This is the eighth part of a serialized giant monster story published in weekly installments on this site.
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8. X-Base Besieged
~ July 1966 – Early Evening ~
“You shoulda seen it, Ken,” Captain Adam Nixon enthused. His blue eyes gleamed as he and Kenji Koizumi walked back toward headquarters from X-Base’s airfield. “It was huge,” Adam continued. “Could have swallowed up all of Yankee Stadium and still have had plenty of room for our Chinook. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Ken knitted his brow. Yankee Stadium must be big, he knew, perhaps bigger than Hiroshima Municipal Stadium, but how anything that large could generate such enthusiasm in his friend remained a mystery; it seemed more like a disaster to Ken. “It sounds awful,” he said, hoping he’d gotten the English words right.
“Nah,” Adam replied. “It was great. It’s not like anybody got hurt or anything. I’d just never seen anything like it.”
Americans! Ken thought. “Are we sure no one was hurt?”
“We swept the area for miles around, and there was no sign of anybody anywhere near that crater,” Adam said. “Lucky that rock hit in an uninhabited area.”
Ken nodded. “Lucky, indeed.” Some places hadn’t been so fortunate. Happily, there had been no loss of life—at least in Japan. Property damage had been considerable, however. Yet, having the biggest meteorite land in an uninhabited area of coastal mountains had certainly been fortuitous. “You and the team brought back samples?”
“Of the meteorite?” Adam asked. “Nah. Couldn’t find any—and let me tell you, those eggheads spent some time looking. Nothing left but a big hole in the ground. Couldn’t even tell how deep; we didn’t bring along enough rope to reach the bottom—and our pilot didn’t want to fly down into the hole to look. Can’t say I blame him, not knowing what might be down there, though if they’d asked me, I’d have been willing to pilot the Chinook down for a gander.”
“Yeah. You know. A look-see.”
“Ah. So perhaps the space rock is at the bottom of the crater.”
Adam rubbed his close-cropped blond hair. “Could be, but that wasn’t the impression I was getting from the experts. They were taking all sorts of readings—magnetometers, Geiger counters and such—but I didn’t see any happy faces. They told me they figure the rock must have disintegrated on impact.”
“I’m sure they’ll debrief us about it later,” Ken said. “And the site was cordoned off?”
“You bet, though we had to leave every guard we brought with us to do it, on account of the size of the hole. Major Ifukube called in the local authorities for support, and he’s setting up a relief schedule for our boys.”
“Our boys.” It hadn’t taken Adam and the other Americans very long fit in with the Japanese soldiers at X-Base. Even here, in the shadow of Hiroshima, one would never have guessed that their two countries had been locked in a terrible war barely two decades previous.
It’s good that people can forgive each other and move forward together, Ken thought. Of course, both he and Adam had been mere children then. When they were born, though, who among their parents would have guess that a pair of boys from opposite sides of the world would grow up to be best friends?
As the two of them reached X-Base HQ, Ken kept walking, heading for the front gate. Adam followed.
“Hey, what gives?” the American asked. “When you showed up at the helipad and told me to follow you, I figured we’d be heading for a debriefing.”
A slight smile tugged at the corner of Ken’s mouth. The way Adam said “debriefing” indicated he’d actually expected a trip to the officer’s cantina. Of course, with Adam babbling on about his latest mission, Ken had found no time to explain otherwise.
“No such luck, my friend,” Ken told him. “I have to meet someone at the front gate, and I could use some reliable reinforcements.”
Adam rolled his eyes. “Not that crazy protester chick again!” he said. “The way she hangs around this place, you’d think she lives here. Though there might be another explanation…”
“And what would that be?”
Adam grinned. “She has a crush on a certain Captain Koizume. And if that’s the case, old buddy, I’ve got only one question for you: Does she have a sister?”
Ken laughed. “No,” he said. “I don’t think so. At least, I hope not. That girl has to be one of a kind.” Adam laughed too, as Ken continued: “No, my friend, this meeting is much worse…”
The American looked genuinely concerned. “Worse?”
“Ah, geeze! Really? Now? Before I’ve even got a hot dinner in my belly?”
“Sorry, old chum,” Ken said, hoping he was using the colloquialism correctly. “Time—and the press—wait for no man.”
“Besieged by reporters, eh? Well … What do they want?”
“To talk about the crater, I’m sure. And who better to give them information about it than you, who’s just returned from there. Besides, one of them is an American.”
“Anyone we know?”
Ken shook his head. “I don’t think so. Burr is his name. He and his colleagues are from the Kobe Tribune.”
The pair had come within sight of the main gate, now. Beyond the barrier stood two men and a woman, waiting patiently. The woman had a camera hung around her neck.
“I’m guessing Burr is the tall one,” Adam said, zeroing in on the big stocky man, “not the one with the hot legs.” He shot a glance at Ken, eyes twinkling.
Ken chuckled. Always one for the ladies, his friend. The woman was slender and dignified, wearing a tan blouse and matching skirt along with flat-heeled shoes suitable for hiking across a military base. Ken admired that; few women from outside the military came onto the base looking as though they were ready to work. And Adam was right: her legs weren’t bad, either.
The two men were dressed in business attire, and like the woman both wore yellow press-pass bands on their arms. The tall one, clearly an American, was smoking a cigarette. The other, a thin Japanese man, swayed gently from side to side, like a young willow bending with the breeze. There was something fox like, predatory, about the man’s handsome face.
This one bears watching, Ken thought. “Choose your words carefully,” he whispered to Adam in Japanese as they approached the gate.
Adam switched languages with an enviable smoothness. “That’s why you brought me along, isn’t it?” he replied, cocky as always.
“You must be Captain Koizume,” the foxlike man said as the guard lifted the gate. “I’m ‘Shin’ Shindo,” he stepped forward and offered his hand. “These are my colleagues from the Kobe Tribune, Nick Burr from our international bureau and Akiko Natsuke, our photographer.”
Ken shook hands with Shindo and the rest, as did Adam.
“Pleased to meet you,” Adam said.
“Likewise,” Burr countered.
Shindo and the woman bowed slightly, and Ken bowed back.
“What brings you to X-Base today?” Ken asked casually, though he already knew the answer.
Much to his surprise, the woman stepped forward and blurted. “We’re here to talk about the meteor. Why have you cordoned off the crater? What did you find?”
The woman’s forthrightness surprised Ken, and for a moment, he didn’t know how to react. Fortunately, the fox-faced man stepped in.
“Please excuse my colleague,” he said, bowing deferentially. “She sometimes forgets that she’s just a photographer.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Adam said. “We’re used to strong-willed girls in America.” Both Adam and Mr. Burr laughed.
“Please,” Miss Natsuke said. “We need to know.”
She was already blushing and had stepped back between the two men, so Ken saw no need to embarrass her further. “Come to our briefing room,” he said, indicating that all three newspaper people should follow him. He began walking swiftly toward the base’s press room. “We’ll be happy to answer all your questions. Captain Nixon here has just returned from the crash site.”
“Oh?” Mr. Shindo said, raising an eyebrow as he and the others fell in behind the military men.
“Yes, and it was quite something, let me tell you,” Adam said.
“Go on, Captain Nixon,” Mr. Burr encouraged. “By the way, are you any relation to the former Vice President?”
Adam came to a sudden halt. He didn’t seem pleased by the question. “Nope. And my wife, if I had one, wouldn’t be wearing a cloth coat, either.”
Ken wasn’t sure why Adam seemed annoyed—perhaps he had been a Kennedy supporter?—but happily before that line of questioning went any further, Miss Natsuke stepped forward again.
“We should get a picture,” she suggested.
“What?” Mr. Shindo replied, clearly annoyed.
“A picture of the captains,” she said, “with the base in the background. So much better than an indoor shot.”
“Do you have enough light?” Mr. Burr asked, glancing to the west, where the sun was already kissing the top of the mountain ridges.
“I am a professional, Mr. Burr,” she said, setting up her tripod rig.
“All right,” Ken agreed, and directed Adam in front of a nearby storage building.
“With the experimental reactor in the background, if you please,” she said, indicating the massive building to the west.
“It’s been in the papers before,” Mr. Shindo countered, now apparently taking her side.
“Sure thing,” Adam said. Patting Ken on the shoulder, he added, “Don’t worry, buddy, it’s only the reactor housing. It’s not like we’re taking them inside.”
He laughed and Ken laughed with him, then took up a position with the reactor bulding and cooling towers in the background.
Miss Natsuke fiddled with the camera’s settings.
“Come on,” Mr. Shindo urged, impatiently. “Sun’s setting. Don’t take all day.”
“Let me do my job,” she snapped. “It’s not easy with this backlighting, you know. I’m having trouble keeping the background in focus.” She fiddled with the camera’s lens again.
“Do you want me to try?” Burr offered.
“No. It’s fine. I’ve got it now. Smile, please!”
Ken and Adam smiled, and Miss Natsuke snapped the picture, the camera’s flash bursting into brilliant white light.
“One more, please,” she said. And the flash went off again.
Ken blinked, trying to rid his vision of the flash’s after image.
Before his sight cleared, the earthquake hit.
Thanks to Edward, Christine, Vicki, David, and Kiff for beta-reading.
All contents, copyright 2013 Stephen D. Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.