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36. The Final Reckoning
~ The Sea of Japan – July, 1966 – 4 PM ~
Akiko snapped another picture as Dr. Shimura’s package plummeted from the helicopter into the yawning jaws of Taishen. The monster snapped its maw shut, swallowing the bait.
Professor Benten, piloting the plane, clapped the elderly scientist on the shoulder. “You’ve done it, Doctor!”
“Would that it had never come to this,” Shimura said. “Let us hope that this final sacrifice will prove to be enough.”
Akiko prayed it would be. Everything else the scientists and the military tried had failed. If this trick couldn’t get the monsters to destroy each other…
The JSDF copters and planes were circling the daikaiju now, buzzards desperate for a kill. They’d stop firing for fear of distracting the monsters, but all of the military’s attention remained focused on the titanic combatants.
Aki snapped another picture.
“What about the ship?” she asked. “Why aren’t they helping the ship?”
“They need to make sure the creatures finish each other,” Benten told her. “If they don’t… Well, the military will do whatever it can.”
“But people could still be alive down there,” Aki protested.
“I’m afraid the military is willing to sacrifice those lives in order to ensure the daikaiju’s destruction,” Dr. Shimura said.
A cold hand clenched Aki’s guts. “Then we should help,” she insisted. “There are pontoons on this plane. We could land near the ship and rescue any survivors.”
* * *
It took Aki a few minutes to convince them, but in the end, both men agreed with her plan.
Being careful to avoid the daikaiju or any backwash from the battle, Benten set the Cessna down in the lee of the sinking destroyer, and carefully piloted up to the ship’s hull. Fortunately, the Jacob’s ladder remained dangling over the side amidships, giving them an easy way up.
“You realize if I get killed, you’ll both be stranded here, at the mercy of those monsters,” Professor Benten warned.
I’ve been at their mercy since the night of the meteor swarm, Akiko thought, but she said: “Of course. That’s why I’m going with you.”
“But you can’t—” Benten began.
Aki cut him off. “Two people are a better rescue party than one, Professor Benten. And you’re not going to suggest that Dr. Shimura should go in my place, are you?”
“Regretfully, I fear that would be an error,” Shimura said. “Akiko is right. She’s far more suited to this mission than I. Allowing her to accompany you is the best choice we have—our only chance to rescue my assistant … and anyone else still alive within the wreck.”
Aki hoped that Emiko Murakami was still alive. The observation ship had taken so much damage though … And who knew how long it might remain afloat? For a moment, she regretted convincing the men that this was a good idea.
Benten frowned at her—more protectively than angrily, she thought. “Better grab some rescue ropes and follow me, then,” he said. “I hope you’re up to some climbing.”
“I shot a story on the summit of Mt. Fuji once,” she replied as she hefted a long coil of synthetic line over her shoulder. She smiled. “Climbing a ladder like this will be a walk in the park.”
Climbing up to the ship was not a walk in the park. Though it sat heavy in the water, the destroyer swayed in the tall swells from the monster battle. More than once, Aki and Benten found themselves dangling in open air, only to smash into the side of the hull the next instant.
Despite the bruising, they pressed on and quickly reached the portside deck. Aki gave Dr. Shimura a last, friendly wave before joining Benten over the rail. Shimura, looking concerned, waved back.
The ship was listing badly, its starboard rail dipping down to only a yard or two above the water now. Thankfully, nearly all of the fires had gone out.
“We’d better split up,” Benten said. “We need to move quickly. The ship could go down at any moment.”
Aki nodded in agreement.
“I’ll check aft,” he told her. “You check forward. Tie off your line to something solid as you explore. Is your radio working?”
Aki tested the walkie-talkie hanging at her belt. “Yes.”
“Good luck, then.”
For a moment, she thought he might kiss her—at least on the cheek—but instead he merely nodded and began making his way, quickly but cautiously, toward the rear of the ship.
Aki headed toward the front.
The heave and swell of the waves made it tricky to keep her footing. She leaned against the bulkhead of the superstructure where she could, stepping over twisted pieces of metal, broken piping, and other wreckage.
She found a solid piece of rail running up to the bridge and fastened one end of her rope to it, keeping the other looped around her waist. Ascending, she found only corpses in the wheelhouse; the entire thing had been gutted by fire, and the companionway leading down into the ship was blocked by debris. The place reeked of smoke, burnt electrical equipment, and death.
Aki held her breath, trying not to think about the bodies, and backed out the way she’d come.
She kept circling the superstructure and soon came to an area of wall that seemed to be made of stone, rather than metal.
“Goragon,” she whispered quietly.
Not long after, she discovered a doorway blocked by a statue of a man. His back was to her; he’d almost made it to safety.
Almost, but not quite.
She peered under his arm into the interior of the ship. Water seemed to have splashed into the superstructure here, and brackish pools lay on the floor of the room behind the doorway. This place stank of brine, effluvia from ruptured ship piping, and worse, but the stench was no so bad as the bridge had been.
“HELLO!” Aki called. “Hello, is anybody here? We’ve come to help!”
She listened, though the monster battle raging in the ocean made it difficult to hear. Fortunately, the creatures had now moved quite a distance from the crippled ship.
“H-help,” came a faint reply. “Help … us.”
Aki’s heart pounded. She’d found someone! “I-I hear you. Are you all right? Can you come to me?”
“I …” The voice sounded very weak. A woman’s voice, Aki thought. “I don’t…”
“Don’t worry. I’m coming for you. Just wait there.”
How could she help this woman, though? The soldier-statue was blocking the exit, one hand holding each side of the doorway.
Trying not to think about what she was about to do, Aki quickly found a piece of heavy, broken pipe on the deck, back the way she’d come.
“Sumimasen,” she said, raising the pipe high and then smashing it down with all her strength on the soldier’s wrist.
The statue’s joint shattered into a hundred pieces. When she shattered the other wrist, the petrified soldier fell forward, into the compartment.
“Hang on!” Aki called into the interior. “I’m coming! Don’t give up hope! Keep talking, if you can.”
No reply came.
Pausing just long enough to make sure her rope remained secure, she splashed into the half-flooded interior of the ship.
It grew dark almost immediately once she got past the doorway. A few emergency lights flickered, supplementing the dim illumination filtering in through the doorway.
Two rooms past the exit, she found a half-drowned girl waist deep in brackish water.
“Emiko!” Aki cried, wading in after her.
At the sound of her name, Emiko Murakami’s eyes flickered open.
Akiko hugged her; she felt very cold—almost as cold as the water. Aki fought down a shiver of her own. “Are you all right? Can you walk?”
“’M okay,” Emiko slurred.
The water was rising steadily around them, though Aki couldn’t be sure where it was coming from.
Aki draped the girl’s arm around her shoulder and pulled her to her feet. “Come on,” she urged, walking the two of them back toward the exit.
“No!” Emiko blurted. She pulled in the opposite direction with surprising strength. “She was with me … You have to save her … You have to save Rika.”
It was as though a cold knife had plunged into Aki’s heart. The girl seemed delirious, but… “I have to get you out,” Aki insisted.
“No,” Emiko said. “Save her first. The flood … it swept her deeper into the ship. She … She’s still alive. I know it.”
Aki didn’t see the point of arguing with her, though, obviously, she must be wrong. “I’ll rescue her after I’ve rescued you.”
Emiko shook her head and continued pulling the other way. “No. Go now.”
“Let me take you to the next room. It’s dryer there.” Not much dryer, but if she could get Emi moving, maybe she could get her out.
“I’ll go to the next room … but then you have to go back for Rika.”
Aki cursed silently. Even if Emiko was right, saving the life of Rika Tadaka—of all people!—was the last thing on her mind. She sighed.
I guess this must be my day to rescue people who don’t deserve it.
“All right,” she said. “Come with me.”
The next room wasn’t very far away, but Emiko moved so slowly, it seemed to take forever to reach it. When they did, Aki found a dryer spot for Emi to sit and then called Benten on her walkie-talkie.
“Everyone’s dead, here,” he told her. “I hope you’re having more success than I am.”
“I found Emiko,” she said. “She’s alive, but I think she might be slipping into shock. She says Rika got swept further in. I’m going to go look for her. I’m leaving Emi in a room below the bridge on the starboard side. Follow my rope and you can find her.”
“Roger,” he replied. “I’ll be right there. Wait for me.”
Aki shook her head. “No time. Get her out, and then come back for me.”
Something about the way he said it—so confident and masculine—made Aki smile.
Bracing herself against the chilly water, Akiko went deeper into the ship looking for the girl who had slept with her fiancé.
* * *
With a short series of bumps and jolts, Benten’s Cessna skimmed over the choppy water and soared into the air. Behind them, the wreck of the destroyer slipped quietly into the deep, a watery monument to those who had died fighting the daikaiju.
Akiko shivered under the blanket that Dr. Shimura had draped around her shoulders.
In the seats behind her, huddled together and sipping coffee from a thermos, Emiko and Rika shivered as well. Aki could hear their teeth chattering, but she tried not to take any pleasure in it. She reminded herself that at least one of those girls didn’t deserve to be so miserable.
“Smile, please,” she said, and snapped a picture of the pair.
That was all the film she cared to waste on Rika Tadaka—that tramp had gotten plenty of press in the last week—though Aki wished she’d thought to bring a camera into the ruins of the destroyer. Rika had been a half-drowned mess when Aki found her … and the wreckage would have made some nice pictures, too.
No time for it, she reminded herself. There were more important things. Just as there were more important things than Rika Tadaka right now.
The Cessna had finally gained enough height to have a good vantage point of the battle.
Far below, the skyscraper-sized daikaiju continued to wrestle with one another amid a boiling sea. Mighty claws ripped at armored scales; titanic teeth clamped down on inhuman flesh; powerful sinews strained to tear each other apart.
Akiko screwed her longest lens into the Pentax and began taking photos.
Glowing bluish blood seeped out of Taishen’s sides where Goragon’s talons dug in.
The sea serpent’s fangs tore a huge chunk out of its foe’s midsection. The fire-monster bled lava, and the sea boiled higher, obscuring the fray in white-hot steam.
Goragon blasted its fiery breath at the serpent.
Taishen countered with a foaming jet of water.
Steam, smoke, teeth, claws, all became a blur of motion, flying scales, and spattering blue and orange blood.
Taishen smashed its head spikes into Goragon’s face, putting out one of the fire-monster’s eyes.
Goragon raked its talons down the serpent’s side, tearing through the scales and revealing the pale, bluish flesh beneath.
Taishen wrapped its entire length around its foe’s craggy body and squeezed. Molten yellow-orange blood sprayed into the air from every crack in Goragon’s hide.
The fire-monster plunged his claws into Taishen’s wounds, trying to tear the serpentine body asunder. The molten reptile lashed with its spiked tail, turning its foe’s sinuous form to stone faster than the sea monster could regenerate.
Taishen squeezed harder, smashing its horn-frilled face into Goragon’s head and neck, over and over again.
The monsters’ cries of rage shook the heavens.
Wounded beyond any measure of what living beings could withstand, the daikaiju gazed into each other’s hatred-filled eyes.
Their scales and the spines along their backs glowed—blue … and orange … then to white-hot brightness.
Both monsters breathed.
Fire met water.
Everyone in the plane gasped as the whole world flashed as bright as the sun.
The next instant, the blinding light died away.
And only smoke and steam remained, hovering above the wreckage-strewn Sea of Japan.
Akiko snapped a picture.
Thanks to Kiff, Chris, Vicki, and Doris for beta reading.
All contents TM & © 2014 Stephen D. Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.