds start to mix together.
They’re not at school? So, they’re at home. That means Natcha will be home too. I weakly turn my head east to look at the island off in the distance, it’s mostly residential, built on a few small hills. I see pillars of smoke rising high into the sky until it’s carried off by the wind.
Have I been breathing? I feel far colder than I should, considering how sunny it is.
I force my way through the crowd and sprint down the steps into the bunker. I bash my shoulder against a corner when I get inside, and I nearly rip the phone off the wall. My hand won’t stop shaking as I put in our home phone number.
“Apologies,” a woman on the other end says, “due to the emergency, all our lines are reserved for official use. Please hang up and try again later. Goodbye.” All I’m left with is a dull buzz…
I drop the phone and rush back upstairs to see my comrades climbing in the back of the truck. They’re greeting the workers from other bunkers that these peldaks picked up.
“Where will you take us?” My voice shakes. “The military base?”
“Of course not! That’s way too far and we don’t have the men to get to the east island. There’s a ship waiting for us in the west side of the island, we’re picking you engineers up, then we’re leaving the city.”
I clench my teeth, then step forwars to grab his shoulders, “do you know if any evacuations are happening on that island?!”
“N-no! I haven’t heard anything, our radios are jammed. The only reason we’re here is because we happened to be doing an exercise with the coast guard. Our boss said we need to prioritize your safety.”
I tap my foot against the concrete. “Okay, okay. You don’t know anything, that’s fine, maybe the city won’t fall… but everything’s disorganized and I don’t know what’s going on either…” my eyes full of clarity, I look up at him. “I’m not going with you guys.”
My subordinates either jump out of the truck, or stop climbing in.
“Hey, Gamon, stop joking around!”
“What are you gonna do?”
My body is trembling, “I can’t just leave, it’s impossible. I’m heading home and… I’ll find out if they’re okay, or something.”
“Come on,” Eka says, “you’re just gonna risk your life to find that they’ve all escaped. Get on the truck and let’s get out of here!”
I shake my head, “but what if they haven’t escaped? I need to know for sure, I can’t leave.”
The peldak, who has been quiet up to this point, puts a hand on my shoulder. “Listen…” he bobs his head back and forth, as if he’s debating something internally. “Legally, you’re a private citizen and I can’t make you do anything, and… you said your kids are on the east island? If I were you, I’d do the same.” He grabs the pistol from his hip and puts it in my hand, along with two magazines. “I don’t know how much fighting is going on, but I don’t expect you to get far without this. You know how to shoot?”
I gulp, feeling the weight of the bulky, metal, box-shaped firearm in my hand. “Yeah. I got a shotgun at home, so… how different is a pistol?”
“A bit, but at least you won’t shoot your foot off.” He pats me on the back. “May God be with you.”
I nod, then turn to my subordinates. “The rest of you, stay on that truck and get out of here! Or go find your families, whatever you want. But I’ll see you later, I promise!”
Eka hangs his head, but forces himself to look up at me. “Good luck, boss.”
Another subordinate gives me a salute, some others step forward to shake my hand. It’s like they think they’ll never see me again.
With that, I take off across the concrete assembly yard and head to the city.