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25. The Package
~ The Pacific Ocean, off the Japanese Coast – July 1966 – 7 AM ~
Captain Adam Nixon eased back the controls, and the Sikorsky Skycrane gently lifted “the package” off the deck of the U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier, Enterprise.
“That’s it, baby,” Adam told the helicopter. “Nice and gentle…”
The Cessna U206 carrying Doctor Shimura and Professor Benten flew overhead a few hundred yards away, a mother bird protectively circling her fledgling chick.
Adam couldn’t blame the scientists for acting like nervous parents. It had taken all of Shimura’s considerable prestige and influence to get the United States to loan the contents of the package to Japan. Only two experimental reactor cores like this had ever been built—and the other one had been destroyed by Goragon, along with the rest of X-Base.
“I sure hope this works,” Adam muttered to himself.
Lieutenant Kobayashi, his co-pilot, gave him the thumbs-up.
“It has to work, Captain Nixon,” Nick Burr, the reporter, observed from the seat behind the pilots. “Not only for our sake, but for the sake of the entire world.”
Adam scowled at him. “Don’t put any pressure on a guy, will ya?”
“Don’t worry, Captain,” Kobayashi said. “Dr. Shimura knows what he’s doing.”
“Yeah,” Adam agreed. “But do the rest of us?”
He looked toward Shimura’s plane, keeping pace with them now as they headed north over the island of Shikoku toward the Japanese mainland. The Cessna had been outfitted with pontoons for the trip, so Shimura and Benten could land near the carrier and supervise the loading of the reactor, along with the other elements of their plan.
This package was a temperamental duck, and any wrong move might send them all to kingdom come. Adam had gotten it into the air safely, though. So with luck, the hardest part of the trip was behind them … the hardest part except for the monster.
Adam didn’t envy the scientists flying into the heart of danger in a small, unarmed aircraft like the Cessna; it was a pretty crazy thing to do.
On the other hand, he was the one who’d been foolish enough to volunteer to take point on this mission. How could he not, though, after what Goragon had done to X-Base?
Payback time for my Cobra, he thought, and for all the rest, too.
“We’re well on our way now,” Burr said, dictating into his tape recorder. “The carrier Enterprise has dwindled into the distance behind us—a toy bobbing upon the vast blue swath of the Pacific.
“Ahead lies Japan’s main island, Honshu, and up the coastline our destination: Hiroshima. Once again, Americans are carrying atomic fire to a Japanese city. This time, though, we haven’t come to destroy, but to save it—to save, in fact, all of Japan.”
“You know, Burr,” Adam said, “If you don’t put a lid on that reporter melodrama, you’re going to find yourself taking a short trip out the hatch and five thousand feet down to the Seto Sea.”
Burr frowned. “Just doing my job, Captain.”
“Well, do it quieter, would ya? I gotta concentrate here. You wouldn’t want us all to blow up before we deliver this gizmo, would you?”
“I’m hoping we won’t explode either before or after we reach our destination, to tell you the truth, Mr. Nixon.”
“Then keep me happy and button your lip.”
“I’ll do my best, Captain.” Burr put down the microphone, took out a pencil, and began scribbling furiously in a small notebook.
Adam grinned. “That’s better. Eh, Kobayashi?”
His co-pilot smiled back and gave him another thumbs-up. Then he fiddled with the com-link buttons. “You know, Captain,” Kobyashi said, “you could have just shut off his headset. We’d never hear him over the noise of the rotors without the com.” The switches Kobayashi had thrown had cut Burr out of the communications loop.
Adam winked at his junior officer. “But where’s the fun in that?”
They switched Burr back into the system, but the American reporter stayed silent a good long while after Adam’s reprimand. Adam kept the radio chatter to a minimum, though he did check in with Shimura and Benten several times. Despite their reassurances, he couldn’t help but feel nervous ferrying such a dangerous package.
And what the scientists intended to do with it… Well, that was pretty crazy, too.
Not as crazy as I was for volunteering!
“Captain, I have a question,” Burr said, leaning forward.
“On the record or off?”
“Off, if you prefer.”
Adam nodded. “Okay. Shoot.”
“Do you think this plan will work? Do you really think that you can lure Goragon away from the city using the reactor and the other things Shimura has in that gizmo, as you call it, for bait?”
“Damned if I know,” Adam replied with a shrug. “Either way, you’re in this scheme with us until the end, Mr. Burr. No hopping off on the wayside just before we go down in a blaze of glory.”
Burr swallowed hard.
“Or until we fly to glorious victory,” Kobyashi put in. “That is the outcome I’m planning.”
Adam suppressed a chuckle; his co-pilot always had been an optimist.
“I think I’ll throw my lot in with Kobayashi, if you don’t mind, Captain,” Burr said.
“Like I told you: we’re all in this tin can together, no matter how it turns out.”
They could see Hiroshima through the windshield now; a new, modern city rising from the ashes of the old. No matter how many times Adam saw it, he couldn’t get over how much the Japanese had rebuilt after the atomic bombing. It was an amazing thing to have accomplished in barely two decades.
Adam hoped that Burr was right. He hoped that, this time, they’d save Hiroshima rather than destroying it.
“Benten to Nixon, Benten to Nixon…” the younger scientist’s voice blared over the com system. The plane had flown ahead of the helicopter now, and had nearly reached the shoreline of the city.
“Nixon here. Over.”
“We’ve spotted something,” Benten said. “I’m giving the handset to Dr. Shimura…”
“Shimura here. A cloud of dust has arisen in the hills northeast of the city. It may be the monster…”
“There it is!” Burr declared, leaning between the two military men and pointing out the copter’s front window.
“I see it,” Nixon told him. “Keep your seatbelt on.” From this altitude, the disturbance looked like a small puff of brownish smoke, an awful long way off.
“I have my binoculars on it now,” Shimura continued. “It’s definitely the daikaiju Goragon. The monster is headed into the city, toward the power plant. You must hurry, Captain Nixon.”
Sweat beaded on Adam’s forehead. “I’m flying this crate just as fast as I can,” he replied. “If this payload starts swinging, this trip’ll be over before we even get there.”
“Burr to Shindo… Do you read me?” The newsman was speaking into the two-way radio he’d been given. “We’ve spotted Goragon. It’s heading your direction. Over.”
“We see it, Mr. Burr. Over.” The voice that came back over the radio wasn’t that of the reporter Shin Shindo; it belonged to a woman.
“Is that you, Akiko?” Burr asked. “What’s wrong? Has something happened to Shindo? Over.”
“Shin’s fine,” she replied. “Only we’re a little … busy here. Over.”
She sounded shrill and out of breath. Adam hoped she was all right. Akiko Natsuke had a lot of guts; he admired that in a woman—and she wasn’t bad looking, either.
They’d reached the fringe of Etajima Island now. Beyond it lay Hiroshima Bay, and then the city itself—but their objective still seemed a long way off.
“Come on, baby,” Adam muttered, urging the Sikorsky to fly faster. “Come on!”
“What can you see, Akiko?” Burr said into his field phone, shouting to make himself heard above the noise of the chopper.
“Goragon is as big as a mountain. Everything it touches bursts into flame,” she said. “I-It’s coming right toward us … We’re trying to get out of its way. It’s opening its mouth and… Oh!”
A bright flash suddenly lit up the city, and Burr’s walkie-talkie went dead.
The conflict was still too far away for Adam to make out the details, but he knew what had happened—the same thing that had downed his Huey Cobra:
Goragon had breathed fire.
And anything in the path of that terrible flame—including Burr’s reporter friends—had been destroyed.
Thanks to David, Christine, and Kiff for beta-reading.
All contents © 2013 Stephen D. Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.