Sanzo sat calmly on a small pile of broken concrete, surveying the devastation all about him, notepad in one hand and cigarette in his mouth, and wished that the wounded people would just stop making so much noise. It interfered with his creative process.
This tragic event, which some are calling the worst disaster since the 1885 earthquake……
Tragic? Overused word, hopelessly overused. He crossed it out and pondered the sentence. He would definitely have to work in the 1885 earthquake, there hadn’t been an earthquake that big in the twenty years since. ……Damn it, he was running out of time. They’d want the report in three, four hours at best, as soon as he could wire it out.
And where the hell was his partner?
Oh, right. There was a flash of familiar brown hair there, among the men digging the rubble of a……hospital, was it? Some sort of institute specialising in mental disorders and trauma. They were getting the survivors out. There had been quite a few already.
Just great. Let the loonies loose on the city. Just what it needs at this juncture. Why don’t they do the prisons next?
He wondered whether to call out to Hakkai, ask him to come here and give him some useful stats – the man had a memory like a steel trap – and decided regretfully that it wasn’t worth it. The brunet had come with his camera, and grown increasingly affected by the devastation around them. His work was as efficient as ever, and his art both poignant and evocative, but his eyes had both hardened and softened in some way that even the writer in Sanzo was unable to describe to himself. Finally, four hours ago, he’d swallowed several times and said, ‘Well, I’m done with this. Excuse me, Sanzo,’ in that polite, I’m-too-nice-to-say-so-but-I-will-take-no-objections way of his, nodded once and picked up a shovel. He hadn’t looked up since, and he and another man with the most outrageous red hair Sanzo had ever seen, who was apparently the self-appointed leader of this ragtag rescue team, were working like maniacs on the worst-hit section, picking their way through dangerously unstable structures with surprising skill.
‘Ch. However good he was as a photographer, he let himself be affected by his surroundings. The man wasn’t a professional; too attached to things.
Sanzo huffed. The concrete was beginning to dig into his legs painfully, and staying in one place didn’t make for good articles. He stubbed the cigarette out and wandered over to where the doctors were huddled in a small group. They were saying something about paperwork. Apparently, the hospital records had been completely destroyed. Along with half the country, big surprise, he sneered, and wondered just how much money kidnappers would be making from this disaster now that all the patients were off paper.
Oooh, that’s a good angle to pursue. Too cold for this point, though. Bring that in in the next article, maybe. I’ve got a week in this area, after all.
He found another perch, closer to the doctors, and began taking notes.
Devastation is widespread in the city. The hospital where I stand has been reduced to rubble from an imposing six-storey structure, and most patients are believed dead – nearly four-fifths of the total number. Many of them were chained to their beds – yet another relic of a cruel and irrational system of ‘treatment’ of these hapless souls – and were thus unable to escape the disaster. This hospital, which was under probation for inhuman treatment at the time of the earthquake, is a perfect example of……
And what was it an example of? His own obsession with medical malpractice, no doubt. After all, it was because of doctors like these that he’d lost……
Not the time for that. Focus, Sanzo, he rebuked himself, and crossed out the words. A mostly blank page stared mockingly up at him. He hadn’t written a word in the last twenty minutes. This damned place was giving him bad memories.
He wanted to move out, suddenly and desperately, but if he tried to move Hakkai he would be refused politely (or not-so-politely). Hakuryuu would be here soon, he’d just have to wait it out instead of going back to the Times’ office.
What was left of it, anyway.
Another voice, pleading for help. Not at all out of the ordinary, except that it was coming from directly above him, in a towering heap of rubble nearly two storeys high.
‘Help me, please, please……anybody, somebody……help……’ a thin, choked voice, a young voice already clogged with despair and premature age. A boy. Teenager, maybe.
What, another one still buried in there? Hadn’t they got everyone out?
Sanzo sauntered over to the man supervising the rescue. ‘Hey,’ he said, more to attract attention than as a greeting. ‘Somebody’s in that pile of scrap back there.’
The man turned to face him, his ponytail swinging as annoyed red eyes set in a tanned and grimy face met his. Red eyes. Who the hell had red eyes? ‘Some guys’ve already gone through it. There’s nobody there.’
‘I heard him calling. It’s a boy. He sounded alive to me.’
Hakkai moved up to join them. ‘Is there a problem, Gojyo?’
They both ignored him as they leaned into each other, instantly hostile.
‘Look, Jien told me he’s been over the place, and he says if anyone’s left down there, they’re dead. I’ve got my hands full with this place–’
‘Some humanitarian you are.’ Sanzo sneered. ‘You mean you’re going to just stand by and let him die?’
Surprisingly, it was the brunet who retorted. ‘Will you, Sanzo? I don’t notice you doing anything.’
‘I’m doing something. I’m doing my job. Which is more than you’re doing, I notice.’
Green eyes flashed coldly. ‘I’ve done my job. And I can render my resignation right here and now if you want me to.’
‘You’re being an idiot.’
‘Maybe. But I’m an idiot who’ll sleep better tonight for it.’ Hakkai turned away, turned back to toss him something. Sanzo caught it instinctively, cursed as he dropped the notepad to do it. ‘Here. In case you decide to give in and be compassionate for once.’
‘Ch,’ he said, but when he tried to toss it back, the brunet sidestepped neatly and the shovel fell to the ground with a dull clatter. Hakkai left without another word.
Damn if he was going to do anything. He had an article to write.
Having decided this, it was probably a bad idea to resume his earlier seat, but Sanzo did, mainly to prove to that fool Hakkai that he wasn’t going to do a thing; as a journalist, he was supposed to observe the environment, not act upon it.
He could still hear the child. ‘Help…..h…h…elp……please……I’m here……is anybody there?’
Huffing, he moved to another place. Out of earshot. It was easier to think that way.
‘Help me…….hey, anybody there?’
He was going to kill that boy. He was going to dig him up and then he was going to kill him. Sanzo dropped his notepad strode angrily to the shovel, still lying in the dirt, picked it up. Marched over to the imposing pile of rubble and began to dig.
This was ridiculous. There was no way one man would be able to dig through all that anyway. It would need at least three, four people, and even then it would take hours. All to save some idiot kid who didn’t know when to shut up and die.
Shut up, he chanted irritably, in time with the dull clang of the shovel as it cleared another pile away. Shut up. Shut up. Just shut up. I’m coming. Shut up. I’m coming……
……wait. Where the heck did that come from?
Shut up. Shut up, kid. Shut up. The shovel plunged in, dug, scooped, tossed. Dig, scoop, shove, shift, dig. Again and again. His arms were beginning to ache; he hadn’t done anything like this in years. Shut up, kid. Shut up.
A large cement slab greeted him, and Sanzo stared at it, irritated, as if he could disintegrate it through the power of his sight. Too big for him to remove, and he was not going to go ask for help–
‘Sanzo,’ a quiet, smooth voice said from his elbow, and he flinched away instinctively before he saw Hakkai there, almost smiling. ‘Need a hand with that?’
‘I can do it,’ he insisted, but the brunet was already reaching out a hand, and as they yanked on the slab a pile of debris showered down.
‘Ah!’ the boy cried out, and Sanzo stopped.
‘Shit. Don’t move that.’ He leaned down and yelled, praying he’d be heard. ‘Hey, kid! We’re trying to get you out, so just shut up and sit tight!’
There was a long, long silence, and Sanzo could feel the hope thrumming through the boy’s voice when he said ‘Really?’
‘Just sit tight!’ he growled and straightened. ‘All right. Let’s dig.’
Hakkai gave him a strange look. ‘All right,’ he said hesitantly.
The whole picture came clear in a few minutes. The slab was sheltering whoever was trapped in the debris. Removing it would kill the person inside. They’d have to dig under it, but given the lack of equipment, they only had a few iron rods to prop it up. Sanzo eyed these with some scepticism.
‘They’ll hold, Sanzo,’ Hakkai said reassuringly.
‘……if you say so.’
They dug, and scooped, and shoved, and dug. On and on in a ruthless, infinite cycle, and it felt like his arms were on fire, and he’d been doing this since time began, he’d died and gone to hell and this was his punishment, digging someone up forever who probably didn’t exist at all–
Except that his voice was so clear and young.
Sanzo laughed bitterly at himself and dug again. Again. Again.
‘You need to rest,’ someone said by his side, interrupting his haze of effort, and Sanzo looked away with some difficulty – his neck was cramping – to see the supervisor pulling Hakkai away. He was right, the brunet was exhausted, as he had every right to be after (he checked) a grand total of six hours of work without rest or water; he collapsed with some relief against a car and gratefully accepted the offer.
But that left Sanzo alone.
The supervisor moved back to stand before him.
‘You’re really convinced there’s someone in there,’ he said. His tone was challenging, but cautious as well.
Sanzo nodded. ‘He’s stopped talking now, but he’s alive. I know he is.’
The redhead eyed him speculatively for a second, and then shook his head. ‘Well, I believe you. God knows, I’ve seen some crazier shit since last evening.’ He stuck his hand out. ‘Sha Gojyo.’
‘Right. Let’s get to work, shall we?’ the redhead grinned, a surprisingly charming grin, and Sanzo felt a reluctant tug at his own mouth.
Dig again. Again, again.
Again, and suddenly there was an easing of pressure and it was inexplicably becoming easier to rummage through the junk. Sanzo turned to Gojyo. ‘You felt that?’
‘Uh-uh,’ the redhead grunted. A few more minutes, and they’d be through.
‘Hey! I can see something now!’
It was the kid again. Sanzo huffed, exhausted. The voice sounded much clearer, they were almost there. ‘Hold on, kid,’ he said and began to dig harder. It was ridiculous, the monotony of this work; he was restricted to just that one action, since Gojyo was watching the slab and generally doing everything else.
Finally, it gave way, and there were the largest gold eyes he’d ever seen peering up anxiously at him from a torn and bruised face. ‘You’re here,’ he whispered, stunned and awed. And then, as if the effort were too much, those strange-coloured eyes closed gently, and the features fell slack.
‘Not now, you little shit,’ Sanzo snarled, and fell to his knees, clearing away the last few inches of rubbish while Gojyo held the slab up; he was stronger than he looked – no, that was Hakkai there, supporting him. ‘Don’t you dare chicken out on me after all this work, all this goddamned work just to shut you up, you……’ he scrabbled through concrete and cement and stones and sharp shards of something or the other with his bare hands, and there was a small hole there, and someone was shouldering him gently but firmly out of the way, and then all he could see was a heap of backs as the rescue workers did their job (hah, about two hours too late, he thought) and pulled the kid out of the little space he had found sanctuary in.
Sanzo turned away, needing a cigarette very badly for some reason. His hands shook abominably as he took it out of the carton, and he noticed some cuts and scrapes from those last five minutes of idiotic grubbing through all that……why had he done that? He could have called someone over……
‘Bum a cigarette?’ it was the redhead, who looked as tired as he felt and then some.
Wordlessly, Sanzo handed him one, and they lit up. They stood there for a while in companionable silence; Sanzo’s mind was mostly running on idle, and he didn’t think the other one was in the best of shape either; Gojyo seemed to share that opinion, because with a mumbled ‘thanks’ he ambled away to where some enterprising soul had set up a rest corner for the workers.
Sanzo sat down on the slab he had initially chosen. His notepad was still there, a little tattered from the evening breeze, but he could read what he had written clearly.
He tore the pages off and began again.
This time, the words flowed easily, and he had the final draft ready with half an hour to spare before Hakuryuu was supposed to be there with their transportation. Cynical, biting, sarcastic, perceptive. Exactly what he did best.
‘Sanzo!’ Hakkai. What did he want now? ‘That was really amazing. I didn’t think you had it in you.’
Unsure whether to respond to the compliment or the insult, he grunted.
‘Sanzo……how did you know he was in there?’
‘Nobody else found him. How did you?’
‘I heard him,’ he replied shortly. Hadn’t he been over this already? ‘Stupid thing wouldn’t shut up. Kept calling and calling until I…..’ he waved a vague hand.
‘That can’t be, Sanzo.’ There was a small puzzled crease in the brunet’s brow. ‘He had so much dirt in his mouth and throat, he could barely breathe. There’s no way he could have called out loud enough to be heard, let alone through all that.’
‘He’s still not able to speak. They gave him a writing pad, or we still wouldn’t know.’
Sanzo wondered for a second if he’d uncovered someone else. But no. He’d heard the boy speak, it was unmistakably the same voice he’d been hearing all along. But nobody else had heard a thing; they hadn’t even noticed him under there. That slab had concealed him effectively. And come to think of it, nobody else had responded to the boy’s voice.
He shrugged, realising that Hakkai wanted some sort of response, and they walked over to where they’d left all the non-critical cases after giving them first aid.
‘It’s remarkable,’ Hakkai said. ‘He’s been in there since the second aftershock, nearly seven hours now. And not a wound but some scratches on his face and arms.’
He wasn’t really a boy, Sanzo realised, looking at the small figure curled up in a ball in his blanket, fast asleep. He was nearly eighteen, nineteen maybe, though short for his age. He crouched down next to the boy. There was a lot of bruising on his face and neck, but nothing that would last even a week. It was a miracle, no less, or so he would have said if he’d believed in the gods.
Sanzo had a sneaking suspicion that he had just seen some crazier shit than Gojyo had.
‘I heard him,’ he said abruptly. ‘That’s all I have to say about it. Do you know who this kid is?’
‘Nobody does,’ the brunet said wryly. ‘He was found wandering on the streets a few weeks ago, with no memory of, well, anything. They put him in here because they didn’t know what to do with him.’
Sanzo grunted. Fool doctors.
‘The rescue team’s moving on, Sanzo,’ Hakkai said quietly. ‘I’m going with them.’
‘Do what you like,’ he snapped absently, still staring at the boy, who was fast asleep. Tentatively, he reached out a hand and patted unruly brown hair. It was grimy and filled with dirt, but it felt like it would be soft once it was brushed out.
‘Hakuryuu will be here soon.’
‘I’ve got the draft ready. I’ll give it to him with your pictures.’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘I’m going home. Had enough for one day.’
‘All right.’ Hakkai looked vaguely disappointed. What the hell was he disappointed about? ‘Oh, by the way. He did remember one thing. His name. It’s Goku. Son Goku.’
‘Goku,’ Sanzo repeated. ‘I’ll see you around, Hakkai.’
‘Sanzo.’ The brunet nodded and walked away, joining the rest of the crew. He could hear Gojyo complaining loudly about the lack of heavy machinery on-site as they left.
He tried to stand. The strands caught at his fingers, tangling them inextricably together, and as he jerked away it yanked the boy’s hair painfully. Goku – that was his name, right? – winced in his sleep but didn’t wake. Out like a light.
He heard the sound of a very familiar jeep, and looked up with some relief as the silver-haired man seated behind the wheel honked impatiently and called his name. ‘Sanzo!’
‘Coming!’ he yelled and stood up. Looked down at the boy, up at the jeep.
‘You,’ he said angrily, ‘are much more trouble than you’re worth. And you have a nasty whining voice.’ He bent down and hauled him upright, stumbled gracelessly over to the waiting vehicle – he was short, but hardly light. ‘I dislike you already.’
Hakuryuu raised an eyebrow. ‘Passenger, Sanzo?’
‘Drive,’ he snapped, dumping the boy unceremoniously in the back seat and sliding into the front.
‘Is the article done?’
‘The article and the pictures are ready. You’re going to give them to Kanzeon for me.’
‘Whoa, whoa, since when did I–’
‘Since now.’ Sanzo leaned back against the smooth, soft upholstery of the jeep and closed his eyes. ‘I’m going to sleep.’
‘Who’s the kid?’ Hakuryuu said.
He opened one violet eye and glared. ‘Someone who called. And now you know as much as I do. Drive, damn it.’
‘Home. I’m going home.’ His own suburb, which was on the outskirts of the city, had been largely unaffected; unlike the rest of the city it wasn’t built on reclaimed land. ‘I want a bath, and I want a meal. And I want some antiseptic for my cuts, which that redhead jerk didn’t even offer to give me. And then I’m going to find out exactly why I could hear that……idiot in the back.’
Sanzo deigned no reply as he slipped off into a pleasant hazy dream.
Once he wakes up, I’ll get some answers. Once he wakes up. ………Stupid monkey.