Savannah (Sakura Softworks)

Author's note: This is a short piece that comes from the world of my work-in-progress, Sakura Softworks. I don't want to give too much away, but for those who read the final book, this material will give you a little insight into the story behind the story. 

Twelve-year-old Savannah thumbed the screen of her phone with one hand while her other arm remained wrapped around her backpack. With her yellow polo shirt neatly tucked into her jeans and her blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, her mouth opened wide in an eye-watering yawn. 

Her mother craned her neck, pushing up onto her tiptoes in order to peer over the line of people ahead waiting to deplane. The look on her face was one of worry, and one that did not go unnoticed by her daughter.

A glance through the oval windows of the 747 provided limited views of men in white uniforms escorting passengers into white plastic tents set up on the tarmac. Idling Mitsubishi trucks flanked each of the tents, with a handful of armed guards at each.

“Mom, what’s going on? What are we waiting for?” Savannah asked, eyes still heavy with jet lag from the sixteen-hour flight.

“I don’t know, baby. I’m sure everything is fine. Just be patient.”

“Everything’s not fine. Stupid phone isn’t even getting a signal.” 

“That’s not the end of the world, Savannah,” she replied, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. “I know it was a long flight, but-”

“It took like three days! It was soooo long!” Savannah blurted. 

Through clenched teeth already sore from hours of grinding, her mother responded. “It hasn’t been three days! Dammit, sixteen hours isn’t even one day, Savannah!” 

Savannah rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to her phone. She pulled it so close to her face it almost touched her nose, attempting to lose herself in the glass screen.

Her mother’s scowl softened and shoulders drooped as she realized she had lost it. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you,” she said, touching a hand to Savannah’s neck and caressing it, providing the healing touch of which only mothers are capable. “I promise, once we get through this queue, we won’t even check into the hotel. We’ll take a cab right to Dad’s work and surprise him there!” she said, smiling at her daughter through tired eyes. “Deal?”

Savannah nodded her head in silence as the two of them shuffled toward the flight attendant at the front of the plane. She was slipping her phone into her bag when the lavatory light on the bulkhead switched from green to red and then quickly back to green. She paused for a moment before the flight attendant urged them to continue deplaning, waving them toward the stairs.

Savannah’s mother gripped the handle of her carry-on and motioned with her head for Savannah to follow. She picked up her bag, made her way down the rest of the aisle, and exited the plane. The sky that hung over Chubu Airport was typical of a summer day in Japan: overcast and sticky. 

They stepped foot on the concrete and stood under a portable awning while awaiting their turn to enter the tents.  After a few moments, the flight attendant emerged from the door of the 747, walked down the stairs, and spoke to a nearby guard. The soldier tapped on his tablet and questioned the attendant, the content of which neither Savannah nor her mother could hear.

The soldier then made a swift motion and another two soldiers came running. They turned, marched up the stairway, and boarded the plane.

A man in a white uniform came up and assured the queue in stilted English, “There is nothing to be worried about. Please remain calm.” Although the rifle slung around his back told a different story. 

Savannah and her mother entered the tent together after what seemed like an eternity. The man inside the tent was a Japanese man, heavy-set, with a headful of thick black hair. He wore a lab coat left unbuttoned in the front and an empty plastic name placket hung from the grungy lapel. He sat on a stool next to a small, portable lab table.

“Hello,” he said, wiping his hands on his already damp trousers before dragging his right hand across his forehead and through his hair, slicking it back for a second before locks of it popped back up like obstinate weeds. “I’m Aki,” he said with an uncomfortable smile. “Please. Sit.”

Savannah looked around and noticed two armed soldiers standing just outside the tent. She squeezed the handle of her bag and turned her head back to Aki. Her mother was already sitting on a hard plastic chair and silently motioned for her to sit beside her. Savannah sat, her knuckles turning white as she clutched her bag in front of her chest.

“There is no need for alarm,” Aki said in monotone. 

“With everyone telling me not to be alarmed, it’s becoming more and more difficult not to be alarmed,” Savannah’s mother replied, her agitation apparent in both the tone of her voice and in her glare.

Aki’s head cocked to one side as he replied, “Of course. I’m sorry.” He looke down at the names on his sheet. “I only am here to help, Mrs. Miller.” His broken English more obvious now that he was off script. 

“Great,” she said, rapidly blinking as she forced a smile.

“Yes. It is, Mrs. Miller. I only need blood sample.”

“What? I’m not giving you a blood sample!” Mrs. Miller screamed. 

Savannah took one hand off her bag and slipped it around her mother’s upper arm just as the soldiers came in from their guard posts and stood at the corners of the interior, weapons at the ready. 

Mrs. Miller stood up, her eyes aflame. “Who are you people? I’m an American citizen! This is bullshit! I know my rights!” she yelled, facing the soldiers as Savannah’s eyes grew wide with worry behind her.

“P- p- please Mrs. Miller. Please calm down,” Aki stood up, pleading; his hands outstretched toward her.

She thrust a hand into her purse and yanked out her smartphone. Before she could unlock it, one soldier snatched it from her hand while the other gripped her by the elbow. 

“What the- You can’t do this!” she shrieked as Aki approached her from behind, unsheathed a syringe, and plunged it into a bulging vein, filling the vial with crimson. Mrs. Miller flailed and bucked but the moment the test tube was full, two soldiers dragged her from the tent.

Savannah screamed for them to let her go, jumping up from her chair and attempting to follow. She met with the muzzle of a soldier’s rifle, forcing her back from the lab tent flap.  

“Please. Sit," Aki repeated and gestured to the chair once again. Tears welling in her eyes, she backed toward the chair and sat, her hands crushing the handle of her bag. Aki smiled and returned to his stool, placing the blood sample in an electronic device on the tabletop. The device whirred to life as the sounds of the soldiers dragging Mrs. Miller away screaming evaporated into the background. 

Savannah grew silent, her eyes now glassy and distant. The soldier retained his aim on her while attempting to relieve her of her bag. She refused to relent and let out an eardrum-piercing scream.

“No! Stop, please! It’s okay. You can keep your purse. Sh- sh- she can keep her purse,” Aki said to the soldier as he swept the sweat from his forehead again with a trembling hand. 
“I’m sorry.” He paused, glanced at the device and then back to her. “Your mother is fine though. See?” he said, pointing to the device, now displaying a green light. “They will not hurt her. She is not sick.” He nodded his head at Savannah and smiled. “It’s okay.”

Savannah did not respond.

“I just need to test you. Okay?” Aki pleaded.

When the two guards returned to the corners of the tent, Mrs. Miller was not with them. 

Aki hesitated, drew another syringe from the tray and slid it into the clammy flesh of Savannah's arm. After filling the syringe, he covered the needle mark with a bandage and returned to the lab table, placing the sample into the testing device. It whirred to life and returned seconds later; the indicator light flashing red. 

Infected.