The place was called the Jet Jaguar. Yamagata had been in several bars like this before. The decor left no doubt about the establishment's preferred clientele; pilots from the nearby air base. Flightsuits, helmets, oxygen masks, even the wingtip from a P-51 Mustang hung from the walls. So did photos of various aircraft, along with pilots and air crew who had died in accidents at Atienza Air Base. A TV hung over the bar, and a pool table, a dartboard, and a pair of video games had been set up in the back.
It proved the perfect place for the men and women of the multi-national squadron to honor those who died fighting the Gyaos.
A Filipino major lifted his shot glass of whiskey. "To our comrades-in-arms who gave their lives to defend the people of the Pacific from the Gyaos. Let us mourn their loss, remember the times we spent together, and honor their memory and bravery."
Dozens of voices blurted, "Salud," "Hear, hear," or "Yeah." Glasses went up, then golden liquid was knocked back.
Yamagata moaned as the warm, sweet sensation lingered on his throat.
Winter called for another round. "To all the civilians lost because of the Gyaos, and to all their families mourning them."
The pilots raised their glasses and downed their whiskey. Yamagata noticed Winter's glass contained Coca-Cola instead of alcohol.
Next, the commanders of each contingent read off the names of the pilots lost. Since the surviving U.S. Navy pilots were all back on the George Washington, Blade read their names, being the Beastmasters' USN representative.
Yamagata kept his head lowered throughout the readings. A lump formed in his throat and tears stung the corners of his eyes. Most of the multi-national pilots he didn't know, while others he only knew in passing. Not that it mattered. American, Filipino, Japanese, Australian, Indonesian, they were all part of the brotherhood. They were fighter pilots. They lived on the razor's edge. They knew the risks that came with their profession. Even before today, many in this room lost friends, either in combat or in training accidents. Yet they continued to take to the air to perfect their skills or defend their countries, or the entire world, against threats, either human or kaiju.
And they would keep doing it. That was their duty.
After they finished reading the names, they drank another round in their honor. Then the beer began flowing, some of it imported brands from the U.S. or Australia, others brewed here in the Philippines.
Yamagata made his way to the bar when he noticed Winter nearby. The tall, dark-haired woman smiled and shook her head at one of the Filipino pilots, who walked away with a dejected look.
"Shot down in flames, I take it."
Winter shrugged. "I already have a boyfriend. He doesn't run around on me when I deploy. I figure I should return the favor."
Yamagata nodded, noticing Winter held a bottle of Coke. Must be the queen of teetotalers.
"I just wanted to tell you, you did a good job here. You definitely proved yourself as a Beastmaster."
Winter straightened, her smile widening. "Thanks, Ninja . . . and thanks for giving me the chance."
"You earned it."
They shook hands. Yamagata then headed for the bar and ordered a San Miguel beer.
"Buy a girl a drink?"
He turned to see Nicole next to him, her back against the bar, giving him a wry grin.
"I only buy drinks for very special girls. Luckily, you qualify."
"Yay." Nicole giggled.
Yamagata ordered two San Miguels and handed one to his girlfriend.
"Well, here's to saving the world again from giant monsters." Nicole clinked her bottle against Yamagata's.
"We had a lot of help." He took a swig. "Including from a giant fire-breathing turtle from another Earth. Holy crap, that sounds like something out of a bad movie."
"Mm." Nicole gripped her bottle by the neck and stared at the floor.
"Something on your mind?" asked Yamagata.
"Just thinking about Commander Rice, Doctor Nagamine, all the others. I checked before we came over. Iwo Jima has winked out a couple of times over the past few hours. But who knows when it might phase back to its actual Earth. Actually, there's no guarantee it will do that. Who's to say those people and Gamera won't wind up on a completely different Earth? I'm sure they all have families. I know Commander Rice's wife is pregnant. I'd just feel so bad for him if he never sees her again, never sees his baby period."
"Unfortunately, it's out of our hands. All we can do is pray it works out for them."
Yamagata took Nicole's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. His stomach lurched when he imagined the situation reversed. What if it was him who might never see Nicole again? Their ten months apart following the Second Civil War had been hard enough. What if they were apart . . . forever?
He hated that thought. To never see her, hold her, just be with her. It was inconceivable.
He brought Nicole's hand to his lips and kissed it. Then he gazed at her fingers, particularly her ring finger.
Had the time come?
Rice groaned as he woke after a 12-hour sleep. His entire body was sore. Big deal. He'd felt a hell of a lot worse during BUD/S – a.k.a, SEAL training.
He rose from the cot in the troop barracks at North Field, then stretched for a few minutes. One good thing about his link with Gamera was the turtle's rapid healing ability. Yesterday he'd felt half-dead after the battle with the Gyaos. Today . . . well, he couldn't declare himself 100 percent. Maybe 85 or 90 percent. More than good enough.
Using his mental link, he checked on Gamera. The monster slumbered about three miles from the base. After his hellacious battle with the Gyaos the day before, he'd earned some rack time.
He also wondered how Godzilla fared after the fight. The radioactive dinosaur had marched back into the ocean after destroying the young Gyaos. From what Yamagata and others on this Earth told him, Godzilla's healing abilities were on par with Gamera's.
Rice exited the barracks, staring at the green-brown hilly landscape of Iwo Jima, still stuck on this parallel Earth. He walked to the front gate, where Mongkut stood guard. Despite the destruction of the Gyaos nest, Rice ordered a watch set, just in case some of the ugly bastards escaped Gamera's and Godzilla's fiery onslaught.
"Everything is quiet," reported the Thai sniper. "Everything has been quiet since you went to sleep."
"And now I've had my fill of sleep. How long until you stand down?"
Mongkut glanced at his watch. "Twenty minutes."
"Good. I'll relieve you. It's about time I pull my weight around here."
Mongkut didn't chuckle. Yeah, it was a lame, unoriginal joke, but it at least deserved a small grin.
Then again, Mongkut had to be one of the least expressive men Rice had ever known.
Nothing happened during Rice's watch. Nothing happened for the rest of the day. A few times he felt a very brief, electric buzz over his skin. Probably Iwo Jima winking out.
Enough of the winking. Pop back to our Earth.
Despite the damage the Gyaos caused to North Field, they could still use the base for shelter, and they found enough food, water, and other supplies to sustain them for weeks. Hopefully it wouldn't take that long for Iwo Jima to phase back to their Earth.
Hopefully it would be their Earth.
With our luck, it'll be a post-apocalyptic Earth, or one ruled by Lava Men, or one where Tom Brady was never born.
The next day, a Japanese Air Self-Defense Force C-130 transport flew over the island and dropped a pallet. It landed on the beach a mile from Mount Suribachi. The SEALs and Nagamine hiked over to it, winding their way around the corpses and body parts of Gyaos. The pallet contained Geiger counters and dosimeter badges similar to those worn by crewmembers on nuclear powered submarines. They still had one final task to perform for the multi-national coalition. Recon Mount Suribachi and confirm all Gyaos were dead.
Nagamine handled the Geiger counter as they made for the mountain. "The readings are slightly elevated, but well within the safety range."
Rice nodded. The higher ups had told them that they had never found more than trace amounts of radioactivity in those areas where Godzilla used his fire breath. The theory was the monster reabsorbed the radiation left over from each blast.
For once, it seemed the higher ups actually knew what they were talking about.
The group entered the mountain. The place smelled like lingering barbecue, and unappetizing barbecue at that. Still, Nagamine picked up no elevated radiation readings, and the dosimeters did not change color.
They went into the nest. The massive opening in the summit provided enough sunlight that they didn't need their flashlights. The walls were charred. Ash covered the floor. Several burnt carcasses lay around them.
One of those carcasses crocked and twitched.
The group froze. The baby Gyaos's skin was a bubbly black instead of the usual red-gray. Its eyes had melted. Rice couldn't believe the damn thing had survived Gamera's and Godzilla's attack.
"Candaele." He jerked his head toward the gravely injured monster. "Finish the job."
"My pleasure." The big SEAL strode over and hefted his SAW. He fired three bursts into the baby Gyaos. It didn't move or crock again.
They found no other living Gyaos in the chamber.
Once outside, Rice radioed the operations center at Atienza Air Base. "Recon of Mount Suribachi complete. All Gyaos are dead. Repeat, all Gyaos are dead."
"Say -" Static drowned out the reply. "Bre . . . Rep . . ."
"Skyfire," Rice used the code for the base's ops center. "Say again."
Static crackled from the receiver.
He started to open his mouth when the world faded around him. A second later, everything solidified. Dizziness swept through his head. Nagamine swayed from side to side. A couple of the SEALs groaned.
"Did you all feel that?" Lonborg rubbed his forehead.
"Yeah," said Rice. "Maybe this means -"
Again, everything around him faded, then rematerialized.
Jim Rice, what is happening? Gamera spoke in his mind. Everything feels strange.
This could be a good thing. It might mean we're about to go home.
The island faded. Blackness fell over Rice's eyes. He felt nothing, heard nothing. Panic slithered through him. It took an effort to beat it down.
The black veil melted away, replaced by blue sky. It took Rice a moment to realize he was on his back, along with the other SEALS and Nagamine. He pushed himself up to a sitting position. "Everyone okay?"
The others nodded or replied, "Yeah," as they sat up.
"You think this means we're back on our Earth?" asked Candaele.
"Only one way to find out." Rice turned to Soto. "Try to raise the Kurishio."
"Okay." The SEAL called the Japanese submarine that had dropped them off on Iwo Jima before the accident. After three tries, he did not get any response.
"Maybe they gave up on us," said Warthan. "It has been a few days since all this crazy shit started."
"Contact the Reagan," ordered Rice. "Hopefully we can get through to them."
"I hope so." Soto switched frequencies. "This is U.S. Navy SEAL team on Iwo Jima calling Gipper. Do you read?"
Dread clamped down on Rice's soul. Please don't let this be another parallel Earth. Rita's face formed in his mind's eye. Would he ever see her –
"SEAL Team, Gipper," a voice finally came over the radio. "Is your CO there?"
"Affirmative." Soto handed Rice the receiver.
"This is Commander Rice, requesting to speak with Admiral Breeden."
A pause. "Wait one, Commander."
Rice took it as a good sign. At least they didn't say, "Who the hell is Admiral Breeden?"
Several minutes passed before the sailor on Reagan spoke. "Commander, what's the name of your tenth grade girlfriend?"
A security question. Rice expected this. They had vanished off the face of the Earth, literally.
"I had two. Jessica Holdsworth and Megan Singleton."
"Who is your second favorite Red Sox player?
"Verified. Standby for Admiral Breeden."
Seconds later, he heard the familiar voice of the CO of the Reagan carrier strike group. "Commander? Where in the hell have you been?"
"Sir, if you'll indulge me. Was South Korea attacked by a monster named Thulgira last year?"
"What?" The shocked response froze Rice with fear.
Breeden continued. "You ought to know the answer to that. You were there. Hell, you linked with Gamera to defeat that monster and save Japan and Alaska from getting nuked."
Rice couldn't contain himself. Joy blew away every ounce of discipline he had. He threw his arms in the air. "We're back home!"
The group whooped, high-fived, and hugged. Tears of joy slid down Nagamine's cheeks. Rice barely heard the admiral's tinny shouts over the celebration.
"Commander Rice? Commander! What the hell is going on?"
"I'm sorry, sir. It just feels good to be back."
"Back? Just where the hell were you?"
"It's a long story, and a pretty wild one, too."
Rice gave a condensed of the events on the parallel Earth. He expected Breeden to call him crazy, but the admiral explained after their disappearance, U.S. and Japanese troops searched Iwo Jima. While they didn't find any living Gyaos, they did find several items that caused confusion to the brass. Damaged aircraft with tail numbers that didn't match anything in the JMSDF inventory. Names of base personnel not in the Defense Force's records, and most curious of all, a DVD with a documentary of giant monster attacks on Japan.
"Sounds like you and your team are in for the mother of all debriefs," said Breeden. "I'll get a meeting arranged at the Japanese Ministry of Defense. Meanwhile, the helicopter carrier Hyuga is about twenty miles west of Iwo Jima. I'll have them dispatch a chopper to pick you up."
"Copy, sir. We'll be waiting."
Rice handed the receiver to Soto when he heard Gamera's voice in his head.
We have returned to our world and the threat by the Gyaos is no more. It is time to severe our link and for me to leave.
I kinda figured that. Thanks for all your help. We couldn't have done it without you.
I could not have defeated the Gyaos without you, or all your human friends. It is an honor to have you as a link.
Likewise. Take it easy, big guy.
Goodbye, Jim Rice.
With one last roar, Gamera blasted into the sky. He spun around, the flames creating a blue aura around his shell, and streaked toward the horizon.
Rice watched him depart, disappointment bubbling within him. The first time he'd linked with Gamera in Korea, it had come as a shock, and it took a long time for him to accept that strange bond. This time . . . he'd welcomed it, felt no reservations about Gamera being a part of his consciousness. He'd been confident that no matter how bad things, the fire-breathing turtle would always have their backs.
Now he was gone.
Warthan slapped him on the shoulder. "You and a giant turtle. That's gotta be the strangest friendship in the world."
"Ha! Maybe we can give the big guy a new nickname. 'Gamera, the friend of all Navy SEALs.'"
The helicopter arrived an hour later and flew them back to the Hyuga. After a change of clothes and something to eat, the Japanese captain allowed them to contact their families.
Rice closed his eyes, fighting back tears when he heard Rita's voice, a voice he feared he might never hear again.
"Thank God. Thank God." His wife's voice cracked. "I didn't know what to think. The Navy said you disappeared, not knowing . . . I haven't been more scared in my life."
"Well I'm back." He had to concentrate to keep his voice steady. "I never lost hope I'd see you again."
Rita sniffled. "Are you coming home soon?"
"I hope so. Hell, after what we've been through I think all of us earned some leave time."
Rice bit his lip. He'd have, what, three, maybe four weeks with his wife? Then it'd be back to duty, and off to who the hell knew where for who the hell knew how long? More months away from Rita, and soon, their child as well. Could he do that for another four, five, or six years? Could they be a family like that?
After finishing his conversation with Rita, Rice went to his berth and stayed there the rest of the night. He had a lot of thinking to do.
The next morning a helicopter flew the SEALs and Nagamine to Japanese MOD headquarters. Admiral Breeden greeted them at the helipad and led them to a conference room on the 12th floor. Several uniformed and civilian personnel were already there, including an unsmiling man wearing large glasses and a dark suit.
Mr. Saito from the National Public Safety Commission.
Rice's eyes narrowed. He thought back to the briefing in this very building before they left for Iwo Jima, where this jerkweed talked about the JSDF's particle beam plane.
Particle beam my ass.
"Doctor." He looked at Nagamine. "I need to get some answers from Mister Saito about what the hell that plane was carrying."
"I would like answers to that, too."
"Good, 'cause I want you to translate for me."
"I am sure there is a professional translator at the Ministry who could do that."
"I'm sure there is," replied Rice. "But I don't trust any of them. I trust you."
A smile crossed Nagamine's face. She followed Rice as he stalked over to the bureaucrat.
Saito forced a smile and said something in Japanese to Nagamine.
"Mister Saito says he is very glad I have returned safe and sound . . . he is also glad you have returned safely."
"He may not be so glad in another minute."
Rice stopped inches from Saito. He winced and looked away, uncomfortable at his personal space being invaded.
"That was not a particle beam on that 767. What was it?"
Nagamine translated Rice's words. Saito's eyes widened behind his glasses. He backed up a step.
"I asked you a question." Rice spoke louder. "What kind of weapon was that plane carrying?"
"Commander," said Breeden. "Back off, now."
Rice froze. He was this close to disobeying an order, from a two-star admiral nonetheless.
Two stars, three stars, fifty stars, he didn't care. He wanted the truth.
"You are mistaken," Saito stammered. "It was a particle beam."
"You lying sack of shit!" Rice grabbed the bureaucrat by the throat and slammed him against the wall.
"Commander, stop! Now!" shouted Breeden. "That's an order!"
Three of the uniformed JSDF men hurried over. Warthan and the other SEALs blocked them. One officer tried to bull his way past. Candaele grabbed the man by the arm and back of the neck and smashed his face into the conference table.
"Listen up, ass-hats." Warthan glared at the other two officers. Nagamine, despite her shocked expression, translated. "We were stuck on a friggin' parallel Earth with a shit-ton of Gyaos, a fire-breathing dinosaur, and no idea if we'd ever get back home. My CO there, his wife's pregnant. He mighta never seen his kid. So we're not going anywhere until that four-eyed limpdick tells us what we wanna know. You got a problem with that, you'll wind up unconscious, and we'll make damn sure it hurts before you black out."
None of the Ministry people moved.
Warthan nodded to Candaele, who let his officer go.
Rice turned back to Saito. "So, what's it gonna be? The truth, or lots of pain?"
Saito crocked and gagged.
"Commander Rice," Nagamine said tentatively. "I cannot understand a word Mister Saito has said."
Rice looked at his hand around the man's throat. "Yeah, I guess this would make it tough to talk."
He let go of Saito's throat . . . and grabbed and twisted the man's wrist. He cried out in pain.
"Now how do I know that plane wasn't carrying a particle beam weapon?" said Rice. "How about the fact that the Earth we went never heard of the Gyaos before. But when we got there, the people we were with told us their first Gyaos attacks happened two days before Iwo Jima phased out of our Earth. My comms specialist Soto, who by the way is a friggin' science genius, told us that matter cannot be completely destroyed, and there was no trace of the Gyaos your 767 killed over Tokyo. So to me, it sounds like you built something that didn't kill the Gyaos, but transported them to another Earth, where they killed thousands and threatened millions more." His voice rose with the last few words.
"Am I right?" He twisted Saito's wrist more.
"Hai! Hai! Hai!"
That word Rice didn't need Nagamine to translate for him.
"So you built a weapon that could send the Gyaos to another world?"
Nagamine's face scrunched in confusion as she translated.
"What bell?" asked Rice. "What are you talking about?"
"A unique device. The Germans. They gave it to us."
"Why would the Germans give you something like this?" asked Soto.
"Not now," explained Saito. "The Germans found it during World War Two, and called it the Bell. They experimented on it for years, but never figured out its purpose. When the Nazis were on the brink of defeat, they loaded many of their advanced weapons and projects onto U-boats and transported them to Japan to keep them out of Allied hands, and in the hopes we could use them to fight the Allies."
Saito drew a breath before continuing. "The U-boat carrying the Bell was docked in a cave near Samani in the north. The military had just begun examining it when the war ended. We suspect the commander in charge of the Bell sank the submarine and sealed the cave to make sure the Americans didn't seize it. Then fifteen years ago, a group of explorers managed to get into the cave and found the U-boat. They contacted the government, and we found the Bell."
"And you started experimenting with it." Rice let go of Saito's hand. "And what, you found it could open a gateway to another world?"
"Yes." Saito grimaced and rubbed his wrist. "After the first appearances of the Gyaos and Gamera, the Ministry of Defense felt the Bell could be turned into a weapon to protect Japan against future monster attacks."
"I'm betting your weapon was never fully stabilized." Soto stared stone-faced at the bureaucrat. "Otherwise why would it just explode?"
Saito eyed the floor. "There were some . . . problems with the energy core. But given the threat to the country, we felt the risk was . . . negligible."
"Did the crew of that plane know how 'negligible' those risks were?" Warthan scowled.
Saito didn't answer, which Rice took as confirmation he hadn't told the crew shit.
The bureaucrat straightened, his face and back stiffening, trying to present some look of being in control. "There. Now you know what sort of weapon we used on the Gyaos." He looked around Rice to Breeden. "Admiral, I demand this man be turned over to Japanese custody. He assaulted a member of the government. He needs to stand trail."
"Go ahead." Rice extended his arms to his side. "Give me my day in court. I can talk about how you used Nazi technology to build an inter-dimensional weapon that cost the lives of what, a dozen or two dozen Defense Force personnel who had no clue how dangerous that thing was."
"And I will be glad to mention how your weapon resulted in the Gyaos being let loose on another Earth," Nagamine added, "where they killed thousands."
Rice aimed a cold grin at Saito. "I'm sure this will put your government in such a positive light."
Saito's shoulders slumped. "I am sure none of this needs to be made public."
"There is one other thing you can do to ensure our silence," said Nagamine.
Saito shivered. He lowered his head, and nodded.
"As far as I'm concerned, you're getting off easy." Rice's tone was low and menacing. "I'd like to see your worthless ass dropped onto some icy rock of an island in the Aleutians, but I guess this'll have to do."
Rice started to turn away when Saito said, "I was trying to protect my country."
"How? By letting the Gyaos threaten another world?"
"I'd rather have them attack another Japan than this one."
A wildfire of rage swept through Rice. He thought of all the multi-national coalition pilots and all the sailors on the Ballarat killed fighting the Gyaos. He thought of all the people killed when those monsters attacked their cities, and the ones carried away to Iwo Jima for food. Did their lives not mean a damn thing to this callous bastard?
Rice spun and launched a fist into Saito's face. He crumpled to the floor. Nagamine stared at him, and nodded.
Rice started to walk away, only to have Admiral Breeden stand in his way.
"Commander, I don't care if you escaped a trial in Japan. You assaulted and blackmailed a member of a foreign government. You disobeyed a direct order from a superior officer. Those are two things I cannot ignore. I imagine the Pentagon also won't want this to go to a court martial because information about the Bell coming to light could embarrass an important ally of the United States. But promotions, advancement, preferred assignments. None of that is going to happen. I'll make sure of that. If I were you, I wouldn't plan on much of a future in the Navy."
Rice shrugged. "Honestly, sir, that's fine with me. I think it's time for me to stop being a full-time SEAL, and start being a full-time husband and father."
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this story. Feel free to check out my original novels, the sea monster thriller "Sea Raptor," the invasion of America novel "Fallen Eagle: Alaska Front," and the alien invasion novel "Dark Wings," all available on Amazon and published under John J. Rust.