Chapter 15: Connect It Together (2)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
When he woke up, outside the small window was hazy and white. The threads of rain bundled up together and appeared as a giant gray-colored curtain. Whenever the wind direction changed, the infinite pelts of water assaulted the window and made enough sound to drown out the rumbling of the Shinkansen.
“Souma-san, we’ll be arriving soon,” Motoi said from the aisle seat. The cityscape was entirely behind the filter of rain, and maybe it was partially because he had napped on the way here, but Sakae didn’t actually feel like he had arrived in Hiroshima. And then he saw the baseball stadium that was right by the train station. It was incredibly crowded as they descended the stairs from the platform. He didn’t know how congested the JR Hiroshima Station normally was on a Friday afternoon, but it was obvious from all the worried people staring up at the electronic information board that this was out of the ordinary.
“The Shinkansen has a lot of service disruptions with delays and stoppages…”
“So we just barely made it here in time.”
“The Sanyo Main Line appears to be okay for now.”
The lecture was tomorrow, and in the afternoon today, they planned to go to Peace TV for a meeting and light rehearsal.
“It’s a bit of a walk from the station. Maybe it’s better to wait for a taxi even with the long lines— Excuse me for a moment, I have a phone call.”
Shitara turned around and pulled out his cell phone.
“Hello, Shitara speaking. Yes, it’s been a while. How have you been? We just arrived at the station now and are about to head over… Huh? …Yes. Yes… I understand. If there’s anything that we can do to help, then yes, by all means.”
Shitara ended the call and faced them again. “Let’s take a taxi,” he said, but instead of heading to the transfer point, he went over to the exit instead.
“But first let’s stop by a place like Uniqlo or something and pick up some extra clothing just in case. You only brought one set of clothes, right?”
Shitara started walking as he spoke, and Motoi called out after him in tow.
“What do you mean, sir? Who did you speak to on the phone?”
“The President of Peace TV. Apparently it’s raining harder than expected. People might not make it back for a while.”
“Even by plane?”
“It’s not an issue of physics here,” Shitara answered without turning around.
“It’s a local station, and they don’t have enough personnel to run their shows if a large disaster strikes. They’ve already sent out news crews to a few different locations, and there’s a possibility that they won’t be able to make it back to the station. So we’ve been asked to help out— Oh, right, the lecture has been cancelled as well.”
What do you mean we just barely made it here in time? Sakae thought. If they had taken a later train, they wouldn’t have arrived, and he wouldn’t have to be lassoed into this extra work.
“When you say help out…?”
Motoi looked perplexed as he looked at Sakae, but Sakae ignored him and sped up his strides to walk next to Shitara.
“Seriously, a bringer of misfortune.”
“Huh? Do you mean me?” Shitara asked.
“Who else is there?”
“It could be you?”
“I’m just a simple troublemaker.”
“Whoa, so you’re aware of it. But I don’t agree. Let’s use rock-paper-scissors to decide who brought this upon us.”
It normally took 10 minutes by car to get to Hakushima where Peace TV was located, but with the wait, the detours, the rainwater that poured onto the roads, and the poor visibility even with the windshield wipers running at full speed, it took over an hour to get there. While they waited at the reception area, a gray-haired man came out with several people in tow. The security guard straightened his posture all of a sudden, and Sakae knew right away that he had to be President Abiko.
“It’s been a while, sir. You’ve found your way up in the world.”
“I’d say that the same goes for you too.”
He gave a happy clap to Shitara’s shoulder. Maybe out of all the people Shitara had met on his demotion tour around Japan, Abiko was the one he had gotten along with the most. Apparently most of Shitara’s superiors treated him with antipathy, but he did have a small group of enthusiastic supporters, so in the end it all balanced out.
“You finally came to visit, but I’m sorry about the horrible timing.”
“Not at all, I just hope that we can be of use.”
“Depending on the situation, we might need you through the start of next week. Will The News be okay?”
“Well, they can always call and email if they need to get in touch with me. I’m sure that we’ll manage somehow.”
“You haven’t changed a bit!” Abiko gave a broader and broader smile as he listened to Shitara’s nonchalant response—as if the problem was someone else’s and not his own. Wasn’t it supposed to be bad if that attitude hadn’t changed?
“All right, let’s sit down and talk for a bit… Is the private tearoom open?”
The person who appeared to be his secretary nodded and said, “I will check,” but Sakae interrupted the proceedings.
“That’s just a waste of time. We didn’t come here to drink tea. I want to see the news floor and the weather room right away. We’re already pressed for time for the evening news. I also want some degree of discretion and authority over the chain of command. I can’t operate if I have to please everyone I need to deal with here. I need everyone to throw away their territorial impulses.”
“…All right. Thank you, I appreciate it.”
Abiko immediately understood Sakae’s request as someone who had worked in the news forever. While they waited for the elevator, Motoi went over to Shitara.
“Um, is there anything I can do to help?” he asked in a low voice. “I don’t really know anything about working in TV production.”
“I think it’s more fun executing the work than debating about it. But honestly, we probably don’t have the time to look after you while we’re here. I guess first and foremost is that you don’t get in our way. If you pay attention to what people are doing, I’m sure that you’ll find plenty of things to do. You’ll probably be sent to run errands and other odd jobs, so if you don’t like it, you can head to the hotel now and make plans to return to Tokyo.”
“I’ll do anything that people need,” Motoi replied, a little peeved. “I’m not unhappy about the work; I’m just afraid that I won’t be useful…”
“Well, that would be up to you.”
Shitara did not try to hide his scrutinizing gaze and made Motoi flinch back. There was an unspoken message that said plainly—don’t complain about being judged when you’ve been doing it yourself. He seriously had a nasty side to him. But it was true that they didn’t have time to babysit the kid, so Sakae rolled up his sleeves and got down to work. At the very least, he wasn’t against it compared to the lecture.
The news floor was less than half the size of the one at Asahi TV. The staff members present couldn’t hide their alarm as the president himself told them that reinforcements from Tokyo had come to help, but there were a number of people who knew Shitara there, so it probably wouldn’t take long to convince them. When the introduction for formality’s sake was over, they went over to the weather room to check the alerts and weather data. The hourly rainfall totals exceeded 80 mm,1 and numerous landslide warnings had been issued throughout the prefecture.
“Do you mainly take the syndicated news from Tokyo to put together the evening news program?” Shitara asked.
“No, nowadays the syndicated programming has been condensed a lot, and from 5 to 7 pm, we mainly do our own programming.”
So they could air all the local news that they wanted to without the disruption of what was deemed newsworthy in Tokyo. It was better this way in the event of a local disaster.
“So what’s the rundown for the evening news?”
“We’ll shorten the segments for sports and entertainment news and combine the news and weather together for a super block. And apparently, we’ll report live from the JR Hiroshima Station when we’re normally airing the national syndicated news.”
“Then I’ll help with the weather, and you can watch everything from the control room and coordinate the live report,” Sakae told Shitara. “You’ll have to work everything out for The News too.”
“Roger that, sounds good. I’ll let everyone know.”
Just as everyone was about to get to work, Motoi raised his hand and spoke up.
“Umm, excuse me. Should I go out to buy some food for us at a convenience store? I doubt that we’ll be able to get delivery with the heavy rain.”
“Yeah, grab an AD, and ask if they need anything else too. And be careful in the rain, okay?”
Apparently it wasn’t a lie when Motoi had declared that he would do anything. Shitara watched as he rushed off and commented, “I’m glad that he doesn’t seem to have a strange sense of pride. He’s staying positive despite the emergency and being away from home. Maybe you can teach him to use the disaster alert monitoring system later. I’m sure that he’ll pick it up quickly.”
“The manual is probably somewhere in the control room. I’ll tell him to read it.”
With the heavy rain, no matter how large the time block was, it would never be enough. Which live reports from around the prefecture and what information about the weather should they air? There was the weather radar, the total accumulated rainfall, the estimated rainfall, and the conditions of the shelters set up for each of the various warnings. They would have to repeat the same news while updating the information as it came in. Motoi came back soaking wet even with an umbrella and exclaimed, “The water level of the river is crazy!”
Oh, right, he should get the camera footage of the rivers from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
At any rate, they lacked manpower. It was a local TV station, which did not have a large number of staff to begin with, and on top of that, they had sent a number of teams out for live coverage. Sakae couldn’t just raise his voice like he did in Tokyo and expect someone to come running. It had been a while since he had to run around at work, but he busied himself between the weather room and the studio, the studio and the news floor, and the news floor and the weather room. The method was extremely analog, but it was faster to talk to the people directly than to issue instructions over the phone. Unlike the people whom he had worked with every day, unless Sakae explained everything from beginning to end, there was the possibility that it could produce mix-ups, and it was a big source of stress for him. It wasn’t that easy to get everyone operating on the same page. Moreover, in this state of emergency, everyone was nervous and upset.
Sakae ran around, keeping one step ahead of the preparations. He kept a map of the big picture in his head, and if anyone started to stray, he would fix it. The most important thing was that the show did not become the focus. They were here to give the viewers the information that they needed—to alert the viewers who hadn’t noticed the conditions outside. Would the information reach them? Would it be enough? Would as many people as possible want to continue watching? Sakae didn’t get any satisfactory answers to the questions that he asked himself. What was certain was that the same questions were always echoing through Shitara’s head—and there was no need to ever doubt that fact.
The broadcast truly came and went like a storm as it ended at 7 pm, but they still couldn’t relax yet. The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) was scheduled to hold an emergency press conference at 7:30. Most likely they would issue a heavy rainfall emergency warning.
“We’re not going to air the press conference?” Motoi asked.
“We’ll write something for the news ticker and give a news flash about it, but the nightly news will air the footage.”
In other words, they would section off the screen to air the regular scheduled programming while the latest information about the heavy rainstorms scrolled across the bottom of the screen—which was busy and cumbersome.
“But NHK will be airing it live, won’t they?”
“Probably, but they’re a public station with no commercials, and that’s not something that we can easily imitate. Anyway, isn’t that what streaming services are for?”
“That’s true, but…”
His complaint was that it was too inflexible. Sakae hated the news ticker format as well, but it was out of their hands. Peace TV’s national syndicated network was Asahi TV based in Tokyo, and they would deem the heavy rainstorms in Hiroshima to be a distant affair.
“However, Abiko-san did issue instructions to put together an emergency program for tomorrow morning. We’ll probably write up a detailed rundown after we see the damages at daybreak, but I think that we’ll use plenty of footage from today, so let’s prepare for it as best as we can beforehand. Oh, and please request that the live coverage crews stand by during the night from a safe location,” Shitara said.
The impact of the casualties, landslides, and transportation infrastructure would probably be clear by tomorrow. Sakae struck up a conversation with Shitara as a way to sort out his own head.
“First, let’s check the JMA’s press conference and decide what we want to use for the nightly news. Do we want to put together a clip for it?”
“You’ll get the materials and script that they use here, so the rest is up to you. We’ll start the live reports from the shelter in Aki Ward. The reporter will just stand and talk. It will be late at night, so we won’t film the inside of the shelter. Then we’ll throw it to the studio to explain the mechanism of the autumn rain front and give a forecast of the expected rainfall.”
“What about the morning news?”
“We air the syndicated programming as-is from 5:25 am. We’ll probably get 2 or 3 spots for live reporting, I guess? The reporters will probably be exhausted, so let’s try not to assign them multiple spots in a row.”
“What about the helicopter from Tokyo?”
“The storm system should clear up enough by tomorrow morning, so I’ve requested that it be dispatched to us when there’s an opening. Mimasaka, there’s no need for you to stick to us like glue, so you should try to grab a nap whenever you can. The nap rooms are probably all occupied, but you can find a free sofa somewhere.”
“Huh?” Motoi frowned. “Is it that hard to secure a break spot at a workplace that keeps such irregular hours?”
“Well, it’s not like GRAPE, where you have enormous lounges outfitted with all the hammocks and Yobigo chairs for you to choose from.”
“I don’t think that what I’m saying is anything extravagant. Productivity will go down if you don’t equip the working environment properly, which just results in losses. It is a necessary employee benefit.”
“Then hurry up and buy the place, and you can equip it yourself then,” Sakae snapped. His irritability had spiked, and it came out of his mouth with thinking. He thought that it would shut him up, but instead, Motoi argued back with him openly.
“Souma-san, aren’t you acting childish?”
“It’s old-fashioned to think that just because you do your job properly that you can neglect your communication with others.”
“What? Do you change your damn personality as it goes in and out of style? That’s impressive. Don’t run your mouth when you can’t even do the job of a full AD right now.”
“Now, now, settle down. Don’t waste your energy fighting here. Let’s take a 10-minute break before the press conference starts. Sakae, can you come with me?”
Shitara led him to a different floor of the building, which made Sakae think that it was a very important business discussion, but they arrived at an empty and harmless smoking area.
“This is only for today.”
Shitara broke open the seal to a brand-new pack of cigarettes and stuck one into Sakae’s mouth. How cunning. He had probably asked Motoi to get it for him earlier. Sakae remembered that he didn’t bring any with him.
“Are you telling me to let you off for all this heavy labor in exchange for some nicotine?”
“Let’s just follow your lead and say, I’ll pay you back with my body later.”
“I thought you would say that.”
Their gazes met with the flame of the lighter between them. Shitara’s eyes were still bright with no signs of exhaustion. Maybe Sakae’s eyes looked the same to Shitara too. The nicotine permeated his brain as it operated at full tilt, and the sensation was extremely powerful because he knew that it wasn’t very good for him. He took a long, deep drag and exhaled, passing the lit cigarette over to Shitara’s mouth.
“I bet you’ve taken a liking to him.”
Shitara exhaled some smoke and passed the cigarette back. “I think it’s all the more thrilling when they don’t know any better. I can’t believe he looked Souma Sakae in the eye and said that he did something properly.”
Shitara smiled faintly behind the wisp of smoke.
“He’s really grown in these past few hours. He’s mastered the disaster alert monitoring system, the submission process for issuing caption requests, and the handling of cue cards in the studio. Most of all, he has a great fiery spirit.”
“You’ve got a twisted personality.”
“I personally think that I’ve been able to survive for this long because I have an eye for people.”
“You’ve got it confused with your skill for using people.”
They traded drags of the cigarette between them as they talked, and it shortened in the blink of an eye. They smoked the cigarette until it almost burned their fingers, and after Shitara tossed the end into a receptacle, he stretched his arms over his head.
“Just gotta work a little bit more… Though it might take a few days.”
“We should be back by Monday probably. We’ve got our own show to tend to after all.”
It wasn’t possible for both executive producers to be absent from the show for days on end. They would have to tell them to make do with the people that they had.
“That’s true. The JMA will probably issue a warning soon. Let’s just pray that the damages are minimal.”
“It doesn’t suit you to pray to the gods.”
“Well, if you’ve exhausted all of your options, then there’s nothing else left to do.”
How many people could actually say in the face of circumstances beyond their control that they had exhausted all options? Shitara would complain again and again about Sakae overworking himself, but Sakae thought that Shitara should take a good look in the mirror first.
“Don’t give me a look like you want to say something real badly.”
It pissed Sakae off to have the man joke at him, so he grabbed his arm and hauled him in. The smoking area door was made of glass, but the panel was frosted down to about knee level, so there was no worry of anyone seeing them from the outside. Sakae closed his eyes, their bitter-tasting tongues tangled together, and he could hear the sound of the rain beyond the windows. The rainfall was terrible.
Natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes were terrifying. But it was a very unique fear to imagine what would happen if the rain wouldn’t stop—it seemed to crawl up his spine like ice. It felt like it slowly took his breath away. It was dangerous to go outside in these weather conditions, and they had no choice but to stay inside away from the ground level as possible. Should they have called for a vertical evacuation and been more persistent about it? His thoughts were unlikely to melt away even as the tongue tenderly played with his own.
“…We should get going.”
They broke away from the momentary contact, and Shitara lightly stroked Sakae’s lips and cheeks with the pad of his thumb.
“Thanks to you, I was able to charge up about 5 percent.”
“That’s nothing at all.”
“I guess it’s pretty far from the employee benefits that I need… Oh, they issued a warning. I just got an email about it.”
They returned to the news floor, and for some reason, Motoi was recording with his smartphone.
“I’m the one with the most free time around here, so I thought that I might as well document what was happening. Regardless if it’s newsworthy or not, it might be useful for their internal emergency procedures here.”
“Yeah, that’s not a bad idea.” Shitara nodded generously. “But with a smartphone, it’s probably shaky and hard to watch, so why don’t you borrow a handicam instead?”
“But I’ve never used a video camera before.”
“You’ll get used to it in no time.”
As they bustled around, members of the JMA in their work clothes popped up in front of the microphone one after the other like a bunch of mismatched flowers for a bouquet.
“Earlier, we issued a heavy rain warning for areas of the three prefectures of Hiroshima, Okayama, and Tottori. The area has never seen heavy rains as severe as this. It is probably safe to say that it may have already triggered natural disasters such as landslides and flooding in some places…”
The news was already expected, and no one looked particularly surprised by the announcement—until a frantic voice shouted, “Excuse me,” accompanied by the rushing of footsteps.
“An alert came from the master control room… There’s a power outage.”
“What do you mean?”
Sakae also took a moment before he understood the meaning of the words. There was a power outage, but the lights and TVs were still on, even the computers. When he finally inferred the meaning, goosebumps broke out over his entire back—exactly what it meant for a TV station to experience a power outage.
When they ran over to the master control room, a place that monitored the broadcast 24 hours a day and where normally only authorized people were allowed to enter, it was like a science fiction movie with banks of monitors and terminals packed into the room. A flashing red light was going off like a police car beacon in one of the corners, and there was a message in red on the electronic display that said, Power Outage: Power Supply Equipment.
“Huh? Um, what’s going on?” Motoi asked, sounding confused.
“There’s trouble at the transmission tower. In other words, it won’t be able to send out TV signals. There’s no time to explain. The one in Hiroshima is in Egesan, right? For now, I’ll go over and check on it myself. If all the cars are in use, then please send a taxi over right away. I’ll leave you to contact the power company and the other TV stations. Mimasaka, come with me. I might need your help with moving things.”
After Shitara fired off his instructions, he looked at Sakae and said, “Take care of things for me,” the tone of his voice allowing no further discussion. Sakae understood that it was entirely rational and less risky to leave him behind and put him in charge when the place was short of staff and he was able to handle both the editing and broadcast responsibilities. But still, Sakae thought that Shitara was unfair. Particularly how he entrusted everything to Sakae and chose to go off on his own. It also pissed him off that he couldn’t measure up to the instantaneous decisiveness of Shitara’s skills at times like these.
Shitara took off at around 8 pm, and Sakae made preparations for The News as he took phone calls and sent messages over LINE. But even after the broadcast ended, Shitara still wasn’t back.
Sakae found a random staff member and asked, “How long does it take to get to Egesan?”
“Probably about an hour,” he replied. “I’ve never been there myself before, so I don’t really know exactly… but apparently Egesan takes about an hour’s walk to get from the base of the mountain to the top. It shouldn’t be that hard to get to if the weather and road conditions are normal.”
Except both conditions were nowhere near normal at present. There was a high possibility that they would be unable to check on the equipment and had to make a U-turn back. The transmission tower at Egesan was operated jointly by the 5 TV stations in all of Hiroshima which included NHK. It transmitted the digital broadcast signals to normal regular households and to the relay stations. The power needed to transmit the signals had been cut off from the electric company, and it was now running on an emergency generator, but the fuel would only likely last for a few days. According to the staff member who had contacted the power company, it was likely that there was trouble with the power lines somewhere. No shit, Sherlock. But there were several hundred homes within the city alone that had no power, and it was unlikely that they would be able to investigate it at present.
So, what do we do?
But there was nothing that they could do about the power. Sakae leaned back in his chair as far as it would go and looked up at the ceiling. The lights hurt his eyes. From the outside, this office building probably looked like it was floating in the rain and darkness. The construction of a power line was outside the realm of his expertise. Even if he wanted to try out all possibilities, it wasn’t possible.
It was past 1 in the morning when Shitara returned.
“The roads are a mess, and we weren’t able to get anywhere due to the traffic. There’s no way to get to the mountain right now. I talked with the other stations, and we’ll try again in the morning. We’re set to head out at 6 am. I’ll leave it to you, Mimasaka. Are you able to go?”
Motoi had to be pretty exhausted; his reply was nowhere as lively as it had been. Who could have expected such a hectic situation just half a day after their arrival in Hiroshima? And yet Motoi still insisted that he felt fine as they chased him over to a sofa, took turns to shower, and prepared for the next morning. Even if they couldn’t resolve everything, there were still plenty of things that Sakae could do. The pile of tasks made him feel more relieved, and he wondered if it was the same for Shitara.
After a short nap, Motoi set off for Egesan once again. They somehow put together the special emergency program in a flurry and aired it as scheduled, and by the time lunch rolled around, the rain finally let up for a bit, but the scars from the night reared their heads one by one, and it seemed like nothing had changed for the better. There were landslides throughout the prefecture, causing disruptions to the transportation systems, and there was no way for reinforcements from other affiliate stations to arrive immediately. As Sakae busied himself with moment-to-moment updates about shelter conditions and the progress of infrastructure restorations, he received an update from Motoi over LINE.
“The transmission tower and building are fine, but the utility pole is buried in mud. The mud reaches up to our knees here, and none of the vehicles can get through. It’s about a 3-km walk.”2
Apparently it had been quite a journey. He had attached several photos of fallen trees and roads essentially buried in mud.
“Yeahhh, I’m really glad we had a young guy with us,” Shitara commented with no sense of impending crisis in his voice. “If we had reached the mountain last night, I’m sure I would have gotten stranded somewhere.”
“So?” Sakae prompted him.
“Now what are we going to do?”
“Well, with the tower and the building safe, I’d say that we just barely scraped by. Hmm, what are we going to do now?”
Shitara suddenly laughed out loud despite the circumstances, and Sakae had to snap at him, “What?”
“I remembered yesterday’s press conference from the JMA,” he explained. “It was like they had never experienced it before… And it’s too apt for what’s happening now.”
“And yet you don’t look worried about it.”
“Because I have Souma Sakae with me.”
“I can’t even be bothered to make a wisecrack.”
“For the time being, the 4 commercial stations in Hiroshima will meet up at NHK. Abiko-san has been called there, so I will go too. We’ll have a meeting here whenever we get back, and we’ll report about it then.”
After Shitara left, Sakae went over to a corner of the floor to put down some newspapers and curled up on top of them. He didn’t feel like sleeping with the motor running in his head, but that was why he had to cool it down now, otherwise he would likely overheat later. Sakae closed his eyes, and the sounds of footsteps walking back and forth came into focus. It was fine; he could hear everything. Nothing was blocked out, and when he woke up from his nap, he could take off running again.
Because I have Shitara Sousuke with me.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.