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32. Last Flight
~ Tottori Beach – July, 1966 – 2 PM ~
Dr. Akira Shimura had to admit that Akiko Natsuke was one strong-willed young lady. When first they’d met, he’d thought the photographer pushy and over friendly. Now, though, he’d come to appreciate that Akiko was actually driven to excel at her profession.
He could not tell what force impelled her—whether she’d been born with the fire for journalism burning in her soul, or whether some incident in her life had compelled her to be this way—but he admired her determination.
After all, few people possessed the courage to climb into a small plane and go monster hunting. Fewer still would return to such a venture after that selfsame monster had nearly killed them by dropping a building on their heads earlier in the day.
Shimura and Benten had tried to get Akiko to go to the hospital—to make sure she’d suffered no wounds—but she had insisted on coming with them instead.
Her guts, attention to detail, and focus were inspiring to Shimura, and helped take some of the edge off of his own nerves. Looking at Akiko, one would never guess that the fate of the world balanced on the success of Shimura’s plan.
Of course, Shimura had tried his best to hide the gravity of the situation from his colleagues. His stoicism seemed to be working.
At the moment, Akiko’s attention seemed focused on their pilot, Professor Yujiro Benten. Shimura’s colleague, in turn, seemed to be enjoying the pretty news photographer’s company.
Shimura couldn’t blame the two of them. They were young, and all of Japan had been in terrible peril since the arrival of the daikaiju. These hours in the air, flying ahead of Goragon and still miles from the dangers of Tottori, were a few precious moments in which all of them—even the famous Dr. Shimura—could try to relax.
No wonder Akiko was constantly leaning forward from her seat in the middle of the Cessna to talk quietly with Benten, smile, and share a private laugh.
Shimura wished he could put his thoughts and fears aside so easily.
“How much longer, Yujiro?” he asked. Though he was relishing the calm, he knew it could not last.
But it was Akiko who answered, not Benten. “We’re nearly there, Doctor,” she said, flashing him a pleasant smile. “I suppose I should reload my camera.”
“I’m surprised it’s working at all, after what you’ve been through,” Benten put in jovially.
“The Pentax is a very sturdy camera,” she replied. “I’ve taken some excellent pictures today. At least, I assume they’ll turn out all right—unless that corporal or the dark room attendants foul them up.” Before boarding the Cessna, she’d sent her exposed film to her editor—who was working with the military authorities—by wrangling an enlisted man to act as her errand boy.
Quite the charmer, in addition to all her other journalistic talents.
Shimura couldn’t help but wonder, though, what had brought her into conflict with her lead reporter, Shin Shindo. She’d almost seemed glad to put him on that ambulance and be rid of him.
It hardly mattered, Shimura supposed. Mr. Shindo was in the hospital now, recovering from the wounds he’d received in the building collapse, and Akiko was still here, on the job.
“I’m sure the military can handle a few rolls of film,” Benten told her. “They want your pictures of Goragon to turn out as much as your editor does.”
She crinkled her nose attractively. “But not as much as I do, maybe,” she said with a laugh. “After all, it’s my job on the line, as well as the fate of the whole world!”
“Just as long as it’s nothing important,” Benten replied dryly.
“How far behind us do you think Captain Nixon and the monster are?” she asked.
“Hard to say,” Benten replied. “According to my last check-in with him, I think we ought to arrive in Tottori at about the same time.”
“Their course is running roughly parallel to ours,” Shimura explained. “But there’s no way to tell what measures the captain may need to take to ensure that Goragon stays on track. Of course, the helicopter had quite a head start, because we stopped to help when the industrial complex went up in flames.”
“And I’m so glad you did, Doctor,” Akiko said, reaching forward from the back seat and putting her hand on his elbow. “I don’t know how I would have gotten the rest of this story without your help.”
She smiled at Shimura, and for a moment, he felt less worried about his plan’s outcome.
“I’m sure Mr. Burr would have covered the events adequately,” Benten told her.
“But he’s traveling with the military,” Akiko replied. “I’m with two famous scientists. What better place to get the real story? After all, the army only wants to kill the creatures. They don’t care where the monsters came from, or what they want, or any of the real questions.”
“Questions I fear may not be answered,” Shimura said. “At least not right away.”
“Not if your plan succeeds, Doctor,” Benten agreed.
“I pray it does,” Aki said. “Whether or not I get my answers—or my pictures.”
“Pardon me if I pray for both,” Shimura said.
Akiko nodded and went back to gazing out the window.
“We’ll know soon enough,” Benten told him. “That’s Tottori up ahead.”
Shimura would have surmised as much. Certainly there could not be another city in Japan—aside from Hiroshima, which they’d recently left behind—experiencing such chaos.
Swarms of jet fighters and helicopters circled over the broad dunes of Tottori beach. Smoke, rising from burning tanker trucks, stained the afternoon air a sooty gray. White-hot tracer rounds blazed toward Taishen from jets, beach artillery, and the destroyer. The serpent looked huge, even surrounded by mankind’s most lethal machinery. Defiant, the monster roared so loudly that Shimura could hear it even over the Cessna’s prop wash.
The daikaiju left the beach, slithered back into the water, and surged, hell-bent, toward the destroyer, which had previously been acting only as an observation ship.
“The electrical netting failed,” Benten observed.
Shimura nodded, and a tightness built in his chest. “So it would seem.”
Akiko, camera held to her eye, looked worried. “Is there anything we can do, Doctor?”
“Do not worry, Akiko,” Shimura replied, willing himself to be confident in his work. “We still have a few more surprises in store for the daikaiju.”
Even as he spoke, the flotilla of six remote-controlled decoy ships closed in around the monster, blocking its path to the destroyer.
Taishen plowed directly into the vessels, rocking the huge tankers and embracing the lead ship in titanic green-scaled coils.
Shimura smiled slyly.
“The monster is not used to being subtle,” he told Akiko. “It sees what it desires and then takes it. It cannot understand anything that opposes its will. These decoy ships vex the creature. It is used to winning without a fight.”
Akiko peered intently at the conflict, snapping pictures as quickly as she could wind the film. “We’re giving it a fight this time, aren’t we, Doctor?”
“Indeed we are, Akiko. I only pray that our efforts will be enough.”
Just then, the whole world became a ball of fire.
For a moment, Shimura’s mind catapulted back twenty-one years—to another flash that he’d seen, to another ball of fire, one that had claimed the lives of his wife and family.
Then, as now, he had observed the horror from a safe distance, though during the bombing of Hiroshima, he had not intended to do so.
It was blind luck that saved me then, he thought. I pray that this day, luck will not be so blind—and that it will be on our side.
“Doctor, are you all right?” Akiko asked, leaning close to his shoulder.
Shimura nodded. The fireball had been the tankers exploding, of course, not a repeat of Hiroshima. “Hai. I will be fine.”
“It’s working, Doctor!” Benten enthused. He pointed out the cockpit window to where Taishen writhed amid the blazing sea.
Fire from the ignited decoy ships surrounded the daikaiju on all sides. Flames of orange napalm flickered across Taishen’s immense blue-green scales. The monster shrieked in surprise and agony. The attack jets and helicopters swooped in, firing everything they had, an angry swarm converging on a fallen foe.
Benten shook his fist in triumph. “If it stays on the surface, we have it!”
“Oh, no!” Akiko said. “The ship! Look!”
The observation destroyer pitched to and fro, heaving at the mercy of the blast and the giant waves generated by the thrashing monster.
Shimura and his companions watched in horror as sailors pitched over the ship’s sides and into the raging sea. A helicopter parked on the destroyer’s landing pad careened across the deck, smashed into the command tower, and exploded. Crowds of people, tiny as ants in the chaos below, ran for their lives.
“Emiko!” Shimura whispered, praying to whatever gods there might be that his assistant would be spared.
Akiko reached toward Benten, for comfort, then stopped herself and snapped another picture instead. “I-I’m sure they’ll be all right,” she said, though she didn’t sound very convinced.
Benten aimed the pontoon-equipped Cessna toward the floundering vessel. “Hang on,” he said. “Maybe we can land and lend some assistance.”
“It’s no good,” Shimura told him, heart breaking. “We’d only be caught in the crossfire and destroyed.” Emiko Murakami was not the doctor’s kin, but she was the closest thing he’d had since his family perished in Hiroshima.
A tear budded in Akiko’s eye. “Doctor, I … We…”
Suddenly, their small aircraft shook, and a thunderous buzz filled the air.
The two-way radio console in front of Benten sprang to life. “Hold on to your hats, kids!” said the voice of Captain Nixon. “The cavalry is here!”
Nixon’s helicopter passed so close that the cable dangling below it—carrying Shimura’s specially prepared “package”—almost struck the Cessna’s wing.
Another shockwave followed, and a blaze of light came from below and behind them.
“Goragon!” Akiko blurted, swinging around and snapping a picture.
“He’s following the helicopter,” Benten exclaimed. “Your backup plan worked, Doctor!”
Shimura nodded grimly, trying not to think of his assistant struggling for her life on the burning ship below.
“It is our last, most desperate chance,” he said. “But now, finally, all the pieces are in place.”
Thanks to Kiff, Vicki, Doris, Steve, and David for beta-reading.
All contents TM & © 2014 Stephen D. Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.