This is the ninth part of a serialized giant monster story published in weekly installments on this site.
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9 – X-Base Attacked
~ July 1966 – Sunset – A Few Moments Earlier ~
Captains Koizume and Nixon smiled, and Akiko took the picture. “One more, please,” she said, and snapped another, her Pentax’s flash perfectly countering the backlighting from the sun setting in the west. It felt good to do something right after her previous social blunder. It had been wrong for her to supersede Shindo in speaking to the military men. He was the lead reporter, after all, despite the fact that he’d cheated on her last night.
Still a bastard, though, she thought.
Both captains blinked and rubbed their eyes, trying to recover from the flash.
Serves them right for laughing at me earlier. Not the most professional thought, Aki knew, but it was difficult to feel entirely professional after being cooped up with Shindo—and the American, Burr—during the long car ride to X-Base.
Akiko was still ruminating about the past day’s difficulties when, without warning, the ground began to shake.
It started as just a slight vibration, no more than a large truck rumbling down the street outside a house.
Aki recognized it as an earthquake immediately. Japan had plenty of earthquakes; most were nothing to be concerned about.
No wonder she’d had trouble focusing her camera earlier: the ground beneath the reactor complex had been moving.
Then came a real jolt. Nearby buildings heaved upward, and the whole of X-Base trembled, as though some immense giant had bumped the tabletop on which the installation stood. A deep rumbling sound and the crack of stressed masonry filled the air.
“Earthquake!” Captain Nixon shouted, though the situation was obvious to all of them..
“Follow me,” Captain Koizume ordered. “The Administration Building is hardened against attack—”
“Attack?” Shin interjected.
“—And earthquakes,” Koizume finished.
“But wouldn’t we be safer outside?” Aki asked. In Japan, they’d been taught to get outdoors and away from tall buildings, if possible, during an earthquake. Though the shaking had subsided to a low rumbling again, this temblor was still going.
“Not if the next shock breaches the reactor core,” Captain Nixon replied. “Ken, get them into the shelter. I need to check on the Cobra—get it in the air, if I can.”
“Hai!” Captain Koizume agreed, quickly herding the reporters toward a nearby structure. As he did, Nixon ran in the opposite direction, toward the base’s airfield.
The building Koizume took them to was a squat concrete rectangle with sloped sides, like something designed during World War II, though obviously built much more recently. Above the main door, a sign labeled in both Japanese and English read: X-Base Administration Building.
“What’s the Cobra?” Shindo asked as they hurried inside.
“An experimental helicopter,” Koizume said. “Stay here. You’ll be safe.” He pushed the reporters through a steel and reinforced-glass door marked Briefing Room. “Look after them, Private,” he added, addressing a man stationed near the door. “Don’t let them leave until I come back.”
The private saluted and said, “Hai, Captain!”
Koizume returned the salute and then ran off to join the other military personnel rushing around the base.
It almost does look like they’re responding to an attack, Aki thought.
She and the two reporters glanced at each other. None of them wanted to be stuck here with all the action outside. Shindo nodded subtly toward the stern-looking private, stationed by the door.
Clearly, her ex wanted Aki to distract the man. And though it chafed her to do anything Shin wanted at this point, she sidled up to the soldier.
“Quite a quake,” she said brightly, batting her eyes. “Are you sure we’re safe here?”
As the private smiled and turned to reply, Burr brought a heavy ashtray down on the back of his neck, knocking the soldier cold.
“Too bad the last big jolt sent an ashtray flying into him,” the American said with a sly smile. “You both saw that, right?”
Shin laughed. “That’s exactly how it happened,” he agreed. Then he added, “Good work, Aki-chan.”
“Don’t call me that!” she snapped. After last night, he’d lost the right to speak fondly to her.
Shindo frowned. “You stay here,” he ordered. “Burr and I will sort out what’s what.”
Without even waiting for her reply, both reporters slipped out the door and into the chaos.
Aki took just enough time to make sure the poor soldier Burr had hit was okay—and to unscrew her Pentax from its tripod—before heading outside after them, camera in hand.
Another shock hit just as she exited. This was the largest so far, and the quake had already gone on longer than any she remembered. Could it be some kind of volcanic activity? Surely the military hadn’t built X-Base along a fault line!
Dust filled the air, obscuring her view, but Aki began snapping pictures anyway: soldiers running in every direction, un-reinforced walls collapsing, columns of steam and smoke rising from the wreckage. She could barely make out the towering structure of the experimental reactor through the chaos.
I need a picture of that. Whether it falls or stands, it’ll be news.
Fear and exhilaration battled within her. She knew that she could end up dead or contaminated if the reactor breached. Yes, it was a fusion device, but she seemed to remember that some radioactive elements were still required for the core.
Aki shuddered, remembering the pictures of the survivors of Nagasaki and—much closer to the base—Hiroshima, recalling the terrible radiation burns and sickness. But, photos like this could make a girl’s career, and give her one up on Shin and Burr. A really great shot might even give her the ability to choose her own assignments.
“Brace up,” she told herself, and as the ground continued to tremble, she headed into the dust cloud toward where she’d last seen the reactor building.
She moved carefully, stepping over fallen rubble and watching for crumbling walls. The air smelled like earth, iron, and fire—though she didn’t see any obvious conflagrations. Soldiers shouted orders to each other nearby, but she couldn’t make out any individual people, just shadows hurrying through the haze.
The earth heaved again, the worst shake yet, and—not too far ahead—a huge black and red shape flashed through the murk before vanishing once more. Someone screamed. Aki swallowed hard and moved toward the sound.
A figure rose up before her, appearing so suddenly out of the gritty clouds that she almost ran into him. It was a soldier, covered with dust, standing very still. Was he the one who’d screamed?
Aki came up behind the man and put a hand on his shoulder. He felt stone cold to the touch. “Are you all right?” she asked.
The soldier didn’t move. He didn’t respond at all.
She looked at him and realized that he wasn’t a real man at all, but some kind of stone statue. His face, frozen in shock, stared in the direction of the reactor building. A huge gash, wide enough to swallow a car, slashed through the pavement in front of him. On the other side of the crevasse, Aki could see more men—all made of stone as well—and a pile of melted slag that looked like an overturned jeep.
None of it made any sense. Why would the military build statues here? And if they did, why would they make ones that looked so startled?
Before Aki could figure it out, the ground heaved once more, and a thundering crash shook the air.
She staggered and fell to her knees, but managed to bring her camera to her eye just in time to snap two shots of the reactor building crumbling. From within the toppling structure came an eerie red-orange glow.
Aki knew she should get out of here, yet she merely rose to her feet, transfixed, as a cloud of dust from the destroyed building rolled over her. She coughed, pulling her neckerchief up over her nose to keep the grit out of her lungs. Squinting, she tried to peer through the murk.
The reddish glow grew brighter, and something moved in the gloom—something huge.
Run, fool! part of her insisted.
But she didn’t run. Instead, she brought the Pentax into focus and began snapping pictures once more.
If it’s radiation, I’m probably dead already.
A huge tendril whipped through the air and crashed into one of the remaining walls of the reactor housing. The wall crumbled into a rain of rubble and billowing dust. The appendage appeared to be made of molten rock.
Despite the end-of-the-day heat, despite the sweat pouring down her body, Aki shivered. She’d seen this thing before … in the meteor crater.
But she’d been wrong, then; what she’d seen hadn’t been a tentacle … It was a tail. She gasped as she saw what the tail belonged to.
The beast rose from the wreckage of the reactor building, a fiery mountain heaving up from the center of the earth.
But this mountain moved. The thunder of its breath filled the air. It was alive!
Aki couldn’t form a clear image of it in her mind: craggy rows of spines … immense stony claws … teeth bigger than any human being … molten scales the size of cars… The creature dwarfed the ruins surrounding it, an adult amid a building-block city.
The dust, the smoke, and the failing light of sunset made it impossible for Aki to see the whole beast at once.
She kept snapping pictures, hoping that some might turn out.
One of the reactor’s cooling towers crumbled. The huge reinforced-concrete pieces rolled like water off of the monster’s titanic back.
The thing turned, its eyes blazing hot as liquid steel.
Aki’s blood froze. It seemed to be staring directly at her.
Her mind found a word for the horror—a word dredged up from childhood and the memories of mythical tales told by her grandmother.
She didn’t even dare breathe, yet the syllables leaked out of her mouth in a strangled whisper:
Thanks to Vicki, David, Edward, and Kiff for beta-reading.
All contents, copyright 2013 Stephen D. Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.