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23. Waiting for Disaster
~ Hiroshima – July, 1966 – 7 AM – A Week Later ~
Akiko stood beside the military truck and gazed out over the city, snapping pictures of Hiroshima as it now stood. Just in case, she told herself. She didn’t want to think about “in case … what?”
Their driver, Corporal Hamada, stood nearby, scanning the horizon with binoculars, ever vigilant for the monster all of them feared would come. A bit further away, Major Ifukube directed the other teams under his command, readying for the potential assault.
Fighting Goragon might be like attacking a whale with a firecracker, but they had to try. They needed to keep the daikaiju busy long enough to bring Dr. Shimura’s scheme into play.
Akiko prayed that the plan would work … it had to!
Shin Shindo strolled up to her casually, as if they weren’t all waiting at the edge of a war zone. Aki had tried to get assigned to Tottori rather than here with him—anywhere except with him—but editor Arota was having none of it.
“Tottori is a crap shoot,” he’d told her. “Taishen may resurface half an ocean away, rather than where we expect it to. Goragon is much more likely to hit Hiroshima.” The way Arota had said it, it was almost like he was looking forward to the catastrophe. But then, Goro Arota had never seen the monsters in person. “I want my best reporter and my best photographer in position to get the most important news story,” he concluded.
That was the end of the discussion. If Aki had been a full reporter, maybe she’d have been able to change his mind, but she was only a photographer. She didn’t get to pick her assignments.
“Admit that you still like me,” Shindo said, flashing his perfect smile—a smile that Akiko had once found so alluring.
Aki’s blood boiled. “Just because I was foolish enough to be attracted to you at one time, Shin Shindo, it doesn’t mean that I still am. We all make mistakes.”
“I’m glad you see it that way,” Shindo replied smoothly. “Because that’s what it was: a mistake. That girl, Rika, means nothing to me.”
“And that’s supposed to make me feel better about your infidelity, is it? We were engaged to be married, Shindo! That may not have meant much to you, but it meant a lot to me!”
“It did mean a lot to me, but everyone makes mistakes. Part of being married is learning to forgive your husband’s errors. Forgive and forget, you know?” He sounded so sincere … but then, he’d sounded sincere when he proposed, too.
Aki willed her heart to icy coldness. “Some mistakes are unforgivable,” she replied. “I wouldn’t marry you now if you were the last man on earth.”
“You don’t mean that,” he said, putting his arm around her shoulder.
She shrugged the limb off and stepped away to take another picture. Best not to converse with him anymore. Shindo was so good with words; if she let him, he’d talk rings around her. And if she wasn’t careful, he’d soon have her believing his lies. Again.
He took another step toward her, but she froze him with a glance and said, “Just do your job.”
He shrugged. “Okay. If that’s how you want to play it.”
Aki wasn’t playing, but it was clear to her now that this was all some kind of game to her former fiancé. Had their romance always been? Was she just another challenge for him to conquer?
Best not to think about it.
Just do your job, she told herself … and snapped another picture.
“Any word, Corporal?” Shin asked their driver. “Any sign of the monster?”
The uniformed woman shook her head. “Nothing so far, Mr. Shindo.” Her name was Yoko Hamada, Aki remembered, and she’d been part of the helicopter crews at X-Base. With nearly all the copters destroyed, the military had found her a new job. Everyone needed to pitch in wherever they could during this crisis. Even if it meant putting up with Shindo.
“And are the monster detectors Dr. Shimura and his colleagues designed working?” Shin asked, leaning in perhaps a little too close to the corporal.
He never stops! Why didn’t I notice that before?
“You’d have to ask the major, sir,” Hamada said, and went back to scanning.
Shindo frowned and unclipped the big walkie-talkie from his belt. He and Aki had each been given one, to keep in touch with their colleagues.
“Burr,” Shin said into the mouthpiece. “Anything? Over.”
“Nothing.” Burr’s voice crackled through the static, sounding very far away. “We haven’t left the ship yet. Anything there? Over.”
“Nothing here either,” Shin said. “What about Benten and Shimura? Over.”
“They supervised the loading and then left,” Burr replied. “Why don’t you call them directly? Over and out.”
“I will,” Aki volunteered, reaching for her two-way radio.
“No,” Shin said. “I can handle it. You keep taking pictures.”
Aki fumed. She’d already gotten the shots she needed, and just waiting for something to happen was becoming unbearable. Talking—however briefly—to the handsome Professor Benten would have been a nice distraction.
“Nothing here,” Benten replied over the radio. “We overflew the city before we went to the carrier, but didn’t see any sign of the monster. Shimura says the detectors are active, so hopefully you’ll have plenty of warning. We’re headed back now. Will check in with you later. Over and out.”
Shindo clipped the walkie-talkie to his belt once more. Like Aki, he was dressed in practical khaki’s and hiking boots—a suitable wardrobe for a combat zone.
Please let all this be unnecessary, Aki prayed. Please let the monsters be gone for good.
“I’ve got something, Major!” a private stationed in a JSDF monster-detector truck shouted.
Major Ifukube hurried in the man’s direction.
“Reports of contacts from the other stations, too, sir!” barked a second soldier from the group’s radio truck.
“Dust cloud to the east, Major!” Corporal Hamada called, putting down her binoculars and pointing.
“That’s it!” Ifukube growled. “We have that demon now! All batteries ready!”
A chill ran through Akiko as the assembled tanks and missile batteries all swung their weapons toward the gray-brown cloud in the hills east of the city. Images from pictures she’d seen of Hiroshima after the atomic bombing flashed through her mind. So many fires … so much devastation. They’d only barely rebuilt from the war, and now…!
Another memory reared its ugly head: the wildfire near Kure that had almost caught her while on assignment.
You’re safe this time, she told herself. You’re with the military. Corporal Hamada won’t let any harm come to you … or Shin.
But could the young woman in the X-Base uniform actually protect them from the daikaiju? Could anyone?
“Ready…” Ifukube called to his troops.
Suddenly, the ground shook as Goragon burst from the hills at Hiroshima’s outskirts. Akiko struggled to maintain her footing as she swung the camera around to focus on the monster; Shin actually fell to the ground.
Fear stabbed through Aki’s heart. When she’d first seen the creature, she hadn’t known what it was or what it could do. Later, while flying in the plane, she hadn’t gotten a true sense of scale. From ground level, Goragon appeared even larger and more terrible than she remembered. Just the sight of it nearly paralyzed her.
Landslides of rock and trees tumbled off the beast’s huge back as it surfaced. The timber burst into flame where it touched the monster’s molten hide, as did the traditional wood-and-paper home that Goragon’s enormous foot crushed with its first step into the city.
“Seven hells!” Shindo whispered, scrambling to his feet.
“Gods protect us!” Corporal Hamada gasped.
Akiko began taking pictures.
Major Ifukube pointed at the monster and bellowed, “FIRE!”
Thanks to David, Christine, Steve, Vicki, Doris, and Kiff for beta-reading.
All contents © 2013 Stephen D. Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.