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34. Casualties of War
~ Tottori Beach – July, 1966 – 3 PM ~
Emiko stood rooted to the deck of the ship, paralyzed with fear. The explosion had failed! Taishen still lived!
The sea monster thrashed amid the burning napalm, churning the ocean’s surface into a white-capped frenzy.
“It’s not dead,” Rika Tadaka, standing next to her, whispered. “It didn’t die! Why didn’t it die?”
Emiko shook her head, only then realizing that her fingers were still intertwined with the singer’s. Her hand ached; the two of them had been squeezing each other so hard, and her fingers looked skeletal and white.
Rika appeared pale as well. She’d stopped singing when the explosion hit. Now she seemed too scared to continue.
Do I look that terrified? Emiko wondered.
She also wondered about Rin. Had her sister survived Taishen’s attack on the beach? Emi thought so, but she couldn’t be sure. And wouldn’t she have felt it if her twin had died?
Rin would feel it if I perished, she thought. But did this weird telepathy her twin seemed to possess run both ways?
No way to tell, because right now all Emi could feel was terror—overwhelming, mind-numbing terror.
Rika cried out as a huge wave, stirred up by the monster and the explosion, slammed into the ship.
For a moment, the destroyer became a child’s boat in a bathtub, heaving and bobbing and tilting perilously.
“Grab onto something!” Sergeant Ito shouted, but—standing on their makeshift stage—the women had nothing to hold onto.
The stage collapsed, tumbling Emi and Rika to the deck. Emiko landed hard, bruising her elbow and hip, and Rika fell on top of her.
“Sumimasen,” Rika muttered, though no apology was necessary; they were all at the mercy of the monster.
“Look out!” Ito cried, and hurled himself across the deck at the two women.
He wrapped his arms around the pair and propelled all of them to the port side of the deck as his JSDF helicopter—which had broken loose from its moorings—careened past, missing the trio by a scant yard.
“Duck!” he commanded, pushing everyone’s heads down as the copter smashed into the destroyer’s bridge.
The aircraft exploded, raining scraps of burning metal down all around them.
Military personnel screamed and ran for cover, but the listing deck of the observation ship held nowhere to shelter anyone.
Emiko gasped as several soldiers pitched over the side, one burning as he fell.
Ito helped both women to their feet. “We have to get you out of here,” he said.
Emi looked around, afraid, overwhelmed. The ship was burning now, and it hadn’t righted itself, either. The waves and the explosion had damaged it somehow. “How?” was all she could manage to say.
“There have to be lifeboats around somewhere,” Ito said, peering through the smoke and chaos.
“Where?” Emi asked. She felt sick to her stomach. Her whole body was shaking.
It’s shock, the rational part of her mind said, though knowing that didn’t stop the trembling.
Emi and Ito turned and followed the singer’s gaze.
Taishen was barreling through the waves, straight toward them. The sea serpent’s jaws yawned wide, eager to devour its new prey.
Emiko could almost feel the monster’s obscene hunger.
That wasn’t the worst of it, though…
Behind Taishen, Goragon was wading into the surf. The ocean sizzled into steam where the monster’s hide touched it.
Both daikaiju were coming for the destroyer!
Heaven help us!
“Quickly! This way!” Ito said, grabbing the women’s hands and pulling the pair away from the landward rail.
Before they’d gone a dozen steps, though, Taishen wheeled, bellowing a challenge at the advancing fire-monster.
As the sea serpent turned, its immense tail whipped around, smashing into the hull of the ship, crumpling the destroyer’s steel plating. The vessel shuddered and rocked over, almost tipping onto its port side.
The deck went nearly vertical, and both Emi and Rika would have pitched into the sea if Ito hadn’t been holding their hands.
Both women yelped as their arms snapped straight, but the brave sergeant grunted and held tight. Somehow, he’d managed to wrap his legs around a capstan as they fell, and that was the only thing that kept them all aboard ship.
The destroyer shuddered again, and sloshed back the other way. Many of the crew had been tossed over the side during the collision, but a few still clung to the rails or bolted-down pieces of equipment, or were bracing themselves in open doorways.
“Gods protect us!” one of the sailors cried. His eyes went wide with fright—though Emi couldn’t see what he was looking at—and an orange glow lit his face.
“Get behind the turret!” Ito commanded, shoving the women toward an undamaged gun emplacement.
Emi and Rika scrambled across the tilting deck alongside the sergeant. They had barely reached the armored bulkhead when a wave of searing heat washed over them.
All three pinned themselves against the gun housing.
Suddenly, the whole world seemed made of fire.
Waves of flame surged past, lighting the entire ship a hellish yellow-orange.
Ito cried out, but Emi was too frightened even for that.
She held her breath, hoping—praying—that the holocaust would end before it burned all of them to ash.
This must be what it was like in Hiroshima, a detached, rational part of her thought. Have they set off The Bomb?
But even as she thought it, Emi knew what had actually happened:
The infernal monster had used its deadly breath. Whether it meant to destroy their ship or to attack Taishen hardly mattered.
Everyone caught in the path of the monster’s terrible weapon—all those courageous sailors and soldiers—lay dead now. Even sheltered by the turret, she and her friends would die, too—their lungs seared and their bodies blackened—unless…
Just when Emi thought she couldn’t hold out any longer, the awful fire died away. But everything flammable on the ship—including the lifeboats—remained burning.
“What now?” Rika asked, her voice little more than a squeak. Sweat plastered her long hair against her face and slender shoulders.
Ito grimaced as he looked around for some means of escape.
“You’re hurt!” Emiko said. “Let me see. Maybe I can help.” She’d had first aid training at the college—it was required for science lab assistants.
Ito merely shook his head. “We have to find better shelter until someone can rescue us.”
“What about the water?” Rika suggested. “We could dive overboard and swim away from the ship.”
“With both those monsters thrashing about?” Ito said. “We’d be killed for sure—either crushed or drowned—no matter how strong a swimmer you are. Follow me.”
Trembling, he turned and—clinging to handholds where he could—made his way around the turret and up the tilted deck toward the starboard side of the superstructure, where Emi thought she remembered seeing a door into the destroyer’s interior.
Rika gasped at the sight of Ito’s back. His shirt had been almost completely burned away by Goragon’s fire, and his skin was blistered and black.
He was protecting us with his own body, Emiko realized.
“Come on,” he rasped. “Hurry!” And both women pulled themselves around the gun and up the tilted deck, following.
The ship was listing heavily and heaving up and down with each monster-generated wave, but in a few minutes, the three of them managed to make their way from the turret to the superstructure.
The bridge, above, had been annihilated by the monsters’ attacks, but the bulkheads and areas below were not burning, and seemed solid enough to seek temporary shelter in.
Frighteningly nearby, the daikaiju clashed—serpent against two-legged reptile, fire against water. Their cries of fury shook the heavens, and their wrestling bodies heaved up waves tall enough to crush a small boat or anyone in the water.
I’m glad we didn’t swim for it, Emi thought.
“In here. Quickly,” Ito said, urging both women toward a crumpled water-tight doorway.
“Look out!” Rika screamed.
The three of them turned as Goragon’s enormous tail lashed out, spines and spikes glowing red.
Ito pushed Emi and Rika through the door as the tail wooshed overhead. Steel bulkheads ripped, and everything the spikes touched turned to stone.
The sergeant tried to duck inside after the women.
“Ito!” Emi cried.
But he didn’t reply.
The military man stood in the doorway, turned to stone, a look of fear and surprise frozen on his face.
“Oh, no! No!” Rika sobbed.
Then the ship pitched toward starboard, and a wave surged over the side and rushed past the petrified soldier.
The chilly water slammed into the women as the destroyer rocked back the other way.
Emiko and Rika tumbled backward, carried by the power of the wave. Emi slammed into the side of another doorway—and stars burst behind her eyes—as both of them passed through the door, the wave forcing them deeper into the wounded ship.
They might have kept going and drowned in the bowels of the destroyer, but Rika grabbed onto the side of the next bulkhead doorway with one hand and seized Emi’s belt with the other.
With a mighty heave, both young women pushed themselves to the left-hand side of the door, while the sea water kept rushing past.
“We have to get out!” Rika said, desperately. “We have to go back the way we came!”
“We can’t,” Emi replied. “Even if we could fight the onrush, the door is blocked. Didn’t you see? Ito’s body is blocking it.”
The wall beside the brave soldier had been turned to stone as well, cementing him into place. His petrified form cut off any chance they had of escape, while still leaving plenty of space for water to flood in.
Rika shook her head and clutched at the silvery medallion around her neck. “But … but we can’t be trapped!” she said, almost pleading.
Emi sniffed back tears. “That’s the necklace you told my sister was lucky, isn’t it?”
“Well, I guess its luck has run out.”
Darkness closed in on Emiko’s mind. Unless they could find another way out, the two of them were doomed. The rising water would drown them in minutes.
But their exit was blocked, and the other direction led deeper into the sinking ship. The water was frigid, too, and with each passing moment, Rika found it harder and harder to think clearly.
Oh, Rin! If only I’d listened to your warnings!
“No, wait!” Rika blurted. “Look!”
She pointed across the compartment to a soldier’s body, floating face-down in the water.
The sight of the corpse pushed Emi over the edge, and her stomach heaved its contents into the swirling brine. “He can’t help us. He… He’s dead,” she gasped, wiping the vomit from her lips with the back of her arm.
“Don’t you see it?” Rika asked, excited. “Yes, he’s dead. but he’s got a radio! I can make it to him. I’m a strong swimmer.”
“I…” Emi didn’t know what to say. She didn’t want Rika to risk her life, but what other chance did they have? “Yes. Yes, okay.”
She pulled off her belt and handed it to the singer. It didn’t reach very far, but it was better than nothing. “Hold on to this until you get past the doorway. We don’t want you swept farther into the ship.”
Rika nodded and took the end of the belt, while Emi clung to some piping running along the wall, trying to keep both of them secure.
The starlet inched toward the doorway, and then cautiously stepped into the rushing water.
She tottered as the ocean current tried to rip her legs out from under her.
Emiko lurched toward the opening, too, as Rika tugged on her belt. For a moment, it seemed as though both women would be sucked down into the bowels of the destroyer.
Then the singer righted herself and surged past the opening. She let go of the belt, which had reached its end anyway, and swam quickly across the rest of the rapidly flooding room.
Emi shuddered as her companion stood, removed the radio from the dead soldier’s belt, and then pushed the body away. The corpse floated toward the door, got caught in the current, and vanished into the darkness below.
Rika switched on the walkie-talkie.
She fiddled with the knobs. “Hello? Hello? Come in! This is Rika Tadaka, and I’m stranded on the observation ship with Emiko Murakami. We’re trapped inside, and our room is flooding! Please, help us!”
She turned the knobs and listened for a reply.
Not even static.
“Gods help us!” she cried. “I think the batteries are dead!”
And so are we, Emiko thought, though she didn’t say it.
A solitary tear crept down Rika’s cheek. “Looks like you were right,” she said, tossing the radio into the water. “Our luck has run out!”
Emiko wanted to say something to comfort the singer, but she couldn’t think of anything. Black depression and the certainty of death pressed in around her.
And then, with a sound of rending metal, the ship shook violently.
The starlet toppled into the water.
“Rika!” Emi cried, reaching for her.
But before she could grasp the other girl’s hand, the current seized Rika and dragged the starlet through the compartment door, down into the bowels of the ship.
As Emi screamed in fear and frustration, Rika Tadaka vanished into the darkness.
Thanks to Kiff for beta reading.
All contents TM & © 2014 Stephen D. Sullivan. All Rights Reserved