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26. The Fires of Hiroshima
~ Hiroshima – July 1966 – 8 AM ~
The morning sky over Hiroshima filled with white-hot flashes of light as thousands of tracer rounds blazed from the ground batteries toward Goragon. The air shook with the thunder of cannon fire.
Akiko covered her ears. Shindo did the same, but as he brought his hands up, he brushed against his field phone and knocked it off of his belt.
Shin reached down to retrieve it as the reptilian fire-monster stomped through the outskirts of Hiroshima, growing ever closer.
“Leave it!” Corporal Yoko Hamada barked at Shin. “Get into the truck! We’re moving out!”
Shin kept reaching for the radio, but Aki grabbed his arm and yanked him after her, into the back of the army flatbed. No sooner were they aboard, than Hamada gunned the engine and the truck roared off.
Shin and Aki landed hard on their backsides in the truck’s flatbed, and they both grunted: “Oof!”
Shindo flashed her a wolfish grin. “So, you’d rather save me than a two-way radio. See? I knew you still cared.”
Aki might have slapped him, but just then, her walkie-talkie sprang to life. It was Burr. Aki hoped that the copter carrying the American reporter and the others was close; without the lure Dr. Shimura and Professor Benten had rigged up, Hiroshima was doomed. All the firepower the military was bringing to bear on Goragon seemed to have no effect against the daikaiju.
“Goragon is as big as a mountain,” she told Burr, her voice trembling. “Everything it touches bursts into flame.” The monster’s eyes blazed with hellish fire. It almost felt as though its gaze was burning into Aki’s brain.
The army truck—in convoy with two other military vehicles—was moving as fast as it could through the winding city streets, but the towering creature was catching up to all of them.
Shindo gripped Aki’s arm so tightly, she was afraid that he might break her wrist.
She tried to hand him the field phone, so she could take pictures, but fear held the Tribune’s senior reporter paralyzed.
Keep talking, Aki told herself. If you want to make full-fledged reporter, you have to keep talking.
“I-It’s coming right toward us,” she stammered. “We’re trying to get out of its way.”
“Keep firing!” Major Ifukube called from a half-track keeping pace with their truck.
A jeep running alongside the rest of the small convoy opened up with its mounted machine gun. The rounds sent up small puffs of black smoke where they struck the monster’s scaly, molten hide.
The attack seemed to draw Goragon’s attention. It turned its baleful gaze on the fleeing trucks.
“It’s opening its mouth,” Aki said, barely able to breathe, “and… Oh!”
Gouts of orange flame burst from the daikaiju’s mouth. The blast seared across the intervening distance, striking the machine-gun truck full force.
The jeep exploded, as did the building next to it.
The concussion nearly knocked over the vehicle carrying Aki and Shin. The truck’s tires squealed as Corporal Hamada fought to regain control.
The armored half-track in front of them containing Major Ifukube spun out, its side smacking into the front of a granite-sided industrial building.
Hamada spun the wheel and managed to miss piling into the half-track, but she couldn’t avoid the lamp post on the opposite side of the street.
The truck slammed to a stop, tossing Shin and Aki forward. The wall between the flatbed and the rear of the cab brought them both to a sudden, painful halt. The field phone flew out of Aki’s hand, soared up over the sidewall, and smashed on the rubble-strewn pavement next to the halted vehicle.
“Are you all right?” Shin asked. He’d crashed into Aki when they stopped.
She nodded, though spots were dancing before her eyes. She silently cursed herself for giving her ex such a soft landing. Why couldn’t he be the one taking the hard knocks for once?
Trembling, the two of them climbed from the back of the vehicle as Corporal Hamada pried herself out of the front. The driver’s side door had been crumpled by the impact, and a trickle of blood ran down Hamada’s forehead.
Nearby, Major Ifukube and several other soldiers crawled out of the damaged half-track. One of the men seemed barely able to stand.
Their small convoy had come to rest at the edge of a sprawling industrial/chemical complex. Huge natural gas tanks—at least 40 meters tall—towered nearby. But big as they were, the tanks barely stretched up to Goragon’s knees.
Behind the monster, the city outskirts lay in smoking ruins.
Fear clutched at Akiko’s guts as the fires started by Goragon’s incendiary touch and infernal breath crept steadily toward the wrecked convoy.
It’s not like Kure, she told herself. But with the army vehicles crumpled like toys around her, she felt little more secure now than she had when those wildfires had nearly overtaken her.
She, Shin, and the others, watched helpless as the fiery titan lumbered onto the industrial complex’s wide tarmac.
The daikaiju was no longer paying attention to their sorry little band. Instead, it had once more turned toward the center of the city.
“Where’s that damned helicopter?” Shin asked, scanning the sky.
Aki shook her head. She knew Captain Nixon and his companions must be close, but she could neither see any sign of the copter, nor hear the noise of its rotors.
“It’s not going to make it,” Corporal Hamada said, tears budding at the corners of her eyes. “It won’t be here in time to save the city.”
“Then we must buy Captain Nixon the time he needs,” Major Ifukube said. “Take cover, all of you. Honda, you’re with me.”
The least wounded of the three soldiers who had been in the half-track with Ifukube nodded. “Hai, Sir!”
“Major,” Hamada asked, “what are you going to do?”
“Do as you’re ordered,” the major told her. “Take the wounded men and these civilians to that building over there, and stay down!”
Moving stiffly, he jogged back to the battered half-track and started it up. The machine’s engine sputtered to life, belching black smoke. Honda climbed up and manned the machine gun mounted in the back.
“What do you think he intends to do?” Shindo asked. He and Akiko were supporting one of the wounded half-track men, while the corporal helped the other.
Hamada glanced over her shoulder at the commander as she herded the rest toward a tall granite building on the outskirts of the industrial center. “He will do whatever it takes to delay the monster,” she said grimly.
As the five of them hurried into the building, Ifukube turned the half-track in Goragon’s direction and opened up the throttle.
“You don’t think he’s going to…?” Shindo asked.
Aki didn’t want to think about what the major was doing or the sacrifice he was about to make. She only knew it was her job to chronicle it. She raised her Pentax—luckily undamaged during their crash—focused, and shot.
The half-track raced onto the tarmac, aiming for the daikaiju’s armored back. The vehicle’s machine-gun barked as Honda strafed the beast’s tail.
Please… Akiko prayed. Please!
Ifukube and Honda kept going, aiming for the monster’s feet. Would it, like fabled Achilles, prove vulnerable at its heels?
Goragon stopped in the middle of the tarmac and turned, eyes blazing.
The half-track closed in, falling under the monster’s enormous shadow.
The spines along Goragon’s back and tail began to glow red.
The daikaiju’s tail arced around, swishing like that of a titanic cat.
One of the glowing spikes on the tail’s end hit the half-track and brushed against the fragile humans manning it.
Instantly, both the men and their machine turned to stone.
The petrified half-track toppled onto its side and skidded to a halt.
Goragon roared with triumph.
Aki’s heart froze, and her finger hovered above the Pentax’s shutter button. She couldn’t bring herself to take another shot.
The cigarette Shindo had been toying with dropped from his lips. The two wounded soldiers lying nearby groaned, though whether from their injuries or at the major’s failure, Aki couldn’t tell.
Corporal Hamada, teeth gritted tight, stared out their sheltering building’s picture window. “Not enough!” she muttered. “Captain Nixon needs more time!”
Without another word, she sprinted out of the building and climbed into her battered truck. The engine roared to life, and Hamada backed the vehicle off of the broken lamppost.
“Corporal, no!” Akiko cried.
“Yoko, stop!” Shindo shouted.
But it was no use; the army girl was already gunning the truck toward the monster.
“Shindo, do something!” Aki said.
“What?” he replied, standing helplessly in the building’s doorway. Then he wheeled and glared at her. “Keep taking pictures!”
“It’s the only thing we can do!” he snarled.
She nodded, knowing he was right, knowing this is what a newspaper woman—what a reporter—should do.
Hamada raced straight for their titanic foe, which was already focused on the city once more. Goragon’s deadly tail switched back and forth as the beast lumbered between the big fuel tanks.
“Watch out for the spikes!” Shindo called, though Hamada had no chance of hearing him.
Aki was having trouble focusing her camera through the tears clouding her eyes. She zoomed in, trying to get a photo of the brave woman behind the wheel—but the truck was already too far away.
“She’s not aiming at the monster,” Shindo said. “What’s she doing?”
“Eh?” Aki replied, confused. She’d been so intent on taking pictures that she hadn’t noticed Hamada had taken a different tack than her doomed commander. “Maybe she’s trying to avoid the tail?”
“Maybe. No … Wait … What does the sign on that big tank say?”
Aki swung her camera around, using the zoom like a telescope. She read out the words as she focused on them.
“Danger … LNG … Flammable.”
The monster lumbered between the Liquefied Natural Gas tanks, oblivious to Hamada’s pursuit. Its tail swished from side to side, protecting it from any attack from the rear and—entirely without meaning to—crushing nearby metal fences and industrial pipes.
Hamada swerved and avoided the tail, heading right for the sign on the side of the LNG tank.
“Oh, no!” Aki cried.
With a sickening crunch, the army truck hit the side of the gas tank at full speed.
The tank exploded in an enormous fireball.
The concussion ruptured the tank next to it .,. and the one next to that.
Fireballs bigger even than the monster itself shot up into the sky.
Goragon roared, and the power of its bellow shook the stonework-and-glass building inside which Aki and the others were hiding.
“Get dow—!” Shindo yelled as the building’s plate glass windows shattered into a million pieces.
Wedges of glass hit Shindo and he fell to the floor, bleeding.
Aki managed to shield her camera, but a dozen tiny shards sliced into her bare forearms.
For a moment, the whole world seemed to be thunder, and pain, and fire.
And then the explosion cleared, black clouds of smoke and dust roiling into the morning sky.
And amid the wreckage of the smoldering gas tanks, Goragon stood unharmed.
The monster’s molten skin glowed orange, its eyes blazed with anger and hatred.
It wheeled, raking everything around it with its fiery breath.
The structures of the nearby industrial complex exploded and crumbled into dust.
Finally, the terrible spray of fire reached the building sheltering Shin, the two wounded servicemen, and Aki.
Terrified, she squeezed off one final picture as everything exploded and fell in around her.
Thanks to David, Christine, and Kiff for beta-reading.
All contents © 2013 Stephen D. Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.