The bright, expansive light swallowed the city and tore it apart.
She got the feeling that it had been hot. And at the same time, she sensed that it had been cold.
She had no clear recollection of how much the earth shook or how terrible those thunderous roars had been. Just one thing remained seared in the back of her mind: the horrible stench of a wind filled with clouds of residue.
When she swung around, her mother was already gone.
Instead, a mountain of rubble the likes of which she had never seen before towered over her menacingly.
She’s been swallowed whole, she thought. My mother has been swallowed whole by this mountain of rubble.
The only response came from a corner of the rubble—the voice of a defenceless baby.
In that terrible scene, the boy neither cried nor grumbled; he merely wriggled his arms and legs towards the sky as any infant would do.
It was her little brother, whom her mother had been clutching until moments ago. He was fitted with a round-eared cap and swathed in blankets with duck pictures, ones Yuki helped her mother choose.
Yuki scooped up her brother as best as she could with her tiny arms before sprinting after the escaping adults in the surrounding smoke.
She pretended not to see the tattered, lemon-coloured cardigan.
Yuki had no way of knowing where the adults were headed. Nor did she know why she was chasing after them. If she could put a name on what drove her, it was probably “instinct”.
To run, to protect, to survive—Yuki let her feet take her where they would, obeying only her instinct.
The place she finally arrived at was an underground shelter.
When diplomatic relations with Vers first began to sour, the Terrans did not neglect to prepare for the “interplanetary war” that was bound to happen sooner or later. That was around the time shelters were constructed one after another. They were established underneath office buildings and on shopping mall lots—even high-rise apartments were turned into shelters in the end. The country poured every last yen into the construction.
Ostensibly, it was to protect the people in the rare case of a disaster… but its real purpose was to prepare for the coming war.
The people were well aware. There was no way to avoid this war.
Dimly, she could hear sounds of destruction outside, and at the same time, a deep sense of unease rolled in with the tremors.
Yuki spent a week in that stifling underground shelter. It was the first time she had ever slept under the same roof with complete strangers. That said, she hardly slept a wink.
Somehow, she knew that she would probably never see her mother ever again. As much as she yearned to contact her father, who was currently on a soldier’s tour of duty, she had no way of reaching him. Everyone around her was in the same boat. There was no way of receiving communication either, even in the best of situations.
And Inaho…? Just what had Inaho been doing at this time…?
Looking back, Yuki had no recollection of her baby brother being hard to handle. She had always heard a baby crying somewhere in that pitch black underground room. Even during the odd silence, if one of them started sobbing, the others would join in.
But even then, Inaho never joined in himself.
It wasn’t as if he never cried at all. He made slightly disgruntled noises, but it almost never reached the level of wailing.
“What a nice child, so considerate of his sister,” one of the adults said to Yuki in the midst of their deepening hunger, drowsiness and fatigue. She looked at the dry-eyed Inaho. “He doesn’t take much looking after, does he? What a darling.”
That was what she had said. Come to think of it, she had been a young woman, Yuki recalled. She had patted Inaho’s head ever so slightly, her face scrunched up in a smile that threatened to give way to tears at any moment. She clutched onto a bag as if her very life depended on it, and inside it were toy blocks and a tiny patrol car.
Even now, Yuki could easily imagine who those toys might have been for…
Inaho was such a docile child even after they moved to another refuge—the gym building of a half-demolished elementary school. For a start, among the masses of people they were staying with, Inaho and Yuki’s neighbours failed to notice that there was a child among them.
It wasn’t as if he never cried at all. Sometimes, he cried at night like any child would do. Still, the way she saw it, he was worlds apart from the wailing infant that abandoned itself to tears. Thanks to that, Yuki didn’t have to take it upon herself to leave the refuge in the middle of the night out of regard for those around her.
Once—just once—did Inaho cry his heart out like a baby.
The day before Yuki and Inaho were admitted into the Home along with a number of other children at the same refuge… a document was delivered to Yuki.
Yuki, only a child herself then, did not know how much that single piece of paper would shape the course of her life—there was no way she could have known.
Written on that somewhat flimsy and smooth paper distributed by the school were the words: “Yuki and Inaho have been recognised by this country as war orphans.”
Basically, it was telling Yuki and Inaho that the death of their parents had been confirmed.
They were gone now—their kindly mother and their playful father.
At that moment, Inaho burst into tears for the very first time.
As Yuki stood stock-still in shock, Inaho, who should have been blithely unaware, turned bright red in the face and flailed wildly in her arms.
From that day forth, the only family the two siblings had left in the world was each other.