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Chapter 1: The First Incident and the events leading up to it.
Washington D.C. Nov 1st 1994.
A car drives up Independence ave. It is black with tented windows and government plates. It passes the Capitol building. Congress is in session, but this is not it's destination. The car continues onward passing the Washington Monument , then past The Lincoln Memorial, and finally crossing over the Potomac river. It arrives at the Pentagon and stops at the main entrance.
A young Naval Officer steps out of the vehicle and crosses over to the the back passenger door. He opens it and holds the door open, standing at attention. As his passenger steps out he salutes. The passenger is an older man bearing all the trappings of an Admiral in the United States navy, with the one notable exception. He has a unique patch on his right upper arm. The patch is an indication of a specialized branch of service.
Without a word, the Admiral climbs the steps of the Pentagon and makes his way through the various security checkpoints. He presents his badge indicating his security clearance at each checkout without incident. The guards keep the conversation to a minimum, but they dutifully salute the Admiral as he passes them.
The Admiral makes his way to his office in the department of naval intelligence and finds an envelope waiting for him in the message box on his desk. He is not surprised to find it there. He is good friends with his superior and was well aware that it was coming. He opens it and finds it is exactly what he had been anticipating; his new orders. Despite knowing what it would say, he none the less read carefully through contents. He grimaced slightly.
When the Admiral was finished, he folded the letter and put it back into the envelope. Without wasting a moment he proceeded back out of his office and toward the nearby stairwell. He could have taken the elevator, but he preferred to stretch his legs instead. He made his way down until he found himself in the archives in the lower levels.
At the check-in desk in the archive the Admiral found a young clerk sitting at the desk reading a book. He appeared to be engrossed in what he was reading, because the old man was standing right in front of him before he even looked up. When the clerk finally did notice him, he was a little frightened to see an Admiral standing in front of him. He put his book down and as he did the admiral was surprised to see it was about naval history. The young man had not gotten far into it yet.
"Can I help you sir?" The young man asked.
"Yes, I am Admiral Marcus Ryan. Are you the only one here?" Ryan inquired.
"Ah, Yes sir" The clerk replied.
"Very well then, I will require your services." Ryan informed him. "I need to pull all records and reports from the UNGCC files. Your name is...?"
"Ah, it's Penwood sir." The clerk replied. "Did you say all of the UNGCC files sir? That encompasses an entire section of archive sir."
"Yes, I am aware of that son." Ryan Smirked. "You'd better get started, we are going to be at it for quite a long time. Please bring me the oldest files first and the rest in order."
"Oh, Yes sir." Penwood started to get up.
"And would you be so kind as to point out the largest table down here?" Ryan added. "I'm going to need lots of space."
"Yes Sir, just around the corner you will find just what you need." Penwood replied.
"Very good." Ryan noted the location. "Bring the files there. I will also some paper and something to write with."
"Yes sir, you will find everything to need in the alcove just there." He point to a place just behind the Admiral Ryan.
Minutes later, Admiral Ryan had settled into the chair was looking down at a file labelled in big red letters: 'THE FIRST INCIDENT AND THE EVENTS LEADING UP TO IT.'
"Sir?" Penwood was standing next to Ryan, who had not heard him. "I noticed the name 'Ryan' was listed on the file. Did a relative of yours contribute to this report?"
"No son." Ryan smirked. "If you search through the contents of this file you will find I-witness statements made by a very young seaman by the name of Marcus Ryan." Penwood looked confused. "You see, I was present for a lot of the events outlined in this report. It's not a mistake that an old man like me was assigned to sift through these dusty old records.
"Oh, I see." Penwood replied nervously, not knowing how else to respond.
"Since you're going to be helping me out with this, I might as well let you in on my little secret. I have been ordered to put together a comprehensive report that is to be presented to the U.N. Security Council." Ryan explained. "But I need to widdle it down to just the essential information first."
Penwood looked impressed, he had not imagined what they were working on was so important.
"There were a lot of young fellows at the time who could have told you what they saw back then, but now a days our numbers are getting a little thin." Ryan sighed.
"We are lesser as a whole for that sir." The young man noted. He seemed a little embarrassed when Ryan smiled at him.
"Ha, I like you Penwood." Ryan began. "That's why I'll tell you another secret. It would have gotten me in a lot of trouble back then, but well, suffice to say we are well past that now. Anyways, I was a bright kid growing up, but I also had a bit of a knack for finding trouble too. Mischief was my constant companion. I think I gave my mother more sleepless nights than I ever had a right to." His smile widened a bit more with that last sentiment. "I graduated high school a full year early, which made my mother all sorts of happy. She thought I'd be able to do anything I wanted to with my life and she thought for sure I'd be off to college with my grades, but I was labelled as somewhat of a hell-raiser you see. Some of my more unsavory behaviors lingered in my permanent record for a long time. That closed a lot doors for me. Still, I think it surprised the hell out of my mother when I enlisted in the navy at the age of 16. I could have waited a few months and signed up legally with my mother's consent, but I knew I wouldn't get that out of her. I was never any good at bring patient anyway. I wanted to be like my old man and I knew a guy who could doctor up my documents. My father had died young and that motivated me to get out and see the world. My family was poor, so there were not that many options."
"If you were an enlisted man, how were you able to attain the rank of Admiral?" Penwood asked. "I didn't think that was possible."
"It's not." Ryan replied. "I joined the Naval Academy some years later when I found the Navy life suited me."
"Why didn't you just join the Academy straight away?" Penwood followed up. "Surely going in with a higher rank would have been to your advantage and you had plenty of time."
"Well, to understand my reasons for enlisting, you have to understand the state of politics at the time. This was near the end of 1938 and the world was a powder keg just waiting to go off. I was young and dumb and wanted to see action as soon as possible. I knew if signed up for the Academy I'd be stuck there for four years missing out any fighting that would take place before graduation."
"I see." Penwood noted.
"The real trouble at the time was The Great War had been over just long enough for a new generation to come of age who had no understanding of just how horrible that war had been, myself included." Ryan continued. "The other big issue was The Great War had left many nations feeling unsatisfied with the peace that followed. The losses on all sides had been so great and there wasn't a whole lot to show for it. There were countries on the winning side that felt like they were missing out on their piece of the victory pie, Japan and Italy being prime examples. On the other side of the coin, there were countries on the losing side, like Germany, that felt victimized by unfair treaty stipulations that were designed to punish them. In each of these countries, the feelings of unrest were slowly stewing, leading towards another conflict. Like most things, it started small with Italy invading Ethiopia in 1935. I can remember my history teacher at the time saying that the League of Nations would step in and intervene. He insisted that they'd set things right, but European politics interfered and Ethiopia was crushed without much resistance. This illustrated just how ineffective the League really was and in the years that followed, it ended up being dissolved entirely. But that's a whole other can of worms."
Ryan took a sip from a cup of coffee Penwood had brought him earlier.
"Anyways, there was also the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. At first, most people saw their movement as the natural reaction by the German people against an unjust treaty. A lot of Americans felt the treaty of Versailles was too harsh and sympathized with the Germans. However, it quickly became all too apparent that their new leadership had more in mind beyond just standing up for themselves. In 1936, they supported the fascist Spanish regime in the Spanish civil war and helped them overthrow the Republican government. That same year, they reoccupied the Rhineland in west Germany, which was a violation of their peace treaty with France. Two years later, they annexed Austria and then did the same to the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. Emboldened by the limited response from other European powers, who were afraid to start another war, the Germans decided to annex the rest of the country the next year. Their next aim was to annex territory from Poland, but instead, fate decided to intervene."
Ryan paused to sip again.
"In 1938, a red comet appeared in the skies over Europe and marked the beginning of a new era of human history. No one knew where it can from. Can you imagine?" Ryan asked. "It just suddenly appeared in the sky one day. Astronomers were baffled. 'The harbinger' they later came to call it. It was like a red tear streaking across the sky, a foreboding sign of things to come. It was gone the next day, but in its place the world was hammered by a massive and sudden meteor shower. Germany was hit the hardest. Their new energetic leader was killed, along with a number of his supporters in the Riechstag building. The German high command was practically wiped out overnight. It was one of the greatest mysteries of the century. The building was badly damaged. Like so many others in Berlin, it had nearly been leveled. However, impact pattern was different from other locations, and while there was a meteor found at the center of the crater, it was unlike any of the other fragments that landed in the rest of Germany. The fragment had a strange metallic core that was magnetic. This finding fueled the suspicion of sabotage from a either rival nation or dissident group from within their own country. There was a highly publicized investigation. However, aside from the unique qualities of the meteor itself, there was little evidence to support any accusations beyond the incident being an act of God."
Ryan took a final sip.
"Overall, the result was that Germany as a whole remained a rising power, but its aggressive foreign policy became more tempered while they attempted to rebuild and re-elect new leadership. Of course, the meteor shower affected more than just the Germans. Along with damaging cities all across the world directly, it also seemed to spurn some nasty environmental changes. One particularly large chuck of rock impacted in the Pacific Ocean and caused tidal waves, earthquakes, and a string of volcanic eruptions along the Marianas Trench."
"In Asia, there was also trouble brewing. The Russian Revolution and civil war that followed in 1918 lead to the rise of a dangerous Communist dictatorship taking control of the country and this new 'Soviet' Russia was hungry to expand westward into Europe threatening all it's smaller neighbors. Only the threat of France and Great Britain declaring war on them if they invaded Poland kept them in check. The Germans had initially made a non-aggression pack with them, but their new administration abandoned that treaty in favor of European stability. They recognized the Soviets as a greater threat and their policies switched to trying to counter their efforts."
"In the far East, the Empire of Japan had conquered Korea and the Northern part of China. They were actively fighting a war with the Chinese Nationalists and Communists to conquer the rest of China. The Russians and our own Government were supporting the Chinese against them, which was inching us closer and closer to a conflict with them. Tensions were already mounting before I graduated, but after I enlisted, things got even worse." Ryan paused. "Well, that leads us to this now doesn't it?" Ryan tossed The First Incident file on the table in front of Penwood. "Open it." He invited.
Penwood obeyed. The first thing he noted was a picture of a commercial freighter. It had a note under it. It read: 'Last known photo of the Eiko-maru.'
"We didn't realize the significance at the time." Ryan said as Penwood read through the small article outlining the disappearance of the ship. "She just vanished without a trace. The Japanese company who owned the ship sent another to investigate, but it disappeared too. That's when tensions started to spike. One random Japanese vessel going missing was one thing, but for two to vanish in the space of a week was unusual. Given the high tension that already existed between us, they suspected the ships may have been attacked by one of our submarines."
"Matters only grew worse a week later when a convoy of three US cargo ships bound for China disappeared in the same area." Ryan continued. "One of them managed to get off a distress signal, indicating they were under attack, but the message was cut off before it identified who was attacking them. Our side assumed it was a Japanese retaliatory attack, but there were no survivors who could confirm it."
"With the count of missing ships up to five, both sides started to mobilized their navies. At this point, I was out of boot camp and stationed in San Diego. After the convoy attack, I was assigned to the cruiser USS Houston. Two days later, it was deployed to the naval base in Hawaii. A few days after that, the worst disaster yet occurred. A British passenger liner went missing with the same M.O. as the other attacks. There were American passengers on board, as well as others from various European countries. In total, about two-thousand people disappeared along with the ship. This was a major international incident and the final straw."
"In response, President Roosevelt ordered the fleet into action. U.S. Naval brass responded by deploying the Pacific fleet into the waters where the disappearances had taken place, thinking it was a submarine or a pack of submarines. Our objective was to hunt them down. The fleet spit up into three smaller task forces. The Houston happened to be part of the task force sent to search the area where the first incident had taken place. It was in international waters, but it skirted some Japanese held islands. This was part of the plan. There was a recently established Japanese military outpost located on a nearby Odo Island and we wanted them to see our show of force.
"The Houston, along with USS Chicago, led a squadron of destroyers into a picket line to sweep the area, while the Battleships Arizona and Nevada hung back with the carrier Yorktown. All the while, fighters and bombers were scouting the area, flying combat air patrol missions to spot any submarines that might attack the fleet. They never spotted a single one."
"Once the destroyers were in position, we proceeded to depth charge the entire area methodically. If there were any subs hiding below before we got there, there certainly weren't after we were done. The operation nearly went off without a hitch. The one hiccup occurred when the Houston turned back to rejoin the main fleet. A depth charge that had initially failed to explode finally did so nearby our starboard side as we passed it. the explosion rocked the boat and sent a pillar of water up and over the deck. Fortunately, it was far enough away to where it did little serious damage and thankfully, there were no causalities. It did however cause minor damage to the hull and a slight oil leak. Nothing that would prevent us from pressing on and returning to port for repairs, it simply meant we trailed a miscue amount of oil in our wake."
"We sailed back to Pearl confident of victory, or at least of having show our strength."
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Chapter 2, The First Incident.
"So the fleet completed it's mission to intimidate the Japanese, what happened next?" Penwood asked.
"Well, as we sailed back to port things went on about the ship like normal for the most part." Ryan answered. "However, there was a lingering tension in the air. A subtle disquiet no one could quite put their finger on. I assumed at the time that it was simply battle nerves. We were still in neutral waters and there was still the possibility of being attacked. No one was quite sure what the reaction from the Japanese would be. Maybe they would do nothing, maybe they would retaliate? All I knew was there was something bad in the air and guys were on edge."
"The feeling started to fade for me when I sat down in the mess hall." Ryan went on. "I met up with a good buddy on mine named Joe Meyers. I had known Joe the entire time I'd been in the navy, from the beginning of boot camp onward. He had been in the bunk above me and we hit it off right away. He must have been the cockiest s.o.b. in the navy. Overall, a really good guy, but more cock-sure than a man ever has a right to be. I both loved and hated him for it. Oh, and did he ever love to talk too. I don't think I'll ever love a woman as much as he liked to hear his own voice." Ryan chuckled. "The ladies loved him though. It probably didn't hurt that he was a handsome fellow, the Blond and blued eyed bastard."
"Anyways, he was a couple years older than I was and I suppose I looked up to him. He always looked out for me. I remember while we were still in boot I told him I wanted to be a navy pilot and he talked me right out of it. He said that he had a buddy who was a camera operator who recorded carrier take offs and landings and that he'd seen way too much footage of planes either crash and burning or falling off the side of the ship. He said that it was way too dangerous of a job for a young fellow like myself and that I should stick with him on the deck. He went on and on about it at length. By the time he was done, I concluded that he was actually just afraid of heights, but he had also managed to make me re-think climbing into a cockpit. He should have been a used car salesman. Being the smooth-talker that he was, he could probably convince a carpenter to buy pet termites." Ryan smiled.
"As we sat and ate, it occurred to me that Joe seemed immune to the unrest that was gripping the rest of the crew. He carried on like his usual self, jumping from topic to topic as he shoveled food in. I mostly just listened as usual. He was pretty confident that the Japanese would simmer down and behave themselves now that they had seen our ships in action. I wasn't so sure. Even with Joe's overwhelming optimism, I couldn't shake the underling feeling that something wasn't right."
"It took nearly two weeks to make it back to port in the Hawaiian islands. By the time we did, our mission had made headlines around the world. While it was fairly well received in counties like France and England, who had lost countrymen in the attack on the liner, it certainly did nothing to dispel the tensions between us and the Japanese. They still denied any involvement in the attacks on our merchant ships and claimed that our military ships had violated their coastal territory. To be fair, we may have done so. We certainly got closer than we were meant to." Ryan noted.
"Still, there was no blood in the water and we had not damaged anything they owned, so the situation did not escalate drastically. The Japanese did deploy a fleet of their own to the area, but our forces had long since gone by the time they arrived and they knew it. It was just political posturing to avoid looking weak. The world anxiously watched and waited to see if there would be any more attacks."
"Well, despite not haven actually done much, we were given the hero's welcome when we got off the boat. Joe made me go out with him to the local bar just off base that night. Though I was very under age, the uniform made it pretty easy to get in and try my first taste of alcohol. Unfortunately, I had no tolerance for the sauce at the time. The last thing I remember was Joe talking to some local girl. By the end of the evening, I was being carried into the base hospital with an acute case of alcohol poisoning. Some first outing that turned out to be..."
"Ha, what happened next?" Penwood asked with a laugh.
"Well, when I came to my senses the next morning, I had an needle in my arm that was pumping in fluids from a tube and my head felt like it had been split open. My first thought was how I was going to punch Joe right in his perfect smirking face the next time I saw him. I felt terrible and I probably looked just as bad. It took me a little while to collect my thoughts and acclimate myself to my surroundings. It didn't take me long to figure out where I was, but no one was with me. As strange as it might sound, after so may weeks of constantly being around the guys it was a little jarring to be completely alone and there was something else off-putting."
"What was that?" Penwood inquired.
"I wasn't sure if it was just a symptom of my first hangover, but I noticed something very strange that morning out my window. For about an hour straight, birds kept flying by. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of them flocked together and all flying in the same direction. It looked as though they were leaving the island in mass and going to the next island over. It was the damnedest thing. I've seen birds migrate before on the mainland, but this was something different. I'm no bird expert, but generally when birds travel together they are of the same species. What struck me as particularly odd was the variety in this flock. There was a little bit of everything: Big, small, all sorts of colors, pretty much everything I'd seen on the island previously was accounted for. I had not been on the stationed there for very long, so I thought maybe that was just how things worked there." Ryan frowned slightly recalling. "I should have known better..."
"I didn't have much time to think it over though. There was a knock at my door and before I even had time to even say, 'come in' a young nurse was in my room. And I'll tell you this son, what a sight she was. I think my heart might have stopped for a second or two. I went a little haywire, cause she asked me something that simply didn't register. She must have thought it was medical related though, because before I knew it, she was looking over the IV drip, flicking it with her finger and checking to make sure there was nothing wrong with it. I felt a little embarrassed about it to be honest. She looked over the line and took my hand to see if it was leaking from the needle stick. I lost a breath as her hand touched mine and I suddenly felt like I was sitting under a heat lamp. I prayed that her eyes stayed down on her work."
"Well, nothing is wrong here." The young nurse said, Marcus caught a breath. "You must still be trying to get your land-legs back under you sailor." She looked up and smiled.
"Uh, yeah. I had a bit of a rough night... I think. Actually, I don't remember much of it." Marcus admitted jokingly.
"I bet." She chuckled. "I was here last night when they dragged you in."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I hope I wasn't too much trouble." Marcus sank a little in his bed, picturing it.
"Don't be, you were a model patient. You did not complain or make peep the whole time really." She explained. "And you're the only person in this whole ward, so you've quietly kept me company my whole shift. I think you were pretty much dried out by the time they got you here so there have not been any messes to clean up and otherwise have not been overly demanding."
"Oh, I'm glad." Marcus felt some relief.
"That reminds me, your buddy said that he was going to check up on you today." She added. "He left with a young lady after dropping you off last night."
"That sounds about right." Marcus frowned. "I'd actually better report in before I'm missed Mrs... ?"
"Miss... Baxter, but call me Shauna." She smiled again. "But I think we'd better wait for your IV to finish. It'll help get some of that green out of your cheeks."
It was about that moment that Marcus realized his uniform was sitting on a chair next to the bed, clean and neatly folded. He immediately came to realize that meant he was not wearing it and that he had, in fact, been changed into a hospital gown while he was unconscious. Marcus felt ice run cold in his veins as he wondered if Shana had been the person who striped him down to his buckskins."
"What's wrong?" She had noticed the unsettled look on his face.
"Well, I was just wondering how long the IV still had." He lied. "I don't want to be labeled as AWOL."
"Oh, Joe said that he was going to smooth things over with your C.O." She replied.
"He did?" Marcus cringed at the thought. His C.O. Captain Turner was a newly promoted, by the book, skipper and had already cast a sharp eye at Joe and Marcus as a pair unruly young sailors he needed to rein in. While the Houston was out on training exercises, a tub of strawberry ice cream had mysteriously gone missing and the Captain had the entire ship searched from top to bottom trying to find any evidence of where it went. Joe and Marcus had not left any to be found, but now they had given him the opportunity to come down on them hard. Marcus knew he was in trouble once he reported back in.
"It'll be ok." She seemed to sense what Marcus as thinking. "Things usually turn out better than how it goes down in our heads. You made a mistake that is minor in the scheme of things." His fear melted away in the light of her reassuring smile.
"You know, you are very kind and I think....." CURRRGGGKKKKKKkkktttttt!!!
Marcus stopped dead in mid sentience. He had been interrupted by an intrusive crash from out the window in the harbor. It sounded similar to a train when it first starts moving, a thunderous clacking of metal on metal, but this was louder, longer, and somehow different. It was so loud that the noise echoed across the entire harbor. If anyone was still asleep in those early hrs, they weren't anymore.
"What in the blazes was that?" Marcus got out of bed and went to the window. He opened it up and looked out, but didn't spot anything unusual. Marcus wondered if there had been a collision between to large ships, but there were none to be found. There was, however, an odd wake in the water near the mouth of the harbor, which lead out to the open ocean. It was big enough that when it hit the beach the water rolled up far past the line of sand and up into the grass by about 30 yards. "What the heck?" Marcus sat at the window confused. "What could have caused that?"
"What's going on?" Shauna asked from behind, stepping in to see out.
"I honestly don't know." Marcus answered. "I feel like we just missed something big though."
That was when it happened. The moment life changed forever. An enormous form rose out of the bay waters. It was bigger than a battleship, much bigger. Marcus stood there wide-eyed while Shauna's mouth dropped open. They both just stood there frozen, dumbfound by what they saw outside the window. It couldn't be real, they thought. Marcus was certain he was still asleep and dreaming and that everything up to this point had to be part of it. What they were seeing was impossible.
Then the creature stepped into the shallows just next to the docked ships and stood there. It was perfectly still for a few moments. Marcus didn't see them at the time, but the men on the docks and anyone else within sight were staring at it too. The whole base stood there shocked. A forty-meter high quadrupedal monster was standing in the middle of the harbor, dwarfing everything around it. It looked like a dinosaur, but much too large to compare to anything on record.
It had several horns at the top of it's head and a single horn above his nose like a rhinoceros. It's face was long and drawn out, somewhat similar to a crocodile and it had rows of jagged, serrated teeth. It also had an armored carapace studded with long, sharp spikes. It's tail was longer than it's body and was likewise covered in spikes.
Finally, it started to move again. The creature opened its mouth let out a roar that seemed to split the sky and shook Marcus and Shana to their core. Marcus' knees felt weak from vibration. The men on the docks went from shock to terror in that instant. Having been broken out of their trance, they began to retreat in mass from the dock area away from the beast. It meanwhile moved through the docked ships an onto the docks. It effortlessly smashed its way through the buildings in front of it. Marcus could distinctly hear yelling and screaming at that point and fell out of his stupor. The reality of the situation was starting to take hold. The thing was really there and attacking the base. There was mass confusion and chaos unfolding outside.
Marcus scrambled to get his clothes on. He knew he had to get back to his ship to fight. In his haste, Marcus unknowingly torn out his IV and was bleeding down his arm. Shauna stopped him as he tired to leave the room and threw on a makeshift bandage. She asked Marcus what they should do. He told her to make her way to the nearest bomb shelter and to stay there until it was over. She nodded and started for the door. He flew out behind her and got out of the building as quickly as possible. Marcus realized as he got outside that he could feel the impact of the beast's massive footfalls as it trampled the base around it.
"How could something so big exist?" Marcus asked himself. He turned his head and spotted the creature again. It had made its way to the oil storage tanks near the southern docks. The beast lumbered its way into the tanks and they exploded under its weight. Marcus thought for sure that the monster had just managed to kill itself. A wall of smoke and flames engulfed it entirely. To his horror and disbelief, Marcus saw the monster emerge only a moment later. It simply billowed out a huge puff of black smoke out from its nostrils, otherwise it seemed unconcerned by the fire around it.
The creature continued onward until it was back into the harbor waters. Any fire that had been clinging to its body was extinguished. After the monster hit the water, it made a B-line towards the row of cruisers in front of it. Marcus realized the the Houston was the second ship in the row and the beast was heading directly towards it. He ran as fast as I could to get closer. He knew there was nothing I could do, but he needed to see what was happening. As Marcus crested a small hill nearby the burning oil depot he could see the main turrets on the Houston turning to fire at the approaching monster.
The guns fired as the creature got close, but it was too hasty of a shot to aim properly. Both cannons missed their mark and there was no time for them to reload for a second try. The creature was on them only seconds later. The sailors on the Houston were utterly helpless against it now. The monster rose out of the water and came down hard on the cruiser. The Houston's hull bucked under the weight and was breached almost immediately. The doomed cruiser turned on it's side and started to sink.
"Joe?!" Marcus thought bitterly as the creature moved on and swiped its claws at the cruiser behind the Houston and ripped it open too. From there, it moved on towards the eastern section of the base, leaving the other cruisers in the line untouched. It came back on land and toppled even more buildings as its rampage continued.
At that point, Marcus realized there were men in the water, survivors from the two destroyed cruisers. He found a small boat nearby and jumped into it, starting the engine. It was a slow vessel, but Marcus got over to the men in the water quickly enough to make a difference. He helped the first dozen or so he found on board, but it filled up quickly. Despite his hopes, Joe was not among the survivors. Marcus had to put that behind him though. He recognized that there was no way he would be able to get all the men still in the water aboard, but he found a long spool of rope and got an idea.
Marcus anchored the rope to a clamp on the stern of his boat and threw it out towards the remaining men. They understood what Marcus had in mind and began to grab onto it. Before long, Marcus had about twenty sailors towing behind him. They were closer to Ford Island at that point so he started towards it. They passed by Battleship row and Marcus could see the crews of those ships scrambling to get them battle-ready. Fortunately, the creature was nowhere near them. It had shattered several more buildings and re-entered the bay once again, moving north towards the rows of destroyers anchored there. It sunk several of them without any difficulty.
By this time, several fighter wings had been scrambled off of Ford Island. Marcus could hear their engines hum above us as his little ship reached the shore. The planes dove down towards the creature and opened up on it. The machine guns rounds hit home, but were bouncing right off of the creature. It barely seemed to take notice of them. After a second flight of fighters shot up near the monster's face, it turned and changed direction. To Marcus' horror, it was coming right at Ford Island. Marcus had just helped the remaining sailors onto the beach when he realized it was approaching. He ran towards the airbase and found an unmanned AA cannon. The machine guns from the planes had not been effective, but Marcus thought maybe something a little bigger would prove more useful.
The thing lumbered back onto shore and Marcus took careful aim with the 40 mm gun. It took some doing for Marcus to prepare the weapon on his own, but the creature was slow by nature and he was able to line up a shot. He gritted his teeth and finally fired. The shell zoomed out of the barrel and flew right into the creatures face. It exploded and Marcus hooted in triumph, he was right on the mark.
The victory was short lived though. When the smoke had cleared Marcus could see the his shot had done no obvious damage, and worse still, the creature barely seemed to noticed it. Marcus sank into the firing seat defeated. There was nothing he could so to harm it. Marcus realized how very helpless he really was against it. Futility had only been a word for him before then, but after that he understood what it meant. Marcus sat there as the monster wreaked havoc across the airfield, destroying several hangers and parked planes. Marcus saw men crushed as buildings collapsed on them. One man was trying to pull his buddy out from under the rubble, but it was already too late for him. Marcus thought back to Joe and the Houston and wept. Why are we so helpless against this thing?
There were fires burning all over the base and oil from damaged ships filling up the harbor. The scene around Marcus was that of utter devastation and he thought for sure he was going to die there.
It was then that an officer from one of the cruisers pulled Marcus from the AA battery and told him they needed to seek shelter. As they ran across the shattered airfield, Marcus could see that the battleships had started to move from their moorings and were moving to catch up with the creature who had made his way to the western section of the base. The battleships formed into a battle line in the creature's path and open fire at him at point blank range. Marcus saw several 14 inch shells explode against its hide.
Unlike earlier attacks, the main cannons from the battleships did do some damage. The creature toppled to its side in a daze. It regained its composure and retreated into the waters of the bay before the battleships should unload a second volley at it. It disappeared into the channel and out into the open sea.
Thus ended the first incident.
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Chapter 3: The Battle of the Philippines
The Battleships had managed to stop the monster, but not kill it. Wildcat fighter-planes continued to monitor its movement as it exited back out the channel that lead into Mamala bay. It was too far under the water for the fighters to effectively attack it, but by that time, dive bombers had been launched off the carriers in Pearl. They harassed the creature until it disappeared into the deep waters of the open ocean.
Over the next 48 hrs, aircraft continued to patrol the waters around the Hawaiian islands non stop just in case there was a second attack. Thankfully, another attack never came.
In the harbor, we struggled to pick ourselves up. The base was left in shambles. Roughly half of the buildings had been flattened. Hangers, warehouses, barracks, factories, half of the oil storage, and perhaps most notably, Naval Headquarters. Most of the top brass wasn't there at the time, but we still lost a lot of officers when it fell.
We lost some good ships too, but the fleet in general fared much better than the base had. The creature had sunk five destroyers, two heavy cruisers, an oil tanker, a troop transport, and two cargo ships. Also, a hospital ship was crippled and a third cruiser was damaged.
There was a silver lining though. No battleships or carriers had even been touched. All our capitol ships were intact, which meant we still had the main punch of our fleet. Still, the outcome of the attack could hardly be described as a victory. The monster had done all that damage to us and we were not certain we had even managed to wound it in return. It was still moving quite well when it had elected to retreat.
In the aftermath of the attack, I fished out several more boat-loads of sailors from the oil soaked waters of the harbor and took the wounded to the hospital. For the most part I was calm, but fear crept into the back of my mind as we approached the mouth of the channel where the creature had just vanished. I had a feeling of dread, imaging its jaws snapping around our tiny vessel as we passed over the spot where it first appeared. My hands felt numb on the wheel and I felt dizzy. I wished I could go around that spot, but there was no way to get to the hospital by water faster and it would take too long to go on foot.
I swallowed my fear and pressed on. We passed through and got the wounded to the beach nearby the hospital. The boat slid to a stop as the keel pressed into the wet sand. I jumped out and helped a sailor who was too hurt to walk on his own up the long walkway towards the hospital. I got him inside and was shocked at the scene I found. There were bodies lined up in all of the corridors. Each one was covered with a white sheets and I felt utter horror in my depths knowing what that meant. I felt sick, but was able to keep a handle on myself.
Coming out of my stupor, I realized that were were only a handful of actual wounded. They could be seen here and there. Some had burns, some broken bones or crush injuries, and a few had been hit by friendly fire. I was bitter at the thought that we had only manage to hurt ourselves more by trying to fight off the creature.
I sat the wounded sailor in a nearby chair and a nurse immediately spotted us and came to examine him. Seeing her working on the man made me realize that I had not seen Shauna among the hospital staff. I felt a hollowness in my stomach and my skin chilled with cold sweat. I went from room to room, dodging people in the hallways as I looked for her. On the fourth room I tried, I finally found her bandaging up a sailor.
Upon seeing her, I felt a weight lift off my chest I had not realized was there. My anxiety melted away and I felt the urge to rush over and hug her. I realized however that it might be improper. After all, I had literally only known her for a few short hours. What would she think to have a random sailor sneaking up on her from behind and grab her? It would serve me right to have a foot stamped on... or worse.
In any case, I could see that she was very busy with her work and thought it would be best if I just left. After all, the key thing was she was safe and I knew it. It was better to stay out of her way while she worked. I thought to leave, but just then she turned and saw me standing there staring at her. I looked down not knowing what you say.
"Mark...?" She asked with a little crack in her voice.
"I just thought I outta make sure that, you know, that you were ok..." She didn't say anything back, but a second later I felt the force of something hit my chest. Before I knew what was what, her arms were around me and squeezing me tightly.
"Oh Mark, I'm glad that you are alright. This is all so horrible!" I felt a tear hit my hand. "They've been bringing in the dead for the last forty-five minutes. I've been doing my best, but I'm not ready for all this."
"We lost many good men today." I replied. "I don't think any of us were ready."
"Why did this happen?" She asked, sinking her head into my chest.
"I... I do not know." I lied. In my heart, I knew that it was our fault. That thing had followed us back from our mission. We had made it angry and it came to lash out at us. "What is important is what we do now." She looked up at me. "Just do what you can for whoever you can." She smiled at me with tears still in her eye and nodded. My reassurance seemed to have reinvigorated her resolve.
Not knowing what else to do with myself, I stayed helped her the best I could with the wounded. I wasn't much good on the medical side of things, but I seemed to bolster Shauna's efforts and on occasion my strength helped to hold a patient down or lift them up. I certainly didn't save any lives that day, but I did manage to be useful and it felt good to lend a hand. I would like to say I did this simply out of sheer duty and moral obligation, but the truth of it was I wanted to stay close to Shauna. Just as I made her feel better, she was making me feel more secure too. Security was worth its weight in gold just then. That, and my conscious demanded that I try to atone.
An hour passed, and before long, I had blood on my hands. I felt a little sick again, but kept it together. I rushed over to a sink and washed my hands, but I could still see some red under my fingernails. After a minute of scrubbing, I still couldn't seem to get it out, so I left it be. I thought maybe it was fitting that it should be there. I tried to tell myself that I had not been in control of the situation and that it had not been my fault. Though that did give me some solace at the time, in the back of my mind, I still harbored guilt.
As I stared down at my hands, wrestling with my feelings, a sailor entered the hospital and caught my attention. It was Joe. I had given him up for dead when the Houston was ripped open and sank, but there he stood, alive and well. He saw me too and started for me. I met him halfway and gave him a brawny hug.
"I thought you were a goner for sure, you bastard." I pulled back. "Were you on the Houston? How did you get away from that thing?"
"No, I wasn't aboard. I didn't make it back last night." He replied. I spotted a rather obvious hickey on his neck and immediately understood.
"Well, I'm glad you're alright. Have you seen any of the other guys?"
"No." He hesitated. "I hate to be the one to tell you, but it looks like almost everyone went down with the ship, including the Captain."
I felt yet another harsh sting of guilt. Good men, better men than me and Joe, had died in the line of duty. He and I had only escaped due to our recklessness while responsible men had perished. The injustice of it was inescapable and painful. We deserved to be punished for our actions, but with the skipper gone, it seemed unlikely that he'd be reporting our transgression anyone higher in the chain of command. If we choose to, we could walk away Scott-free, but my conscious could not tolerate the thought of that.
"Who do we report to now?" I asked Joe.
"I don't even know." He answered. "HQ is in pieces, the barracks is smashed, and all the officers I've seen are scrambling around with their own problems right now. I think for tonight at least we're on our own."
"There are empty cots in the basement." Shauna cut in. She had been listening in and had understood our most immediate problem. There really wasn't anywhere else for us to go.
"What? We couldn't do that, you might still need them." I began to protest.
"If we do, we can always bump you guys, but the stream of wounded has slowed to a trickle and the cots down there aren't meant for patients anyway. That's where the medical staff go when they need rest."
"We really don't have much of a choice Mark." Joe pointed out.
"Ok, very well." I surrendered. "Thank you Shauna."
A short while later, Joe and I were laying in cots on opposite sides of the small room in the basement. There was not much to the place, it felt like a utility room. Not that I was going to complain. It was a quiet place and that's just what I needed.
Though both of us were exhausted, we sat there awake staring up at the ceiling. I was still on edge, stirring from the day's events. I had been playing them back in my mind, trying to make sense of them. I looked over and could tell Joe was doing the same. My guilt had been bothering me for hours and I needed to get it off my chest. I knew I would not be able to sleep until I talked about it and Joe was the only person I could talk to about it.
"Listen Joe, what happened today... I think that thing followed us back from the mission." I started.
"How do you figure...?" He asked, almost defensively. I think he suspected the same thing I did, but didn't want to admit it to himself.
"You remember the damage the Houston took from the depth charge on the mission?" I continued undeterred. "It caused oil to leak, right? I think the monster followed the trail of leaked oil."
"Well how could it do that?" Joe countered. "The amount of oil would have been so minuscule that there would not be a enough for anything to actually see."
"No, but maybe the creature can smell things in the water like a shark." I reasoned. "Did you see how it behaved when it first attacked?"
"I was not there to see the first few minutes." He replied.
"Yeah, well I was." I continued. "It bypassed other ships along the way and went straight for the Houston." I looked over at Joe. He seemed pale. I think my argument had finally persuaded him. He sat there silently. "Listen Joe, I'm planning to turn myself in tomorrow for going AWOL. I can't hold on to this much guilt." He was quiet for a moment.
"I understand, I'll go with you." He replied.
"I didn't mean that you should too." I sat up.
"I know, but we are men, aren't we?" He smirked. "We need to own up to what we did and take our lashes. I wouldn't let you go it alone."
"Thanks Joe." I lay back into the cot and rested until I fell asleep.
The next morning, I woke up and found that Shauna had crawled into the cot with me. I was a little shocked that she had been able to do so without having woke me up. Either she was a ninety-pound ninja or I had just been that tired. Either way, it was nice to have her there. She was warm and comforting. I didn't want to move and disturb her, but there was little way around it. The cot was pressed up against the wall on one side and she was blocking my escape from the other. For a time I stared at her. Her hand was on my chest as if it were trying to feel for my heartbeat. Her red hair had been taken out from her nursing bun, it stretched further down her shoulders that I would have guess possible. Despite the long hours she had worked, she still smelled nice.
As thought she could hear my thoughts, she started to stir.
"Good morning." She looked at with me with smile. "Thanks for sharing your cot with me. That felt like it was the longest shift ever." She got out of the cot and walked over to the nearby sink. She splashed some water on her face and wiped off the water with a towel. I only watched as she neatly put her hair back up again. "Hey, come over here." She looked back to me in the mirror. I obeyed, joining her at the sink. "This has been driving me crazy since last night." She grabbed my hands and put them under the facet. "I would have done this earlier, but you looked like you needed the rest." She took a brush and proceeded to scrub under my nails to get the particles of blood out from underneath them. Her hands were gentile, but the brush was a bit abrasive. I did not complain though, it was clearly necessary. As she cleaned my hands, I almost felt absolved, though in the end it wouldn't be that easy. "There, all finished."
"Have to go back up and check on a few things upstairs." She began to leave. "I suspect you have business of your own to attend to."
"Hey, thanks for everything. I don't know how to repay you."
"Dinner sometime this week would be a great start." She said from the doorway. "You'll find my number hidden in your hat. Reach out to me once you've gotten all your business all sorted out."
She had gotten halfway down the hallway before I could even sort out a reply. Upon inspection, she had indeed left a note in my hat with a number and address to find her.
"Way to go buddy, there is hope for you yet." Joe commented, his eyes still close from pretending to be asleep.
"Don't read too much into it." I blushed.
"Relax, I was still awake when she came in. I know nothing happened." He smirked. "Still, I'd say she's taken quite the liking to you. You must have done something special to earn her affection."
"I suppose so." I smiled.
Joe and I wasted little time from there. We learned that command had put down temporary roots in the recruitment administration building in light of HQ being crushed into kindling. We reported in and were referred to the makeshift office of Commander Franklin for our orders. There we waited outside for an hour while a steam of other sailors entered and exited rapidly.
When our turn finally came, we entered the office to find the Commander waiting for us. He invited us to sit, which we did. Meanwhile, he sat behind his desk flipping through our personnel files. Commander Franklin seemed like the standard career navy man. He was stern and proper, but it was clear that the events of the last twenty-four hours had taken a toll on him. He had bags under his eyes, which indicated that he had not sleep since the attack. While he read, I attempted to take the initiative to report myself for going AWOL.
"Sir, I need to tell you something important." I began. "I..."
"We." Joe chimed in.
"We." I quickly corrected. "Were not at our posts when the attack began Sir and are prepared to accept whatever punishment you deem fitting."
"You are mistaken." The Commander replied. "You were at your posts and managed to abandon ship in time."
"But sir, we were not..." I began to protest.
"You were." He said, cutting me off. "That's exactly what my report is going to say." It was clear the commander was not in the mood to hear my confession. He just dismissed it outright. It surprised me at the time, but in the scheme of things, I guess I understand it. The Commander had much bigger things going on. He had a long list of names on his clip board, hundreds of them. I guessed it was a list of all the sailors who had been displaced by the attack. It was his job to find new homes for all of them.
Before I knew it, Commander Franklin had transferred both Joe and I to a new post. He made it clear he had no time for common sailor malarkey. His only priority was to reorganize the ranks back into fighting units as quickly as possible. He informed us that the carrier USS Enterprise had lost some of its crew, who were on shore-leave during he attack. Since we didn't have a ship of our own to return, and because we could preform the same duties, we were being reassigned to replace them. He stamped the transfer orders and that as that.
Franklin then informed us that the carrier would be leaving port by the evening. Orders had come down from the top and command wanted any ships capable of leaving Pearl out as soon as possible, so they wouldn't be sitting ducks. As such, we were to report to the Enterprise immediately. Joe and I began to collect ourselves to leave.
"One last thing Seaman Ryan." Commander Franklin said to me while I stood up. "I received a report of your actions during and after the attack. That's what saved your bacon today. I'll being putting you in for a commendation for that. I'm going to give you two one last piece of advice. If you want to make up for your past mistakes gentlemen, do so by serving your country well from here on out." With that, we were dismissed from of his office. My head was spinning was we left. In the space of three minutes, everything had changed. I had been expecting to be escorted to the brig, but instead we were being transferred to flagship of the Pacific fleet. Funny how life works out sometimes.
There was a downside to my transfer though. Such as it was, I didn't have enough to visit the hospital to see Shauna. I did have enough time to write a brief note to her. I explained my reassignment, and let her know just how much I regretted that I wouldn't be able to take her up on her dinner offer. At that point, I would have gladly spent a few days in the brig if I could have stayed to explain it to her in person, but Franklin's words were still echoing in my head. Serving my country had to come first. I did promise, however, that I would take her out as so as I returned to port and that I would write her frequently in the meantime.
As I put in the letter into the post, I just hoped it would be enough and that she'd understand.
Following the attack, it didn't take too long for word to spread. Newspapers all over the world ran headlines declaring the shocking incident and people did not know what to make of the news. Most of the foreign powers dismissed it as some type of ruse. The story seemed too ridiculous to be true. People in the States were also understandably skeptical until photos taken by plane of the monster during the attack were developed and made public. The mood of the nation shifted from disbelief to terror as the realization of such a monster's existence being possible.
On the military side of things, the creature's disappearance was frustrating. He hit us hard and then vanished before we could hit him back. We proved that naval cannons could hurt it, but finding another opportunity to use them was proving fruitless. Weeks had gone by without another sighting and the public started to wonder if we had in fact mortally wounded the beast. I knew better than that though. I had seen what it could do and I knew that it was not done. The enlisted men started to joke that we gave it such a thrashing that it would never again show it's face in our waters.
The hubris of those men didn't last long. Three weeks after the attack at Pearl, the creature reappeared and landed in the Caroline Islands. It wiped out three villages before disappearing back into the Ocean. Our fleet was still closely patrolling the waters near Pearl, so we were far out of position to do anything about it. Within two days, another Japanese cargo ship was destroyed, followed by a British one the next day. The monster was no longer just hitting shipping within its own territorial waters. It was making its presence felt all over the Pacific and becoming a menace to anything afloat or near a coast.
By this time, the Japanese had enough. They sent out a task force of warships to hunt it down. The task force was split into two divisions. The first division was lead by the carriers Kaga, Akagi, and Shokaku. They were supported by the battleships Hiei, Kongo, Nagato, and Fuso. Additionally, they were further supported by four heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and eighteen destroyers.
The second division was lead by the carriers Zuikaku, Hiryu, and Soryu. They were supported by the battleships Kiris, Haruna, and Yamashiro. In addition, there were four heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and sixteen destroyers. Together, they were the cream of the Japanese Imperial Fleet and were spoiling for a fight.
On December 22nd, the Japanese fleet descended on the last known location of the monster. They searched for two days and found nothing. On the Decemeber 24th, their prey found them. During the night, the monster who was now dubbed Angirus sunk the carriers Hiryu and Zuikaku, the battleship Kiris, the Heavy Cruisers Myoko and Nachi, the light crusier Oi, and eight destroyers. It was a was a staggering defeat to the Japanese navy and a huge blow to their national honor as a whole.
The Second carrier division was forced to retreat home by the next morning. Undeterred by their comrades defeat, the First carrier division located and counterattacked Angirus by noon. The battle by daylight went far better for the Japanese, as they were able to coordinate their warplanes and surface ships, but they still lost the cruisers Agano, Haguro, Yahagi, and five more destroyers.
By the end of the day, the Japanese elected to make a strategic withdraw from the area, wishing to avoid being attacked in the dark like the night before. It was unclear if they had managed to inflict any serious damage to the monster, but they had managed to at least make a fight of it to restore some of their damaged pride.
The Japanese fleet regrouped and returned to their home ports, waiting to see if Angirus would dare follow them. They had expected a follow up attack from the monster, similar to how it had followed our fleet back to Pearl, but this was not the case. When it failed to show up, we thought perhaps the Japanese had managed to hurt it, but in retrospect, I think it simply could not track them all the way home.
When Angirus's attacks resumed a week later, it was clear that the Japanese had failed to strike a meaningful blow. This was a terrifying time for anyone living anywhere along the Pacific Rim. No one knew where the next attack would come, or when. It seemed impossible to predict and impossible to stop. The islands of the Dutch East Indies were the next place it hit. Sea trade in the Pacific slowed to a crawl and world economics were on the edge of crisis.
Shortly after that, the "Hunt for Angirus" was on. Any power with an agenda at stake in the Pacific threw in their forces. Ships from British Far East Fleet, the Netherlands, the United States, Japan, France, and even the minor navies of a dozen other regional powers all began to coordinate in an unprecedented effort to track down and kill Angirus.
Unfortunately, the coordinating didn't seem to help all that much. Our ships simply could not arrive in time to catch up to the monster following an attack. The monster seemed to be avoiding taking on large naval forces following its encounter with the Japanese fleet. It was at this point that I decided to go to my C.O. and tell him about the events leading up to the Pearl attack. I suggested that we perhaps could lure the monster to a precise predetermined location to be ambushed if we left a slick of oil for it to follow. And as it could submerge and evade us at will at sea, leading it to shore would be ideal.
My C.O. took the plan to the Captain of the Enterprise, who in turn, relayed it to the Admiral Nimitz who was in command of the fleet. As it turned out, the Admiral thought it was a brilliant idea and ran with it. He was just as frustrated as anyone with the inability of our forces to pin down the monster. He almost immediately began to draw up plans. He looked to his charts and quickly found several possible staging grounds in the U.S. controlled Philippines for the operation.
After contacting Washington and getting their approval, he contacted General MacArthur, who was in command of the army in the Philippines. The General was receptive to the plan and put his troops to work preparing defenses in the selected area on Luzon, the main island in the Philippines. They cleared out trees along the beach, placed obstacles to slow down the monster, built concrete pill boxes, placed shore batteries, moved in mobile artillery pieces, brought in a entire tank division, and laid down a six acre mine field. It took nearly two weeks to get everything in place.
Once the army was ready, the navy enacted the plan. They started by sending a oil tanker escorted by destroyers to Angirus's last know position. The destroyers dropped a barrage of depth charges and the tanker opened up its oil valves allowing a large slick to trail the ships. They wasted no time on getting out of area as fast as possible in case the monster was actually in the immediate area. As they retreated, they carefully watched the waters behind them to see if they had elicited a reaction. Through their binoculars, the sailors saw nothing and wondered if they had just wasted their time and risked all for nothing.
A few days later, the ships had reached the Philippines and the tanker shut off its valves. From the shore, troops pumped out oil. The current connected to the trail to the one in the ocean. With their job complete, the navy ships withdrew.
Admiral Nimitz had the strength of the fleet positioned hiding just west around the the most northern tip of Luzon, nearby the city of Santa Ana. The battle-zone was located just over the other side of the tip in the east. When Angirus made landfall the fleet could easily swing around the coast and prevent it from escaping back into the sea.
The men on the shore were dug in and ready, the air-force had created a makeshift base nearby and was on standby, and the fleet was posed to strike. The only question left was if Angirus would actually show up, and if so, when? The tension was thick thin in the air. There was an uneasiness that grew with every passing hour.
Word went out the next morning that there was an unidentified sonar ping reported by one of the submarines on patrol on the edge of our defense perimeter. All commercial shipping had be advised to avoid the area and all of our vessels were accounted for. The submarine's transmissions went silent ten minutes later and everyone was put on full alert. There was no doubt about it, Angirus was on his way and he was moving directly to the landing zone. The plan was working. Scout planes were launched from the carriers to better track its movements and the fleet got underway. The monster would make landfall just as the fleet was coming around the edge of the island.
An hour passed and the scout planes reported being able to see Angirus' wake in the water near the surface as if approached the island. The planes were ordered to keep their distance and to avoid drawing the attention of the monster. Thirty minutes later, Angirus had arrived in the coastal waters of Luzon, just off of the landing zone. He was close enough that troops from the shore could see a form begin to emerge from the waves. Guns were leveled to their predetermined attack ranges. The plan was to let the monster get just off of the shore before opening up on it with one massive artillery barrage.
When Angirus finally made landfall, the troops realized what they were up against, a living mountain of teeth and spikes. The monster stopped just after stepping off the beach, as if it sensed something was amiss. It eyed the trees that had been cut down around it and looked upward towards the camouflaged gun positions. It opened its mouth and roared a warning that split the sky like thunder. It shook the resolve of many a man entrenched along the defensive line. In the command center beyond the line, the windows rattled and the blood of everyone inside ran cold.
Angirus advanced forward and wandered into the attack zone. The general sent out the order to commence firing, but only half the guns opened up initially. Many of the guns crews were still too stunned by what they were seeing to react. After the first barrage shook them back to reality, the rest joined in squad by squad. The shells arched in and for the most part hit Angirus on his spiked carapace. Some of the shells bounced right off and others detonated immediately on impact.
The monster continued to advance just the same. Before long, it had entered the mine field and began to set off explosion after explosion. It continued through the mine field until it came to the obstacles that were meant to slow it down, and they did, but only for about ten seconds. The monster crushed them like they were made out of thin aluminum and moved onward. Angirus got closer and closer to the defensive line until it was in range of the tanks, which opened up on him. Their shells mostly hit the neck and legs of Angirus, which were less armored, but still had no discernible effect on him.
The monster was getting uncomfortably close to the defense line and men were starting to panic. Angirus was too close for the artillery to effectively target him anymore. The gun crews on the wings of the perimeter were frantically trying to re-position their guns, while the men in the center were abandoning their positions. It was then that the hum of plane engines could be heard as the noise from the artillery fire died down.
The air-force had arrived with its bombers. There were dozens of B-17s and B-25s ready to pounce with their payloads. There was a problem however. No one had anticipated Angirus advancing as quickly as he had. He was meant to still be at the beach obstacles at that point. As it was, he was dangerously close to the army's lines, which put them at risk for friendly fire from the bombs.
The flight commander had to quickly decide if he should press the attack or abort. He chose the former and radioed his planes to proceed. Angirus stopped his advance and looked up at the sky full of noisy planes just in time to see the bombs begin to fall. A few painstakingly long seconds later, the explosions started as 500 lbs and 1000 lbs bombs hit on and around Angirus. The explosions continued in a deadly line behind, on top of, and finally in front the monster until they started falling into the lines of the army positions. Anyone who remained in that section of the right wing was caught up in the explosions that followed.
Dust, smoke, and debris filled the air as the onslaught continued, masking a good portion of the battlefield. The explosions stopped as the planes finished their bombing run, and for a time, things were still. As the dust began to settle, everyone could see that the planes had made some positive impact. Angirus remained largely undamaged, but the force of the bombs had knocked him on his side and he appeared to be having a hard time righting himself. This gave the army units time to regroup.
The reprieve was short lived though. Angirus soon found his footing and shook off the dirt the bombs had covered him in. He set his sights on the field command center and advanced upon it. The command staff evacuated as quickly as they could. With that, any control on the battlefield was shattered.
Angirus smashed the tin building and began to work his way down the line of the right wing, destroying everything in his path as he went. A column of armored cars took off into the mine field to escape and, one by one, blew up. It looked as though the battle was lost until a single tank at the end of the line leveled its barrel and took careful aim at Angirus's head.
The tank fired one shot that landed just to the left of monster's right eye. The shot had an immediate effect and Angirus stopped his tracks. It brought its paw up to its face and swept it around irritated. The tank let off a second round that was just a little more inside of the first shot, but it seemed like it was enough to convince Angirus that he had lost the initiative and it was better off to retiring from the field.
The fleet arrived just in time to see the monster angrily turn towards the shore and begin to retreat. All the remaining army units, primary in the left wing, rallied and shelled the monster relentlessly. The fleet began to deploy in an effort to try to cut Angirus off. The battleships and destroyers moved in close to the shore to get their cannons and torpedoes as close as possible to inflict maximum damage.
As quick as the fleet rushed into position, Angirus managed to move faster. He crashed into the water and began to swim out of the danger zone. It soon became clear the fleet was not going to be able to trap him as planned. However, that didn't mean the warships couldn't get in some good licks. It would be several minutes before Angirus would be able to get into deep enough water to completely submerge and warships would be able to pour in a lot of firepower in that window. Massive shells from the battleships quickly found the range and swarms of torpedoes were ranking Angirus's sides.
Angirus finally managed to get under the reach of the battleship's main cannons, but his ordeal was not over yet. The destroyers dogged him as long as they could with depth charges, and given that he was still in the shallow waters near the shore, he could not dive deep enough to avoid them. Twenty minutes of relentless depth charge attacks finally brought the battle to an end.
Following the immediate battle, the fleet continued to track Angirus for days over hundreds of miles until he reached the Mariana Trench. The monster disappeared down into it and beyond our ability to track him.
The other naval powers in the Pacific helped us patrol the area for months afterwards, but there was no sign of Angirus. It seemed like we had prevailed. After being hit by what the admiral described as an "Orgy of firepower" it was hoped that he had finally been killed. Angirus had certainly taken an insane amount of punishment in the battle of Luzon, and at the very least, we had scored an important victory over him.
Like most things in life though, the victory was short lived. We didn't know it yet, but the next trial for humanity was already beginning in northern China.
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Chapter 4: The Chinese Dragon.
"Have you had enough for one day Penwood?" Marcus asked. "Should we call it a day?"
"Are you kidding? I have not yet begun to fight!" Penwood replied with a grin. "I'm eager to hear more."
"Well, I suppose these reports aren't going to sort themselves." Marcus groaned. Penwood got the sense that the mood in the room shifted. Marcus got up and grabbed the next file. He seemed a little unsettled when he sat back down. "Very well, we'll press on then."
Marcus quietly passed the file over to Marcus. He picked it up and saw it was labeled as 'The Chinese Dragon'.
"As I said, following our victory at the Philippines we patrolled the waters near the Marianas Trench fruitlessly for months." Marcus began. "Week by week, our forces dwindled as ships were withdrawn to other more pressing duties. It seemed pointless to commit so much of our fleet when there were no signs of danger and our resources could be used elsewhere."
The Japanese remained a big threat. We managed to cooperate with them while Angirus was a thorn in both of our sides, but with him gone, relations were slipping back to where they had been previously. Though the Japanese had taken more losses than we had fighting the monster, they were still trying to aggressively expand their holdings. They focused their efforts on the invasion of China. We did what we could to counter their progress by supplying the Chinese, but without direct intervention on our part, the Chinese were always going to be at a tactical disadvantage.
The day finally came when the Enterprise was recalled back to Pearl, along with its entire battle group. Our task force's departure left only a token force out there on patrol, but there was nothing for it. Command did not like the Japanese being able to keep tabs on our capital ships. Better to keep them guessing as to our whereabouts. I personally was happy to be heading for home. It meant that I would be able to see Shauna again after being away so very long.
I had been writing her every couple of days to help fill the void in my down time. I keep her up to date on what I was doing and let her know I was still ok. I told her a little about how the campaign had progressed. I assumed she would have heard about the land battle at the Philippines and would be curious. I left out most of the gruesome details. It was better that she not know too much.
On that account, I had overheard two officers talking about the aftermath of the battle while waiting to speak with Admiral Nimitz. They were discussing the causality reports from the field. They were grim to say the least. Nearly a thousand men had been killed or wounded. Twenty-four tanks were damaged or destroyed, mostly destroyed. Plus there were considerable losses in artillery, trucks, and other equipment.
While it was a victory, it certainly was a costly one. The officers said they had to bring in heavy cranes to pull out the tanks that had been smashed into the ground. Apparently when they did, what was left of the crews started to leak out from the cracks. After a few of those nasty surprises, they debated if would be better to leave the rest of the tanks in the ground. It was terrible business for everyone involved. I'm glad I was not there to see it for myself.
In an effort to avoid moral issues, only a small unit of select men were assigned handle that detail after the first day. The rest of the men were assigned to clearing off the remainder of the battlefield, which mostly involved finding and setting off the unexploded landmines. If they didn't, they risked civilians setting them off by accident later and that would be a public relations nightmare. So, as dangerous and tedious as the job was, the army had to sweep the entire area clean section by section. They even did it twice, just to be sure. The surviving pill boxes were left in place, but the artillery was recovered to be re-purposed.
When I finally got in to see the Admiral, he was very pleased with the outcome of the battle. In fact, he told me that I was going to get a metal, seeing as my idea had made the victory possible. I was less enthusiastic about it than he was. For the second time since I entered the service, I would be receiving a commendation I didn't think I deserved.
The fleet pressed on and we arrived back at Pearl. We came home to a crowd cheering us on and treating us like heroes. There was confetti, red white and blue flags waving, and a military band blaring stars and stripes forever as we arrived. They really went the whole nine-yards to make us feel welcomed. I allowed myself to feel a bit of pride at the moment, but it was short lived.
It wasn't long after we were off the boat that I got an unsettling bit of news. It seemed that I had been wrong. I wasn't to receive two metals I didn't deserve. Instead, I was going to get five. It was all arranged ahead of time. They held an elaborate ceremony in the parade grounds. I, along with many other sailors were decorated. Every man who stepped off a boat got piece of flair to wear.
They rushed us off to the ceremony straight away and started pinning us up. I personally received the Navy Presidential Unit Citation just for being on at Pearl when it was attacked, the Navy Unit Commendation for being on the Enterprise at the battle at the Philippines, the Navy Achievement Medal and the Navy Commendation Medal for suggesting how we could lure Angirus into our trap, and finally a Bronze Star Medal for rescuing those sailors from the water at Pearl.
The last one was the only one was the only one I felt good about. It was the only one I had really earned. I suppose I should have felt honored for the rest too, but as the ceremony wrapped up, I walked away I feeling mostly guilt. There were too many men left dead on the field to feel anything positive about it.
Following the ceremony, they granted us immediate leave and set us loose to do as we wished. I chose to walk the harbor alone while the celebration raged around me. I observed the repairs to the base that had taken place since the attack. After a couple months of work, they appeared to be progressing very well. the base was not quite as it was before, but it was well on its way.
Eventually I found myself outside of the naval hospital, it was not by mistake. I went inside and found a pleasant young lady manning the front desk. She smiled and blushed when I said who I was and that I was looking for Shauna. She told me that she was not at the hospital and that she had taken the day off. I did not press her for more information. I simply thanked her for her help and decided to try Shauna at home instead.
As it turned out, I wouldn't have to go that far. As I left the hospital I found an attractive young woman in a radiate yellow sun dress waiting for me just outside. It was Shauna.
"You didn't wait up for me after the ceremony." She smirked.
"You were there?" I stammered out, taken a little off guard.
"Well of course I was. But I was in the back and you left before I could get through the crowd. It's not easy to move fast in heels you know." She scowled.
"I had no idea." I replied.
"About the heels?" She asked raising an eyebrow. "Well, I should hope not."
"No, about you being at the ceremony." I realized a second too late that she had only been joking with me. I quickly tried to recover my dignity. "You look great."
"So do you." She rebuffed, looking up and down. "You look more grown up than I remember." I smiled. She always seemed to be a step ahead of me in conversation. She was sharp as a tack and didn't miss a thing. In those months at sea I had turned eighteen. I had grown an inch and filled in a bit too. I looked more like a proper man and less of an adolescent schoolboy. I noticed that Shauna also looked a little more mature herself. She had grown more beautiful and somehow even more self-confident. Seeing her in that dress probably didn't hurt my perception of her either.
"Well, seeing as we are both already dressed up and free, how about that dinner you promised me?" She asked.
"I wouldn't dare make you wait a moment longer." I answered. "Please lead the way."
Shauna took to me to her favor place. I had little choice in the matter. I hadn't spent enough time on the island to have the slightest clue about local restaurants. It turned out she had good taste though. She managed to find a nice Italian place that felt a little closer to home for me. I sat and ate while she told me about all the goings on I had missed while away. It had been slower for her while the fleet had been away. She relished each of the letters I had sent her. They made her feel like she was a little closer to the action. I was glad that she wasn't.
She told me that she wished she could have written back to me, but we never stayed at any port long enough to allow for that. There were so many things she asked me about and I happily answered them all. That is, until she asked me about the one thing I had been dreading.
"So I hear you're the big hero now, impressing the big wigs and whatnot, how does it feel?" I looked down at my empty plate. She realized immediately that she had said something wrong.
"Well..." I struggled to find the right words. "The thing about that is..."
"Hey, it's ok. You don't have to say anything." She put her hand on mine. "Lets get out of here and we can talk about it later."
"Alright." I agreed.
We payed the bill and set off along the harbor. It was quite for a time. The sun was setting, and aside from my gloomy attitude, everything was perfect. I looked down at the water in the harbor.
"I feel like I should throw these metals into the bay." I told her, unpinning one of them and holding it in my hand.
"Why would you say that?" She stepped up beside me looking down at our reflections in the water.
"I didn't earn them and they are weighing heavily on me." I laid out all that had been burdening my mind. It was easy to talk to her. When I was done she took my hand and squeezed it tenderly.
"I understand how you feel." She began. "My father was a navy man too and he went though something similar to what you did during the Great War. He was on a ship that was torpedoed by a German U-boat. Only he and a handful of men managed to get on the lifeboats in time. Most of his friends didn't make it. They went down with the ship. He had been lucky enough to be on the deck at the time of the attack. I'm telling you this because I think you have what he had, survivor's guilt. My father went on for years dealing with it on his own and it tore him up inside. I'd hate for you to do the same. I know it's not going to be easy, but in time it will get better. You can't blame yourself for your crew-mates on the Houston."
"You might be right about that, but I can blame for the soldiers at the Philippines."
"Well, that is a different sort of beast." She noted. "But allow me play Devil's advocate for you. Now let me start by saying I don't agree that you are responsible for any of the deaths that resulted from your suggestion to use oil to lure Angirus into a trap in the first place, but lets pretend for a moment that I do. Given the circumstances, I think sacrificing a thousand men is the right call." I sat there in shock, letting what she said sink in.
"Has anyone ever told you you're pretty cold for a medical professional?" I said half joking.
"Well, lets look at it from a medical standpoint." She began. "If you have a patient with diseased tissue that is un-salvageable, you cut it out. And when you cut it out, it is common practice to cut out a fair amount of healthy tissue around it to insure the infection is totally gone. It's a harsh reality, but there's no getting around it. Sometimes you have to make a smaller sacrifice for the greater good. So, as sad as it is to loose a thousand men, I think it's worth it when you consider just how many people might have been saved in the process. Who knows how many more people would have been died if Angirus hadn't been stopped when he was. Maybe, just maybe, the people who put those ribbons on your chest knew what they were doing." She smiled. I sat there and thought it over.
In the long term the question of sacrificing men for the greater good was an idea I would struggle with for the rest of my career. It's a fine idea if you can just think of the men as numbers on a casualty report, but it doesn't account for the living breathing individuals lost. In the moment though, she had me convinced, or maybe I just needed to believe it at the time. Then and there she was a saving grace in a moment of uncertainty. She took the metal and repined it with he rest.
"Did it hurt?" I asked her.
"What?" She replied, understandably confused.
"When you fell from heaven?" I mused.
"Are you implying that I'm Lucifer?" She smirked devilishly at me.
"Ha, let's go Lucy."
"Hey, who's Lucy? You trying to two-time me sailor? If so, I'll blacken yer eye good!" She always had to have the last word. But I got the last laugh in the long run. From then on, my pet name for her was Lucy.
We walked on the beach after that. The sunset was almost complete when we settled under a pair of palm trees. The breeze was gently swinging the leaves and the waves rolled in calmly up the sand. I made use of my former boy-scout training and built a small fire. Shauna seemed impressed by the minor feat, but she was from San Francisco and building a fire must have been something pretty far removed from a normal city girl's skill-set.
We sat and watched the waves roll in and she told me about her upbringing, her family, and her city. I had never been to San Francisco, but it sounded nice. I told her I'd like to visit it. She told me that someday she'd take me there and show me everything there was to see. We talked so long that the stars came out. The fire kept the cold away, though the night was fairly mild in any case.
After a few hours of stargazing, we decided to go back to Shauna's to have some desert. She had a made a chocolate pie that morning and it was hard to say no to that. It was well worth the trip. It was so good I had to have a second piece. After we were done eating, we turned on the radio and sat on the couch listened to the evening news.
As I listened, Shauna leaned over and rested her head on my shoulder. I felt a mix of excitement and panic in equal measure. I felt woefully under-prepared for the situation. The only thing I could think do was to lean back towards her and rest my head on hers. I sat there with butterflies waging an all out war in my stomach and my mind racing in circles. I only hoped the chaos running through my whole body wasn't showing through on the surface. The sounds of the radio drifted away while I was lost in my thoughts.
A few moments later, Shauna's head lifted away from mine and I frozen in considering my next move. I turned my head to see her staring at me. Her green eyes fixed on mine. My uncertainly melted away and I understood what she wanted. I could see for the fist time that she was as uncertain as I had felt moment ago. We were finally on an even playing field. She leaned in and I instinctively did the same. I closed my eyes as we inched closer together slowly. After a second that felt like a hour, our lips finally locked. In the moment, I felt like sparks might have been flying out of my whole body. Lightening flashed up and down my spine.
The feeling died down and all that was left was the warmth of her lips on mine. It was nice, nicer than I would have thought possible. Something in me shattered and I felt real love for the first time in my life. It had eluded me up until that point, but it had finally found me. In the background, I didn't hear the newsman say that there was a level nine earthquake recorded in Northern China that day. The only thing in the world to me at the moment was Shauna. We lay on the couch snuggled together and fell asleep.
The next morning, Shauna was up before I was making breakfast. I awoke to the smell of eggs, bacon, and toast. I came the kitchen just as she was finishing things up. I wrapped my arms around her and embraced her from behind, being careful not to make her drop anything by accident. She turned her head and caressed my cheek with her hand in a warm greeting.
"Good morning sleepy head." She said with her typical smirk. "I was hoping you'd be up soon. Go on and sit on down, I'll be right with you." I did as she asked without protest, but she flicked her hair and hit me in the face as a tease anyway. Her hair smelled nice, like a fresh field of flowers.
We sat down together and ate. It was clear from the first bite that she knew what she was doing. I complimented her cooking, which she seemed to appreciate. When we were finished, she changed clothes and we set out on the town to explore. I still had a few days leave and I wanted to spend every minute of it with her. I was completely enthralled with her. Unlikely myself though, she still had responsibilities.
After a few hours of running around, she had to report back top the hospital. I hated to see her go, but there wasn't much I could do about it. I couldn't follow her around all day like a lost puppy. Not knowing what else to do with myself, I reported back to base. I wasn't there for more than five minutes before Joe found me and was pressing me for details. I tried to avoid telling him too much, but when you're happy sometimes it just comes bursting out of you. Joe swooned with all the pride of an older brother. He was happy for me.
Joe had news for me too. While I was gone, a letter came for me from the Naval Office. It had 'somehow' fell open. It contained news of a promotion for me. I was to be raised from a Seamen to a Petty Officer, 3rd class. I eyed Joe for opening the letter for me, but it was hard to be mad at him.
"Ha, I don't believe it!" I burst out in shock. "Down and give me fifty sailor!" I ordered Joe, reminding him that I outranked him now. I slapped him in the arm to make sure he knew I was only joking.
"I'll buy you lunch to celebrate." Joe offered.
"No, I think I'll take you out instead buddy." I countered. "I feel like a million bucks. I finally feel like things are starting to slide into place for me."
While we were chowing down, Joe asked me if I had heard about the earthquake. When I told him that I had no idea what he was talking about he looked surprised. He told me that I outta have. Everybody on base was talking about it. It was the biggest earthquake on record, estimated at 9.6 magnitude. The old record had been only been about 9.0, set over sixty year before. He also said that the aftershocks were still ongoing.
I joked that it must have been one hell of a 'shake, rattle, and roll'. He remarked that I probably hadn't noticed because I was doing too much of that on my own the night before. I gave him a sharp glare and he dropped it. I spent a few more hours with Joe, mostly just screwing around. We met up with some of the other guys from the Enterprise and I got to show off my new stripes. Joe and I were still relatively outsiders from the rest of the crew, but they were quickly warming up to us.
In the days that followed, I spent more and more time with Shauna and our bond grew stronger. I took her out to dance each evening and we listened to the radio afterwards. The news from the other side of the world grew stranger and stranger. The aftershocks following the huge earthquake had not stopped. The newsman explained that aftershocks normally would stop relatively soon after the main earthquake. At the very most, they typically would not persist past the first twenty-four hours. It was now three days later and they were still going strong, and that was not all. Even more strange, the aftershocks seemed to be moving away from the epicenter of the initial earthquake and were moving Southward. That was completely unheard of. Scientists couldn't agree on why it was happening, but they all agreed that it was happening.
The epicenter had been in a remote, isolated area, so the damage to human life was minimal, but the aftershocks were hitting pockets of civilization as they moved further southward into Japanese puppet state of Manchukou. Roads and railways were caving in all over the country disrupting travel and trade.
Manchukou had formerly been the Northern part of China. It had been conquered by the Japanese some years earlier and was being used as the staging ground to invade other parts of China that the Japanese didn't already control. The fact that the infrastructure there was being torn up was great news for the Chinese. It meant that the Japanese would have a hell of a time moving armies and supplies southward, but there was still an uneasiness to the unprecedented turn of events.
As for myself, I was downright worried as I sat with Shauna and listened to the events unfold. The radio reports indicated that the tremors were on a direct path towards the city of Beizhen, the main supply center of the Japanese army in Manchukou.
The next day, my worst fears were realized. The news reported that during the night a monster had appeared an attacked Beizhen. At first they reported it as being Angirus, but soon the reports were amended. They said instead that it was a completely new monster. They were lucky enough to have gotten a couple of photos, which confirmed a totally new creature was responsible. A surveyor happened to be taking pictures in the hills nearby an snapped several photos of it, giving the world at large their first real look at it.
Penwood came across a page containing the first photos taken. In some ways, it was similar to Angirus, which is probably why it had been misidentified initially. It too, was a massive quadrupedal reptilian creature. The photos in the file were black and white, but there was a note identifying the color of its body as reddish-brown. It also had a horn on its forehead and what appeared to be armored plates on its back. The one thing that distinctly set it apart from Angirus were its large floppy ears that were not unlike a K-9s.
Another thing set Angirus and the new monster apart were the results of their attacks. Unlike Angirus, very few people who saw the new monster lived to report anything useful about it. There were two things they knew for sure about it. First, they knew it liked to attack at night. Second, it seemed to like eating people. Each city or town had at least one thing in common, after the attack was over, a sizable portion of the population was missing.
The new monster began its attack at the military supply depot on the outskirts and then rampaged through the city itself, catching the Japanese garrison completely by surprise. Food stocks, piles of ammo, and a field full of tanks and other parked vehicles were destroyed. Once the monster had devastated the city, it started moving further southward.
The next day, orders came down. The Enterprise and her battle group were being recalled. Beizhen had been just a few hundred miles north of the Chinese border and the monster was moving further southward every day. The Chinese were not equipped to handle a monster on their own. A large portion of the U.S. Pacific fleet was being sent to support them however we could.
The Enterprise set sail the next day. I had enough time to say goodbye to Shauna, but little else. I saw her on the docks below from the deck above. She was crying. She hated the idea of me having to face off with a giant monster again, but there was nothing either of us could do about it. All I could do is wave farewell and hope I'd see her again soon.
In the time it took the fleet to steam across the Pacific Ocean, the new monster had crossed the Chinese border and destroyed three villages before retreating back across the border into Manchukuo. As expected, the Chinese could do little to stop it. They hand thousands upon thousands of riflemen and some light artillery at their disposal, but that simply was not enough to deal with the threat at hand.
Across the border to the north, the Japanese were still trying to get organized. They were having a hard time scraping enough forces together to counter attack the beast. They had lost a lot of equipment in its initial attack, and despite the fact that the monster was on land and huge, they were having difficult time keeping track of it. The creature would disappear randomly and then pop up somewhere else.
It didn't help that the aftershocks that had preceded creature's appearance persisted long after its reign of terror began. The aftershocks tore up the landscape and everything in it. Columns of troops searching for the monster would suddenly find the road the were using gouged and ready to give way, making pursuit hopeless.
Tracking the monster also proved difficult as the aftershocks that plagued the country made it hard to discern what was damage due to the monster's passing and what wasn't. A week before our fleet arrived, the monster attacked the main train yard in Manchukou.
A week after the train yard attack, the Japanese were able to patch enough of their forces together to make a major counter attack. Reports indicated that the creature had been spotted about thirty miles south of the city of Shenyang. The Japanese wasted no time and rushed their forces in.
Unfortunately, they didn't understand what they were dealing with yet. They had assumed that this monster could be dealt with the same way we had dealt with Angirus. This monster was very different however, and they were about to discover that first hand.
As the Japanese column approached the area, their scouts reported that the monster had settled on a nearby plain. It had finally stopped long enough for the Japanese forces to zero in on its position. Scout planes ran daily flights to keep track of it, just in case the monster tried to slip away. Patrols were hard though, the weather had been overcast for days making it difficult for reconnaissance flights to spot the monster.
When the main body of the Japanese army was able to catch up, they set up camp just outside the the mouth of the valley. They were confident in victory. The basin where the monster had chosen to rest only had one way in or out. The Japanese quietly dug in the night before, sealing off the area and preventing the creature's escape. Artillery was placed in the hills and their tanks stacked up behind them waiting for the order to attack.
In the morning, all was in place and ready. The original plan had called for the Japanese air-force to make the first attack. The Japanese army's only job was to contain the monster. If it approached their position, the artillery would open up on it, followed by a charge from the tanks. Trouble was, the weather was not cooperating. The overcast night had progressed into a general fog by 0700 hrs. The soup was too thick for planes to accurately navigate the morning air.
On the ground, there was enough visibility to see about sixty-meters. The army commanders were confident that they would be able to handle the monster on their own since they had it penned in. After weeks of fruitless chasing, they were eager for battle. They decided to proceed without the help of the Japanese air-force.
The order was given and dozens tanks poured into the valley after the monster they had dubbed Baragon. With it trapped and their armor closing in, it was just a matter of time before the Japanese would have victory.
The tanks rolled down into the valley and raced to get the monster within the range of their cannons. Through the fog, they could see the outline of its bulk. The gunners adjusted their rangefinders while other members of the crew prepared shells. On the far side of the valley, Baragon stirred from its rest, having heard the tank's engines and the squeaking of their treads. It roared a challenge to the invaders, but otherwise held its position.
At the front of the armored column, the Japanese tank commander could feel his teeth rattle, but was undeterred. He urged his men to be brave and to press forward into firing range. A few of the tanks slowed down, but none of them stopped. They dutifully pressed forward, trying to ignore the terror in front of them.
Suddenly, the ground below the lead tank gave out. It fell into a deep crevice and landed on its side, stopping it cold. Crews from other tanks had not noticed and its sudden disappearance went unmarked. Most eyes were on the monster, which was becoming more and more clear as they approached it. The column continued on unaware of the danger around them.
Another tank hit a patch of loose soil and disappeared. Then another one shortly after that. This time other tank crews did take notice, but they charged forward anyway, not understanding what was happening. More tanks started to fall through the earth, most being disabled in the process. With five of his units falling victim to the treacherous terrain, the tank commander finally signaled for all his units to stop and hold their positions.
The commander popped his hatch and took a good long look at the ground around them. He could see that the soil had been disturbed throughout the entire valley. He finally understood what was happening and radioed for his tanks to fall back to their original defensive line. They would let the artillery and air force take care of the monster as soon as the weather cleared up. He instructed the crews of the disabled units to abandon their tanks get out of the holes if they could. They were to make their way to the nearest vehicles or to hoof it back on foot.
It was at that moment that Baragon struck. He thundered across the gap between himself and the tanks in no time at all and began to smash them one by one. In a panic, the crews tried to retreat, but in their haste even more of them fell into holes. The tank column lost all cohesion in the ensuing chaos. They were in serious trouble.
With his forces in shambles, the tank commander frantically radioed his men, attempting to rally them to stand and fight. To their credit, the remaining tanks turned their turrets and took aim at Baragon. Muzzle flashes lite up the patches of fog in the desperate fight. The artillery crews at the valley entrance could see what was happening and began firing their cannons trying to help their comrades. Unfortunately, the monster was so intermixed with the tanks at that point that the artillery shells were hitting their own men as well as the monster.
The artillery barrage seemed to enrage Baragon. His attacks became more feral with every passing moment. One artillery shell him him on the side of his belly where he had no armor plates. The monster roared in anger. Then something happened that no one was expecting. The monster opened his mouth and spewed forth flames, engulfing three tanks that were in front of him.
With that hellish sight, most of the remaining tanks had seen enough and withdrew. The tank commander was left with just a handful of machines left to fight with by this time. He watched in horror as the monster bared down on his own tank. The victory he sought, which seemed to have been within his grasp just minutes before, was now burning all around him.
The monster lumbered over the command tank and looked down at him. Baragon's sharp red eyes watched and waited just a moment before he brought his jaws down the the steel machine, crushing it.
The Japanese tanks were in complete disarray from that point forward. What remained of their forces tried to retreat out of the valley all at once and got bottle-necked at the entrance. The vehicles in the rear were trapped by the ones in the front and were sitting ducks for the monster when it arrived. Baragon worked his way up the line until most of the machines were wrecked. He used his flaming breath a second time, turning the remaining tanks into steel ovens, which cooked the men trapped inside them alive. The artillery crews routed upon seeing that and left their equipment without firing another shot.
Defeat for the Japanese army was complete and total. They had lost five hundred men and nearly fifty tanks.
Three hours later, the weather had started to clear and the Japanese air-force was sent out to avenge their fallen countrymen. Scouts reported that Baragon had remained in the valley after the battle. It turned out he was eating survivors and corpses. As word got out about it, the airmen swore revenge as they closed in on their target. The honor of the Japan itself had been besmirched by the monster, and they would reclaim it.
The fog had completely lifted by the time the planes arrived at the battlefield, which meant they had a clear shot at Baragon for their attack run.
Baragon's ears perked up when he heard the hum of the Betty bombers approaching. The monster seemed to understand that the aircraft were a threat. He sat there like a sitting duck, seeming to consider his options. Perhaps it was trying to decide if its flames would be able to reach the aircraft, as it would be his only defense against them.
The answer came only a moment later. For the third time that day, Baragon managed to surprise the Japanese. Anyone watching expected to see the monster make a vain attack on the bombers that were quickly closing in above him. Baragon instead did something the Japanese never could have predicted. He crouched down and began to dig into the earth with his massive claws. To the astonishment to all present, he managed to disappear into the ground before the bombers could score a single hit with against him.
It was only at that moment that the Japanese realized that the monster had been playing with them from the very beginning. Baragon had chosen the valley intentionally to draw them in. They never had him trapped at all. He could have left at any point in time. Whats more, it was also clear that the ground beneath the tanks that had given way during the battle was in fact a trap the monster had dug for them in advance. The beast was far more intelligent than they ever dared guess.
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- Joined: Sat Dec 01, 2012 9:53 am
Quick shout out to ROMG4 and Living Corpse, appreciate the feedback.
I'll be posting a chapter update tomorrow night. I meant to get it out tonight, but it's taking a little longer than I would have liked to get everything lined up.
At some point here soon I'm going to go back a rename a couple chapters too. Some of the earlier ones kind of grew beyond what I had originally planned and had to got split into multiple parts. I need to go back and make them look a little more uniform.
Sorry if the chapter updates have been too far between so far. This story in general is going to take a while. I have an outline of where I want to go with it, but it's pretty much being written on the fly from chapter to chapter, so updates are going to be a little hit or miss.
The one thing you can expect every time is to find something a little different. Hopefully the story itself is entertaining enough on its own, but I've been working on the miniatures for quite a long time now. So whether it be a new building, a monster, or vehicle there will always be something new in the photos each and every time to keep things fresh.
Anyways, hope everyone is enjoying this topic so far. I'm enjoying sharing my work.
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- Joined: Sat Dec 01, 2012 9:53 am
Chapter 5. Terror in the Night.
"Leaving Shauna for the second time proved to be much harder than it had been the first time. Before she had only been some girl that I liked and hoped that she liked me in return. I barely knew her when we had left for the Philippines, but as we sailed for China she had grown into my sweetheart. I would have traded an entire year of my life to have stayed with her for a few more days."
"I thought about her constantly. I hoped she missed me as much as I missed her. I lay in my bunk at night thinking about what she was doing, cursing myself for not having the freedom to be with her. But unless I decided to jump off the Enterprise and swim the thousands upon thousands of miles of ocean that were between us, there was little for it. Besides, there was the threat of Baragon that needed answering."
"Sir, can I ask you something?" Penwood interjected. Marcus nodded. "I'm just curious, why does Baragon bother you so much more then Angirus? I mean, by the way you talk about it, you clearly feel differently about the two. I can feel your animosity towards it just in your tone. What's the difference, their both monsters right?"
"The difference is simple Penwood." Marcus began. "Angirus was a creature that attacked ships, buildings, or vehicles. Usually only vehicles that fired upon him first. Human beings barely even registered with him. People certainly died when Angirus attacked, but that was incidental. He was never malicious in our encounters with him. In his case, people and things usually just got in his way. Now if you read through the reports and examine them closely, you'll find that it was the opposite with Baragon. If he destroyed a building, it was usually because he wanted to eat the people who were inside. When it attacked, its goal was specifically to target people. It might seem like splinting hairs to an outsider, people died either way after-all, but when you are on the ground and experience it first hand, I can assure you that difference is very important."
Marcus stopped and let Penwood think on it for a moment, but he knew Penwood could never truly understand what he was getting at. It wasn't his fault, he was young and inexperienced. From what Marcus could tell, he had spent a good portion of his career sitting safely in the bowels of the records room. He couldn't begin know what it was like in the field. Only personal experience could give him that understanding. Such as it was, Marcus decided to change the topic.
"Well, in any case, life aboard the Enterprise was not so bad." Marcus continued. "Joe was still with me and I had made some new friends among the crew over the months. The first was Teddy Goldsmith. He was a little greener than Joe and I and the newest addition to our gun crew. We took him under our wing, showing him the ropes. He was a nice kid from the East Coast, I forget just where he was from, but his ascent sounded vaguely New Yorkish. He was kind of scrawny, even after all those weeks at boot camp. Joe and I did our best to toughen him up, and after a couple of weeks, he was starting to get ship-shape."
"We ran drills daily at our post, honing our skills with our five inch cannon. I wasn't sure what good it was going to do against Baragon though. There had never been any signs of him ever coming within fifty miles of the Ocean. Water didn't seem to be his thing and our the furthest firing battleships could only hit a target within a range of twenty-five miles with their big guns. The range on our carrier's guns were significantly less than that. The five inch guns weren't really meant for shore bombardment either, they were rather meant to deter enemy aircraft from raiding the carrier."
"Still, it couldn't hurt to be prepared. Baragon had managed to surprise the Japanese a number of times and it had cost them dearly underestimating him. I figured it would be our flyers who would be doing most of the actual fighting though. They had the range to reach out a couple hundred miles inland, hit their target, and return home. The higher ups thought Baragon would be vulnerable to air attacks if they could just pin him down long enough. He was notoriously slippery."
"Joe and I had grown pretty tight with some of the other guys on our gun crew. There were some real stand out personalities like 'BIG' Jim McClaskey, he was the loader for our gun from Texas. Then there was Nick Baker the Gun Captain, he was a little uptight, but overall an ok guy. We managed to loosen him up over time anyway. Next was Jamie Boggs from somewhere down south, he was the powder man and he loved chewing tobacco. Randy Garrison was a fellow from the Midwest, Colorado I think. He was the check-sight man and the funniest guy on the crew. Joe was the fuse setter, he stood next to me at our station. Teddy just helped move shells into position. I was the Pointer. It was my job to set the position of the cannon as the gun director ordered and ultimately to fire it. We were on the second turret from the bow of the ship on he left side. There were a few other guys too, but we were less close to them.
Nick, Jim, Jamie, Teddy, Randy Joe, and I all bunked in the same area, so we spent almost all our time together. That has a way of bonding guys together. We thought that we were the best gun crew in the fleet. We were the fastest on the Enterprise at least, which was a pretty respectable feat. It gave us a little well-needed confidence to face off with what we were up against. Only Joe and I had a close up look at Angirus, so we were a little wiser to the reality of what we were in for, but even we didn't know what we were about to sail into.
Following the battle between the Japanese and Baragon, an entire two weeks passed without any further attacks. Baragon was keeping a low profile. Either he was worn out from the fight or just full up from eating his spoils. Which of these things it was, I could not say. For whatever reason though, he was off the map. The Japanese were hoping to catch him in the open and attack him from the sky, but flight after flight of reconnaissance aircraft came up empty.
There was a silver lining in it though. The break in the action gave them a much needed breather to reorganize and bring over more men and machinery. Baragon had managed to cripple their ground operations in Northeast Asia. Given their losses, the Japanese had to re-evaluate their options.
Meanwhile, our fleet had arrived and was patrolling the South China Sea. We were too far away to search for Baragon ourselves, but Command insisted that we stay far enough south to avoid running into any Japanese ships. With Baragon nowhere to be found, they didn't want to risk an incident. Once he resurfaced we would be able to deploy accordingly.
As it turned out though, something else was brewing. Something even more dangerous than Baragon. With everything on the mainland going to hell, it had gone unnoticed for some time, but a strange series of events were unfolding.
The day after Baragon disappeared, a single Japanese fighter went missing while on patrol searching for him. It was assumed that the pilot had run into some type of mechanical trouble. There was a brief radio message about a strange whistling noise and then the signal went dead. It was theorized that his engine might have gone out. Debris was later found. It was not clear if the plane had exploded in the air or if it had simply crashed. What was clear, was the plane was found in pieces and the pilot had been cut in half. Despite searching for hours, they never found the rest of his body. It was a gruesome crash, but was nothing compared to what was to come.
The very next day, an entire field of cattle were found dead. It was a nasty sight, a horror mankind had not seen before. Hundreds of carcasses torn apart. Upon examining the scene, the investigators concluded that the bodies were in a state of decomposition which indicated the attack must have occurred a few days earlier. Baragon had still been active at that point, so they attributed the massacre to him. I remember listening to the radio report and thinking it didn't match Baragon's m.o. Earlier reports indicated that his ravenous hunger rarely left anything to be found and there were still plenty of pieces of the steer spread all over the field. Just as telling was the fact that the attack had occurred much further north than any of Baragon's previous attacks. It was so far north that it was nearly at the border with Korea.
A few days after the gruesome discovery in the field, an entire fishing village east of Beijing was destroyed. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that it had been flattened. There was no sign of a fire or explosions, but every single structure had been leveled to the ground. The officials who investigated put the blame on a sudden powerful storm that blew in from the Ocean. That sounded like a reasonable explanation on the surface, but there was something troubling about it. The buildings had all collapsed towards the water. I thought that if there were indeed strong winds from a storm that there should have at least been a few buildings to fall the opposite direction and not in such a distinct pattern. The huts had been uniformly blown over in the same direction.
All the nearby trees were likewise snapped eastward towards the sea. I got the feeling something was awfully wrong. The path of destruction was also limited to a five-hundred yard perimeter around the area of the village. I could almost believe in storm that hits so unilaterally, but for that same storm to also only hit such a narrow stretch of land? That was a little hard to swallow. It didn't seem scientifically possible. Still, no one could put forth a better explanation at the time. None of the villagers were left alive to tell anyone what exactly had happened, so it remained a mystery.
The investigators manged to account for most of the villagers. The majority of them had been crushed inside their homes. However, when family members of the deceased came to identify the bodies and prepare them for burial, they discovered something else strange. A number of villagers were missing, no less than a dozen. Further searches for them came up empty. What happened to the missing people was another mystery.
Two days after the village was discovered, a Japanese military supply ship en-route to the port at Dalian vanished in the Yellow Sea. Whatever happened to it happened fast because there had been no distress call. The few survivors reported being hit by a sudden tidal wave that was large enough to capsize the forty-ton ship, drowning most of the crew who were trapped below decks. The few survivors had been on the far side of the top deck when the wave him them. The only clue they had to offer was the same strange whistle the pilot had reported just prior to his death. It was not clear at the time how the two incidents were connected.
Later that same evening, a British cargo plane went missing on its way to Hong Kong. Unfortunately, it had no radio equipment aboard and it was over the Ocean at the time of it's disappearance, so there were no clues. It was simply gone without a trace. A small Chinese fishing boat did however report seeing a fireball in that area of the distant night sky. They had also heard a noise, but oddly, they did not describe it as a whistle. They said it was more like something tearing the fabric of the sky along with a low billowing rumble. It was too dark for them to have seen anything beyond the light of the explosion.
As I read the reports, I felt as though they were somehow all connected, though I could not quite put together how. On the surface, they seemed unrelated. The only thing connecting two of the incidents was the strange whistling noise. But two instances of the noise did not constitute a pattern. The pattern I should have seen, but did not, was that the incidents were moving progressively further and further south each time.
The night after the cargo plane disappeared, the Enterprise picked up an unidentified object at the edge of our radar range. It was roughly one-hundred miles north of our position. It was moving at an unheard of speed. We assumed that it had to be a glitch, because nothing on Earth was capable of moving that quickly. We were only able to track it for about two minutes before the object went back out of radar range.
It was later calculated that it had been moving at speeds in excess of eight-hundred miles per hour. This was shocking to say the least. Our fastest planes at the time couldn't even go half that fast. We were aware of Japanese planes that could go marginally faster than ours, but nothing that could come close to eight-hundred miles per hour.
Over the next twenty-four hours, it was a hotly debated topic amongst the flight officers and bridge crew. The flyers insisted that something moving that fast wasn't possible. The bridge crew insisted that it was, at least if their instruments had been reading correctly it was. Just in case, the Captain ordered technicians examine every inch of the machinery. After a through diagnostic, they found nothing wrong. It all checked out as operating normally. This set the whole crew abuzz with theories, but there were doubters.
The next evening, while off duty, I requested to assist the radar officer monitor for it, just to see if it would pop up again. I sat with him for hours waiting for the blip to return. Around 2100 hrs it finally did. Apparently it had not been a malfunction or user error, the instruments were reading exactly the same as the night before and our sister carriers Yorktown and Hornet confirmed the same readings from their radar stations. There was indeed an object moving at an unbelievable eight-hundred miles per hour.
Even more terrific than it's speed was the size. Radar back then was pretty rudimentary, so we couldn't tell exactly how big it was, but the blip we got was bigger than anything anyone had ever seen. It was huge and moving fast. The bridge was in an uproar. The excitement of the discovery died down quickly as we started to realize that the object was moving southward, directly toward us. If it maintained its projected speed and course, it would intercept the fleet in about seven minutes.
"All crew to General Quarters!!!" The captain barked out over the ship's intercom. The whole crew sprang into action, preparing for combat. All across the ship, watertight and fireproof doors between bulkheads were shut and crewmen reported to their battle stations. Marines broke out their weapons and took up their posts securing the ship.
I ran from the bridge to join my team at our cannon. I had a bit of a head start, so I was the first to arrive. I strapped myself in and prepared the equipment around me as I had been trained. Joe and the others arrived shorty thereafter.
"Mark, what the hell is going on?" He shouted huffing from running. "Is this some type of drill?"
"No, something big is coming at us!" I warned him. "Get ready, there isn't much time!" I saw the color fall from his face when I said the word 'big'. He understood what that most likely meant. Teddy was right behind Joe and didn't understand. He looked equally scared as Joe none the less. It was going to be his first action and he clearly wasn't ready for it.
"Teddy, just focus on your job and you'll be ok." I assured him. Teddy managed to compose himself and snapped to. The rest of our guys arrived and within moments, the gun was loaded and ready to fire.
On the bridge, the radar officer closely monitored the screen. The object had closed the gap to less than two-hundred miles already. It was still headed directly towards us. The admiral ordered the entire fleet to turn right full rudder, so that the Battleships, cruisers, and destroyers could utilize all of their guns at the incoming threat.
As one, the fleet began to wheel right. At the same time, their turrets turned left and raised their cannons toward the sky. It was a beautiful example of a synchronized fleet maneuver. From there, the admiral ordered the fleet to push forward full speed ahead. Whatever it was coming at us, it would have a harder time hitting moving targets. We were as ready as we could be.
Within the bridge of the Enterprise, the huge radar blip was closing fast and would be entering our firing range within moments. The radar man reported that the target had slowed and was gaining altitude rapidly. It had climbed to from five-thousand feet to nine-thousand feet and it was still climbing. This was a serious problem. Our radar was only capable of detecting objects as high as ten-thousand feet, so if it went much higher we'd loose track of it.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened. It crept up beyond ten-thousand feet and became invisible to our radar. No one knew exactly what to do at the point. We could have opened up with our AA guns and hoped for the best, but even with radar guidance, it wouldn't be very accurate at that range. Firing would also reveal our position on the water. The fleet just waited, exposed.
We anxiously looked to the skies, but it was a cloudy evening, so we could not see what was above us. There was no noise. We sat in our positions weapons ready. We had hundreds of AA guns ready, but at that moment didn't know where to point them. It could have been anywhere. It should have passed over us by then. The tension was getting thicker by the second. The officers vainly tried to use their binoculars. Time went by moment by moment and I started to think that maybe it had already passed us by.
The clouds above us began to break up in the middle and a sliver of moonlight started to creep through. A destroyer near the right outer perimeter of the fleet sailed through into the moonlight. A moment later, the entire fleet could hear a high pitched whistling. It was coming from above and rapidly becoming more intense.
In a flash, the destroyer was cut in half as a massive object moving too quick to get a good look at fell from the sky and splashed down into the Ocean. The destroyer's magazine exploded from the force of the impact and lit up the night sky. It was intense enough that I could feel the heat from the explosion on my face, even five-hundred yards away.
Whatever had hit the destroyer was already beneath the waves. The remaining pieces of the destroyer quickly sank. The rest of the fleet bobbed up and down as the ripple effect of the massive object hitting the water sent a giant wave cascading outward. Men had to cling on for life and limb as the force of it bucked them from their stations. A few men were lost overboard on the smaller ships of the fleet. The crews of the larger ships fared better though.
The impact pushed many ships out of position and the fleet was in chaos. There was suddenly the danger of ship to ship collisions as the various captains tried to regain control and hold their courses. The admiral called for a full stop in an attempt to prevent our ships damaging each other. While there were some near misses, the fleet slowly started to piece its formation back together.
There wasn't enough time to recover though. Our attacker suddenly revealed itself from below the waves. It popped up in an explosive fountain that rained down seawater on the nearby ships. It appeared to be some type of gigantic flying reptile. The creature was brown and had two large horns jetting out of the back of its crest. Its eyes were sharp and predatory like a hawk's. In its beak, it still clutching the section of the destroyer that it had torn away from the rest of the ship.
The creature must have been dissatisfied with what its attack had brought it though. It dropped the remains of ship back into the water and roared its disappointment. As I watched the section of destroyer drop, I noticed the spiked and armored chest of the creature. I briefly had flashbacks to Angirus, but this was clearly different beast.
The fleet struggled to maintain its cohesion. Some of the ships closer to the monster steamed away from it as quickly as possible to put some distance between them. Under the circumstances, I think their captains made the right decision.
One of the cruisers closest to the monster had men running along the deck, which seemed to grab its attention. Its eyes zeroed in on one man and struck out at him. In a flash, it had the sailor in its beak. Only the man's upper torso and head were sticking of its mouth. He was there just long enough for us to hear him shriek before he disappeared down the creature's throat.
After that, the shocked sailors across the entire fleet snapped back into reality and began to retrain their guns at the monster. Most of the guns were pointed in the wrong direction though and resetting them was taking time. As we swung our own personal cannon around on-board the Enterprise we found that we were blocked by the island of the carrier's superstructure. We were ready to fire, but had no shot at it at all.
The ships and gunners that did have clear line of site opened up on it. Machine guns rounds and heavier ordnance began to hit the monster. Enraged, beast lashed out at the closest ship and punctured a gaping hole in the hull. Sea water began to pour in and the ship began to list.
At that point, one of the battleships finally got it's main cannons lined up and fired. However, in the chaos of the fight, it missed its first shot. The attempt had not gone unnoticed by the monster though. The gigantic flying reptile turned its head and seemed to understand that the battleship was a serious threat. It began to flap its wings and take off from the water.
As the monster flapped its wings more furiously, the force of wind it produced caused a nearby destroyer to capsize. The creature took to the air and began to circle the fleet. It was rapidly gaining speed. However, in the air it was more of a presentable target and the entire fleet opened up with their AA guns. Most of the rounds were missing, but a few shots were hitting home. Many of the shots that where finding their mark hit the armored chest and wings. The monster did not seem to care for that.
It sped up even more, and as its speed got higher, we heard a strange pop followed by the whistling noise we had heard before. The creature must have been going at top speed, because we could not even keep up with it with our guns anymore. Firing at it was pointless. It rose in the air higher and higher, still circling us.
Finally, it came back down at us diving right through the middle of the fleet, pressing it's belly down close to the surface.
Its path brought it directly over the Enterprise. A half a second after it passed over us, we were hit by the force of wind like a hurricane. I was lifted clear off of my seat from the force of it. For a couple seconds, it was like I had jumped out of a plane and was free falling. My feet were left dangling below me as I floated. Fortunately, I was still strapped into the gun-chair, but every other man in my gun crew was swept from the flight deck and was blow away, including Joe.
As I came back down into my seat, I turned my had to see what happened to them, but they were gone. I looked behind me and saw that the metal of the Enterprise's island was riddled with dozens of small dents from impacts and red smears of what had been men. I realized in horror that the whole section of AA guns around me were near empty. Only the gunners like me who were strapped down were left, the rest of the crews were gone.
Above us, the monster banked left and disappeared back into the clouds. I sat there in shock. The captain on the bridge announced that the monster was retreating back towards the mainland north of us and that we were out of immediate danger. I didn't hear them though. All my friends were gone and little else mattered at that moment.
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