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24. The Tottori Gambit
~ Tottori Beach – July 1966 – Noon ~
“Baka. I can’t believe you volunteered,” Rin said to Rika as the two of them waited on the shore near where—just a week earlier—the beach party concert stage had stood. Now that same stretch of sand swarmed with army personnel manning guns, driving tanks, and preparing other elements of the military’s trap for the monster, Taishen.
“Baka-yaro,” Rika retorted playfully. “I’m not the one who volunteered with a sprained ankle and wrist. How are you going to play guitar?”
“I can still strum,” Rin countered. “That’ll be enough. They think the monster may be attracted to music, not to great music. If making good music was a requirement, you wouldn’t be here.”
Rika scowled, but not like she meant it. “And neither would you. So, with that ankle, how are you going to run from Taishen if it comes?”
“How are you going to run when you’re on a boat in the middle of the bay?”
“I come from a long line of fishermen, I’ll have you know. My people are very good swimmers.”
“But are your people tasty? That’s all that counts for that sea serpent.”
“What about you? You’re just as likely to get eaten as I am.”
“I come from a long line of Murakamis. Centuries of inborn sarcasm has made my whole family tough and bitter. If that aquatic dragon scoops me up, it’ll just spit me out.”
“And that’s what you’re counting on, is it?”
“Nope. I’m counting on the army to take care of the rest. Ken, here, is gonna kick Taishen’s scaly tail.”
Captain Kenji Koizume looked over to where the young women were setting up for today’s JSDF-sanctioned “concert.” “Leave me out of your lovers’ spat, please,” he said, joking.
Rin felt her face flush, and she saw that Rika was blushing as well.
The starlet turned away. “Well, try not to get yourself killed, okay?” she said.
“Yeah, you, too,” Rin replied grudgingly. Why should she care if the would-be-singer got killed? She didn’t even like the girl’s music. Rika Tadaka was everything in the recording industry that Rin Murakami despised, and yet…
Somehow, through all the blood and death and rescuing each other, they seemed to have become friends—or at least, friendly rivals.
“Watch yourself, will you?” Rin added. “And don’t let those sailors paw you.”
“You, too,” Rika replied, flashing a smile that was entirely too white. She walked over to where her escorts—a copter pilot, a handful of military men and reporters, and Rin’s sister, Emi—stood waiting. Soon, they’d be ferrying the starlet to one of the empty ships offshore, assuming Taishen didn’t destroy the decoys on its way to the beach. She turned to Rin one last time and waved. “Good luck!”
Rin waved. “Yeah. Right.”
Rich witch, she thought, cursing herself for liking the girl—not in the way that her bandmate Mai would have liked her, but just liking her at all.
“Baka,” Rin whispered, aiming the insult at herself rather than Rika. “I must be nuts to be doing this.”
When Dr. Shimura, his scientist friends, and the military had come up with the idea of luring the monster to shore with another concert, the rest of Surfer Go Go had turned them down flat—as had the other members of Rika’s band.
“Are you sure you want to go through with this, Miss Murakami?” Captain Koizume asked. “It’s only a theory that the music had anything to do with the monster coming ashore here.”
“And what are you going to do if Rika and I back out?”
“We’ll use recorded music.”
“You have some of Surfer Go Go’s records?”
“No, but we have one of Rika’s.”
Rin fumed. “So, you think it was her music that brought the serpent in, not ours?”
The X-Base soldier grinned. “Maybe it thought her shrieking was a mating call.”
Rin couldn’t help but chuckle. “I hope the sea serpent has more taste than that, Captain.”
“As long as we’re in this fix together,” he said, “you can call me Ken.”
“Yeah, okay. And I’m Rin.” Why did her sister dislike this man so? He seemed completely charming. He was handsome, too—though maybe not as good looking as his friend, that American pilot. “Anyway, thanks for the offer, Ken, but I’ll see this through to the end.”
He nodded. “Thanks. We appreciate you and Rika both being so brave.”
“I’m the brave one. Rika’s just too stupid to know better.”
Ken laughed. “Don’t worry about your friend. She’s just the backup plan. She’ll be safe in the copter—and on the observation ship—if anything goes wrong here.”
“And that’s supposed to make me feel better, is it?”
Before Ken could reply, Rika’s helicopter pilot jogged over to them. “Everything’s ready to go, Captain,” he said, throwing a crisp salute.
Ken saluted in return. “I believe we’re ready as well, Sergeant Ito.” He turned to Rin. “Are you ready, Rin?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
Ken nodded. “Take to the air, then, Sergeant,” he told Ito. “Be sure to wait until the monster passes the decoys before you set down on the observation ship.”
Sergeant Ito saluted again. “I know my orders, Captain.”
“I’m sure you do,” Ken said, returning the salute. “On your way.”
Ito headed toward his copter, taking Rika and the other civilians along with him. But before the group reached the aircraft, Emiko broke from the rest, ran back, and threw her arms around Rin.
“Be careful,” Emiko said. “Please be careful.”
Rin found herself suddenly afraid for her twin. “You don’t have to go on that boat, Emi,” she said.
“Yes, I do,” Emi replied. “Dr. Shimura is counting on me to give him reports.”
“You could stay in the air … report to him from the helicopter.”
Emiko shook her head. “He needs eyes on the surface—eyes that know what they’re looking for. There will be plenty of observers in the air.”
Rin blinked back the moisture building in the corners of her eyes. “Be careful, then, stupid! You’re the only sister I’ve got.”
“And you, too,” Emi replied, her eyes brimming. “Don’t let Koizume or his idiot military friends get you killed.”
Ken bowed to her. “Don’t worry, Miss Murakami,” he said to Emi. “I’ll protect your sister with my life.”
Emi bowed back, but she didn’t seem too certain about his promise. She gave Rin one final hug and then ran to join the others in the copter. A few moments later, the aircraft took to the sky. Rin and Ken watched it head out to sea.
“She likes you, you know—Emiko,” Rin told him.
“What?” he replied. “Don’t be absurd. She’s given me—and X-Base—no end of trouble.”
Rin shrugged. “Well, I’ve been her sister all my life. I know the signs.”
Ken actually blushed and changed the subject. “Time to find out whether your singing really attracts monsters.”
Rin nodded and plugged her electric guitar into the amplifier wired—though what seemed like miles of cables—into the huge speaker stacks that the JSDF had positioned near the water’s edge. Both the amp and Rin’s other gear had been set up in the back of a flatbed army truck, in case she and her escorts needed to make a quick getaway.
Ken stepped up to the microphone beside Rin. “Push the lure away from shore!” he called.
At his order, a dozen army troops loosed the tie lines on a big barge filled with dozens of live pigs, and guided the craft out into deeper water. If the monster wanted living flesh, the hope was that the swine would serve in place of actual humans.
The idea of serving up the animals to Taishen sent a shiver through Rin, though she was no vegetarian and knew the hogs were destined for someone’s dinner plate anyway.
Beyond the pig barge lay three big, remotely piloted cargo ships which had been filled with gasoline and explosives, in case the beachfront trap failed. The observation vessel, a heavily armed cutter, floated near the decoys, ready to receive its crew of soldiers and observers—including Rika and Emiko —once the monster had swum past. The cutter would try to lure Taishen back to sea, if things on the beach went badly.
Rin hoped that the plan wouldn’t get that far. She hoped that the JSDF and X-Base soldiers would be able to destroy the creature.
She hoped never to have Taishen, or any other monster, inside her head again.
Ken nodded at her. “We’re all set, Rin. Start whenever you’re ready.”
Rin’s stomach was doing flip-flops. She felt more nervous than she ever had before a performance.
Why should she, though? This was no big deal, right? It wasn’t like she had to be in top form. The only people who were going to hear her were a bunch of army grunts and a handful of reporters and scientific observers…
And a monster that wants to kill you.
She fought off the shakes and hit the first power chord—playing the same set of songs that she and Surfer Go Go had performed the day of the disaster, starting with “Walk, Don’t Run.”
Her wrist ached. Even bandaged tight and after a week of recovery, it still felt like crap. Her ankle felt better, but she hoped she wouldn’t have to run on it. She prayed to any gods listening that this gambit would go according to plan.
The sound of her guitar blasted across the beach and out over the Sea of Japan. The military had placed speakers under water as well—anything to get the sound to carry out to the monster. They figured that after a week without any ships to attack, the serpent would be good and hungry, ready to go for any prey offered to it: like a couple of singers and a barge full of live hogs.
Rin silently cursed herself again.
She kept playing, moving methodically through the set her band had played on that awful day, trying to keep the memories from overwhelming her. Drops of perspiration beaded all over her skin. Her head began to throb.
“You’re doing good,” Ken, standing beside her, said. “Keep it up.”
“As long as I can,” she replied, wrist screaming.
The army had left a wide swath of sand near the shoreline empty—save for four heavy-lift helicopters—as part of the plan to destroy the monster. The military people lining the beach looked tense, manning their guns and scanning the waterline.
The most important gig of my life, Rin thought, and not even the people here are listening.
Thunder cracked, and a stab of pain shot all the way from Rin’s forehead down to her toes.
She heard her own music echoed back a thousand times louder. She saw the empty ships in the bay, the artillery lining the beach, the helicopters circling overhead, the stacks of speakers—but she saw all of them as if she were far out at sea. She smelled the flesh of living things, heard the screams of dying men, saw their drowned faces.
In her mind, an image formed of the huge serpent attacking the beach … the ships … her sister.
“It’s coming!” she managed to gasp through gritted teeth. “Taishen’s coming!”
Thanks to David, Christine, Steve, Vicki, Doris, and Kiff for beta-reading.
All contents © 2013 Stephen D. Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.