“Where did you come from?” He asked.

“We’re staying at a campsite a few kilometers north of here, along the Kumano Kodo,” I answered. “The family – they have a young daughter. They need help. I can take you there – ” I began before he shook his head.

“We can’t. Not here. You’ll have to come to our base,” He explained. He then looked over my shoulder and shouted for one of the other soldiers, who came over promptly. “Give me the map,” He commanded. Opening the map on the ground, he ushered me over and pointed to our current position. He then traced his finger along the road north, away from Shirahama and the promise of Taro’s family, to a city called Shingu. His finger stopped at the sea.

“We need to go there?” I asked. He nodded his head grimly.

“The port is secured, but the town itself is still pretty risky right now. Try to stay in a vehicle and keep that white flag of yours handy. I wish we could take you, but… I’m sorry, but we’re under orders not to take anyone for fear of contamination. You’ll need the doctors there to check you first,” He explained. I told him I understood.

“What happened here?” I asked, pointing to the plane. He shook his head and said a word I actually didn’t know. I guess the look of confusion on my face said it all, because he said, in English, “Classified.” The look on his face made it clear that I’d get no answers from him, but it basically confirmed my suspicion. The plane didn’t suffer an accident. It was brought down intentionally.

I nodded, rose to my feet and began to make my way down to the truck. One of the other soldiers began walking with me.

“Wait a minute,” He said, before I could get into the idling truck. He went to the back of his humvee and returned a few minutes later with a small box. In it were a number of MRE’s – Meals Ready to Eat. Each little pack contained enough calories to sustain an adult male for a full twenty-four hours. This would be enough to feed all of us for the next few days – maybe a week if we rationed them. I thanked him profusely. He grinned big and shook his head as if it were something he did every day. He turned to go back to his colleagues when I jumped at my only chance… so this time, I stopped him.

“I don’t suppose I could get a gun…?” I asked, trying to sound as hopeful and optimistic as I could. He laughed big.

“Not a fucking chance.”

With that, I found myself back in the truck, barreling down the road towards my waiting companions. It was now clearly daylight hours and finding the trail back to our camp posed no challenge. I parked the truck as close to the trail as I could and followed it back up. I was met by Charlie, who looked like he wanted to run over and hug me, but stopped himself and made himself double-check. I assured him I wasn’t sick and Taro and his family emerged shortly thereafter. Risa ran up and gave me a big hug, which was rather nice. Ayako was apprehensive until I handed her the box of food, which nearly brought her to tears. I told the boys about my encounter with the troops, to which Taro defiantly raised his fist into the air and boasted proudly of his fellow servicemen. When I explained that they were in Tanabe, he lowered his fist and shook his head.

“No. Shirahama first. We go tomorrow.” Was all he said before he returned to attending his family.

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