The Mari Maru was underway now, heading into the twilight, after the enemy sub. Hiroki stood at the helm, watching the strange signal pulse across the screen of Fuji's scanner, a cigarette burning lazily in his mouth. His mind could not shake the vision of sweet Jenoka, and he knew he had fallen in love.
The Crew knew it too, but did not pry, trying to leave the young sailor his privacy. Fujiko sat amidships, cleaning the ash from his rig. Noto and Masada astern, watching over Kazuki. The Doctor glanced at his young companion, her unspoken longing evident in her eyes. "You miss him, don't you?"
"Nani? Doctor, did you say something?"
"You miss him. Tanaka." Noto found himself embarrassed at bringing it up. "I'm sorry, Masada san. I have been indiscreet."
"Hei. I miss him, Doctor," she replied. "It is that obvious?"
"To me," Noto paused. "I had a daughter once, long ago. You are much like her, and I find myself..."
Miname shushed him, finger to lips. Then she took his hand and smiled. "I appreciate it doctor, and I feel the same way. Maybe, when this is over, you would tell me more about her."
"I would like that. Do not worry, child. You and Shiro will find each other again one day."
Miname nodded, cheering at the thought. She rose, her footing unsteady upon the rocking boat. "Right now, I think it is time we found out more about our young sailor friend. Gomenasai, Noto sama." She bowed curtly, and made her way to the wheelhouse.
The Selgan turned and nodded. "Welcome aboard, Miss...?"
"Masada Miname desu," she stared at the man, searching. He was a bit roughshod, maybe even punk, with his longish black hair and earrings. Yet, there was a strange, almost divine quality about him as well. So familiar, she was sure she should know him.
A wild thought struck her then. Something that connected this man with both their mission, and their pasts. She grinned widely. "Hiroki," now she was sure. "Of Selga," she knew just who this man was! "Of course! You, you know the Bradley's, don't you?"
For a moment, Hiroki found he could not respond. Then he looked at Miname, and beamed back his own broad smile. "Kenji and Kyoko? Yeah. I do know the Bradley's."
Together, they busted out laughing.
Fujiko looked up from his work, and spied the pair convulsing on the bridge. "Exactly when did I lose control here?" He sighed to himself and joined them. "Masada. Hiroki. What the hell is so funny?"
Miname dried her eyes. "Commander, this man is one of the SeaGod worshippers the Bradley's spoke of. He knows them!"
"Oh, lord no!" Yasuda smiled. "We have enough trouble already!"
"This man knows...?" began Noto.
"The Bradley's. Yes, Doctor." Fujiko replied. "Well, at least we know we can trust each other."
"Too bad those two aren't around. We could use their kind of help," said Hiro
"I suppose you are right," Fuji agreed. He looked at the team and realized, the Selgan somehow fit right in. "Good thing then, that we have each other."
Aboard the sub.
"Are we ready?" Asked Koenig, addressing his crew, and receiving "Ayes" all round.
"Weapons systems standing by," said Duke.
"Trackers are on line. The monster has nearly reached Honshu," Sahara reported.
"Engine room, I want all the speed we've got. We can't overtake it, but we may be able to get within firing range." Koenig commanded, leaving the bridge.
The Cowboy leaned back in his chair, watching as "Yoshi" continued monitoring the G-Wave's shifts. This guy was definitely more than just another mercenary. Duke was sure he needed neither the money, nor the excitement. That meant he had another agenda here, one which Duke intended to find out.
"So, Sahara. Got anything else might help us survive this little hayride? I'm real interested in how ya knew about that potion, and any other tricks ya might have up your sleeve," Duke smiled. "Including who you really are."
A grin flashed briefly over the agent's face. "It is not easy, you know. To become someone you are not. Nor to maintain the ruse when confronted with things that are so familiar to you."
"Those Defense Force fellers," Duke surmised.
"Hei, my former command," the agent confirmed, bowing slightly from his seat. "I am Captain Inoshiro Tanaka of Japan's Vanguard forces."
The Cowboy could not keep the smirk from his face. He was Security Chief of this operation. Not an easy man to fool. Yet this guy had somehow pulled it off! "Tanaka, huh?" He reached out his open hand. "You can call me Duke. You're some piece of work, Tanaka! Rumors of all kinds have been flying since you disappeared. Hard to know which ones to believe."
"Why not ask?" Said Shiro.
"Well, you're not dead, right?"
"Just checkin'. That's one down. But you are wanted by InterPol, somethin' about some old General gettin killed. They even said you might'a went renegade, and well, here you are."
"General Iwa took his own life, to save a friend's. I am held guilty by the testimony of a man whose jealousies twisted both the truth, and the workings of his own mind. Munabe is dead now, his charges against me cannot be disproved."
The Cowboy shook his head in disbelief, not at the man's words, but at his own willingness to accept them. "Or you could be working undercover, to infiltrate us," he said without conviction.
"I am here on my own, Duke. Trying to keep an eye on you, yes. Trying to prevent exactly the kind of situation we now face from happening. I have not fared well."
"Makes sense. Monster huntin's gotta be a hard habit to kick."
"Yup." Shiro agreed with a sigh. Then his gaze caught the giant blip moving on the tracking screen. The signal was no longer drawing farther away. "Oh no."
"What's goin on?" Asked Duke.
"It is the creature," said Shiro. "It has turned. I believe it is about to attack."
The Mari Maru.
"Hey, Yasuda. Look." Hiroki gestured ahead and starboard. Together, they followed his gaze, finding a strange slick floating among the waves. It was luminous, and colored a deep viridian green. "It's the General. It's gotta be!"
"Hei," Fuji replied, peering through a retractable lens mounted on his headgear. "There is a body floating there. He has become human again! Hiroki..."
"I'm on it, Yasuda." The sailor cut the engine, drifting closer to the floating form. Miname took the wheel, holding the ship steady as the Selgan dove into the sea. He swam through the oily residue and took hold of the man. The man began to stir.
"It's okay, buddy." Hiro reassured the young man. "Your friends are with me, on my boat. We'll be aboard her in no time."
"Hiroki's the name. You must be the kid General Iwa mentioned."
Sato coughed, looking stunned. "Uh, yeah. I guess I must be! Sato Maki desu, pleased to meet you."
"Likewise. Hang on now, we're almost there!"
Slowly, they cleared the slick and drew astern of the boat. Sato could see Yasuda reaching out, pulling him from the waves. He was naked and cold. The doctor quickly passed him a blanket snatched from a bunk below. Then he saw Kazuki. "Oh no. Did I...?"
"No, Sato san! It was a lava splash," Fuji reassured the young man. "It is bad, but his condition has stabilized, for now. Welcome back."
"We thought that monster crushed you," said Miname.
"So did I," Sato agreed. "You risked your lives for me back there," he bowed low before them. "Domo arigato kudasai, my friends."
"You're welcome," said Noto. "How do you feel?"
"Cold. Wet. Confused. I have no memory from when the daikaiju fell, till now." He turned to Hiroki, now standing beside him. "You said that you spoke with the General. How?"
The Selgan tapped at his head. "Some kind of telepathy, I guess. He, I mean you...well, It attacked me. Absorbed me."
"You were not burned?"
"No. The SeaGod protects me. Iwa said I was his 'foothold' in...whatever it was you turned into. He was able to control the beast, until he let me go."
"Ha ta," Sato exclaimed.
"It is true, Sato san," Fujiko confirmed. "Somehow, old Iwa must still live. Inside you." The Crew stood still a moment, pausing to let the Commander's words sink in. Each one of them held a great affection for the old Warhorse. It was Sato who said what they all were thinking.
"I think I am glad."
Suddenly, Hiroki turned away from them, staring ahead into the distance. There, "Oh shit," he saw it. He raced to the wheelhouse and checked the scanner. "Oh shit!"
"Hiroki...?" Fuji inquired broadly. The Selgan tossed him the small device. Upon its screen, the signal flashed closer. "Oh shit," the commander agreed. "Everybody get ready. It is coming back."
The natives had trekked from the beach back to the ruined temple. The spell young Jenoka had woven was working, the Heart of Gura now glowing a bright blood red. If tribal lore held true, the FireGod himself would walk the earth once more, bringing woe to those marked as enemies, and prosperity to the land that bears his name.
"The time is almost come, child," said Myrga. "All of you, begin the chant."
The Gurani hummed, laying the baseline. Then the words came forth, bringing rhythm. Jenoka swayed upon her knees, clutching the polished stone, moving to the flow of the song. "Myrga, I, I feel strange," she stammered, lost in the pulse of the ancient music.
"I am with you," her aunt replied. "Hold on to me..."
The warning klaxons rang through the Sea Wolf class sub, calling out a Red Alert. The crewmen scrambled, taking position at their battle stations, waiting for the attack. They would not be waiting long.
"Captain Koenig, we need you on the bridge Sir," the Cowboy hailed the submarine's commander. Then he turned to Tanaka. "Hey, monster-man. I just want you to know, I'm going to keep your secret."
"Arigato, Cowboy san." Shiro replied. "Though I think I won't be needing it much longer."
The Necrodon raced closer as Koenig arrived. "Permission to fire, sir?" Said Duke, indicating the monitor station. The kaiju was almost upon them. Koenig nodded a hasty affirmative, and the Cowboy hit the switches, launching a volley of Surface to Air Missiles!
"Helm, take us topside. I want that beast in my sights," Koenig ordered as he took the periscope.
"SAMs are on target," said Tanaka. "Reading direct hits from all three warheads!"
"Nice shootin', Cowboy," said the Captain.
"Wait a minute, Something's wrong," Tanaka advised. "The signal is shifting. Some kind of surge...!" At once, consoles across the bridge began to spark and flare, energy arcing wildly from system to system! "Sensors are down, Captain. Weapons, too."
"What the hell is working?" Koenig demanded.
"Emergency life support, lighting, and the intercoms."
"Damn," said the Cowboy as a swell ran through the craft. "We've surfaced."
"We've got electrical fires in the computer core and the engine room, Captain."
"Well put 'em out then! We..." Another surge, burning out the last of the onboard electronics, and plunging them into darkness. A mighty impact hit them, and they knew they had been caught! "Christ! I think it's got us." The sub rocked fiercely, metal straining in the grip of the monster's gargantuan claws.
The Necrodon screamed, audible even through the titanium reinforced hull! The monster's shivery roar seemed to echo inside the ship, joined by a whisper, breathy and low. It screamed again, and those still on the bridge now heard the echo clearly. It was a single word; "Mycroft."
A penlight beam flashed on and around, shining across Kraken's face. "He's talkin', but he's still out cold," said Duke. The sub twisted violently, as if being lifted from the waves!
"I want the fires out and the hatches open," said the Captain. "I'm going to the engine room, see if I can't route another shock through the hull. That thing took out our systems, but I doubt it drained our batteries. Give me ten minutes, then abandon this ship. Cowboy, Sahara, you two are in charge."
"We're on it, Captain!" The sub rocked again. "Good luck."
Tanaka reached within his pack, taking hold of the Selgan flasks. He passed one to Duke. "Take it." The American held the bottle, unsure of what to do. "Now say; 'Mikki guide me.' "
"Whut's this stuff supposed to be again?"
"It is chicken soup. Now say it!"
"Mikki guide me," the Cowboy complied. Then the Spiritfire rose glowing from within the flask, and the darkness fled. To Duke's eyes, the light seemed to fill up the space of the bridge, falling upon all surfaces, ignoring all angles, casting no shadows. "I can see. Damn, I can see in the dark!"
"Yes, but everyone else will still be blind," Tanaka warned. The creature screamed then, and Kraken whispered his brother's name. "Duke, I think that thing is after me now. Like it knows I killed the Shade and wants revenge. You are on your own, I am going to confront it."
"Tanaka, that's just crazy! Look, I say we've got to give Koenig his time. You don't wanna be on deck before then. And I say we're gonna use that time to try to save some lives here. After that, I won't try to stop you from doin' nuthin."
Shiro considered the man. He had known him to be ruthless, but not cruel. There was a streak of nobility in the mercenary that could not be denied. The ship twisted and bounced, shaking them from their tightly grasped seats. He looked at the Cowboy, "You are right, Cowboy san. I will take damage control if you start the evacuation. I suggest we meet outside the main cargo bay."
"We've got eight minutes, 'Yoshi'. Let's move."
The submarine rocked fiercely, caught in the grip of the great, black talons. Alex clutched at the tiny ship, so much like a toy to him now, laughing as he fell upon it again! His mind took hold of the mystic pattern that burned inside him and focused, flaring it full power. The power arced from him, burning into the sea and the sub, countering the craft's own dim emanations. Then he rose from the waves, the submarine still clasped tightly in his claws!
He was tiring, however, his wounds still burning, still leaking molten blood. The signal kept shifting now, as if trying to elude him. It was his brother who had initiated the link, and kept them both in tune. Now his brother was gone, and he found he was losing control. It was then he decided, he would not be dying alone.
The Necrodon released the ship, letting it crash back down into the sea! "Mycroft!" It screamed. "You will be avenged!"
Under sail now, the Mari Maru cruised fast and smooth, flying over the waves. Far ahead, they could see the giant Necrodon flapping at the water's surface, as if trying to pluck something from the sea.
"It has the sub," said Fujiko, reporting from the prow.
"Good!" Hiroki cried. "They let it loose, let them fight it! Fucking bastards."
"What's with him?" Sato whispered to Miname.
"Some sort of tribal warfare. Those soldiers out there helped the Gurani wipe out Hiroki's men" she replied. "Only he was left alive."
Sato nodded, if not in understanding, then acceptance of the Selgan's position. Vengeance is something a man can measure only for himself.
"Just get us within firing range of that thing, mister," Fujiko barked. "There has been far too much death here already."
Hiroki glowered at the commander, "No. Not quite," he whispered in fury! Mentally, he invoked the SeaGod's name, calling for her winds. The SeaGod answered, and the ship began accelerating toward the beast!
"Hiroki, what are you doing?!" Shouted Noto.
"I'm getting us into firing range, Doctor." The young sorcerer shouted above the rising gale. "I suggest you all hold onto something!"
Captain John Koenig stood alone amid the smoldering wreckage that was once the sub's engine room, struggling with the last of the main power couplings. He had managed to route only a few of the mostly fused positive output lines through to the hull before a mighty impact slammed him across the room. He could hear the cracking of bone, and a fierce pounding began in his skull.
With a muffled scream, the cable came free. Koenig held the thick coil, its exposed end now frayed and torn, gasping from exertion. Forcing himself to move, he dragged the line to join its brothers now wired through an accessway and onto the interior framework of the ship. Koenig knew this final connection would discharge the sub's massive power cells into the hull, just as he knew doing it by hand would surely kill him.
Then his knees began to falter, and his vision. The beating of his blood against his brain grew unbearable, and he collapsed to the floor. Koenig fought for consciousness, dragging himself closer to the nest of electric eels swimming just beyond his reach.
Tanaka led a group of men through the narrow hall of the sleeping quarters, and down into the computer core. The section was ablaze, filled with the smoke of machines burning. A wall of intense heat stopped their advance. "We can do nothing here," the renegade shouted. "Seal it off. It's time to go."
They raced back down the promenade, ushering crewmen and extinguishing blazes as they went. Soon, they gathered in the cargo hold. Over fifty men, mostly wounded, crowded along the row of open hatches, quiet. Flashlight beams danced around them. Tanaka used his own, and found the Cowboy.
Duke looked up, into the source of the light. "Yoshi?" He called.
"We had to seal off sections three and seven. They should burn themselves out quickly enough," Shiro reported. "It is time for me to go."
"Wait a minute, soldier!" Said Duke, moving closer through the crowd. "What exactly are you gonna accomplish now? You think you can stop that thing with some firewater, you must be loco!"
"No, I can't stop it, but I can lure it back. Make it grab us again, and hope the Captain comes through," Tanaka gave a slight bow, then slipped quickly through the nearest hatch.
Duke was stunned! The man could move like a ninja, too fast to stop. "Alright, men. Hang on tight, and wait for my signal." Then, the blue-white spark of power flashed briefly through the sub, followed by a thundering CRACK! "Oh no," the Cowboy cried, diving for the hatchway. "Tanaka!"