“Found your keys yet, Chousuke-san?”, calls a barely audible voice with a slight Japanese inflection from beyond the hilltop. “I have something interesting you might like to see.”
“At the very best, this could mean another chance to ask her out for coffee. At the very least, we’ll get a neat report and maybe even an oft-cited research paper.”, grumbles Chris as he takes the uphill path in strides. A coffee would be really nice. It’s only early October, and yet the winds are already starting to slash their freezing claws at your face. And it’ll get even colder. Luke Zeolla, a fellow Lib-Rep Honors student, is coming to the area as well, so he said on Facebook. But Luke is going to have it bad. He’s going to fly in right at the real start of it all in early January, and in Western Mongolia to boot. It’s a frigid area in a frigid time. But Luke is a healthy, happy man who can take a 5K lap without a sweat and has an accomplished astrophysicist for a wife.
Goddamn hill. Better breathe it off before Tsukiko gets the idea that you don’t work out nearly as much as you used to.
“Sumimasen, Chousuke-san, for rushing you. You seem tired. I forgot that you were looking for your keys at the bottom.”, says Tsukiko in an even tone as she nods curtly as an apology.
“Oh, no, no, it’s fine, I’m just really excited to see what did you find that could be of such interest”, replies Chris with a clumsy smile. Excited? Really, man? You used to have game and now you use words like that of a hound dog, thinks Chris as he doles himself a psychic punch in the gut.
“It’s the cooling chamber”, says Tsukiko, completely oblivious to Chris’s inner struggles. “It’s not what we previously thought it is,” , the young woman looks up at her American colleague and radiates a dazzling smile. Chris thinks he just saw Heaven.
“Well, uhm, what is it then?”, asks Chris. Usually he would compete in the guesswork – half of archeological work is competing your theories and showing off your knowledge. But he doesn’t know what to expect – before coming to this project, people has no idea that such a thing exists.
“I don’t know yet but it is definitely not a nuclear cooling tower.”, frowns Tsukiko. She doesn’t like it when there’s something she doesn’t know about. She still looks very beautiful though, Chris thinks, as the young Japanese archaeologist bites her lips in contemplation and leans her slender figure to the back of her chair in frustration.
The derelict that they just found is a WW2 Japanese ship, found by a Chinese family near the place that they were digging. It is known that after the war, most of the ships are sunk by the Imperial Army, and what could be taken were either hidden or destroyed by the officers. The government of China knows that there is an unexcavated spot where the officers were thought to be hiding equipment or weapons of some kind, and the joint Chinese-Japanese group that Chris is now part of is working on it.
The boy that brought the news to them is one of Chris’s off-hour students. As someone without a real degree in the field, Chris gets less pay in his shifts, so he teaches English overtime in his corner at the research tent. The kid is fascinated that his teacher also works as someone who research history and old things, and casually mentions an old, half-beached Japanese ship.
“It’s very big! Very very very big!”, Chris recalls the boy beaming. “Like a house. Maybe three house!”
“Houses, Zhang. When there’s more than one you have to have an “s” behind the words. Now how big do you say it is again?”, asked Chris as he gently chided the boy.
“Three, or four house, teacher. Houses. And not my small house. Like flower lady’s place!”, the boy shot a mischievous grin at his teacher and Chris remembers feeling heat rising from his collar to his face. Flower lady is the kids’ moniker for Tsukiko – every afternoon after work she would water the flowers that she has on her desk before going back to the main tent, where the kids assume is her house. The feelings that Chris harbors for Tsukiko is obvious to everyone but the young researcher herself – she is always too absorbed into her work and Chris was hoping that if this one-in-a-million chance could be a novel finding, he could get close to her.
The ship, as Chris later found out, is gorgeous. At first glance it is a huge ship, at about almost 700ft long. Further observations from the details of the bow to the name on it shows that this is the Masamune, a heavy cruiser of the Myoko-class, built by the Imperial Japanese Navy. The ship is stripped bare, having only covers instead of weaponry, and a larger bridge than it should have, along with large electric engines instead of combustion engines.
“This ship isn’t supposed to exist. It doesn’t even have its name on the official list of Myoko-class heavy cruiser, not even in the notes of the conspiracy theorist. This is out of nowhere.”, sighs Tsukiko, pulling Chris out of his flashback.
“It has electric engines, battery arrays, and all details point to an experimental nuclear ship. I originally thought the heavily shielded compartment is for cooling the uranium cores, and the size of it is due to a lack of finesse in the technology at the time. And now we found out it isn’t.”, she frowns, getting her coat and things in a hurry.
That takes Chris aback. It isn’t?
“The reactor was found, and the people having their shifts there just called. It’s massive and the theoretical energy output is low, which is what we predicted. But it is still plenty to keep the ship ahead of most ships at the time, and I don’t see why they didn’t build more or bring it to battle. You should suit up, we’re going there now.”
Chris is still dumbfounded. “Maybe the war was over at the point, Ms Fujikawa. There’s no need to pull such a novel ship to the seas anymore.”
“That doesn’t answer the biggest secret, Chousuke-san. The shielded compartment is a 100 meters long, and the reactor while massive takes up less than 30. There is something else. Something that takes up 70 meters and merits heavy shielding.”, Tsukiko says, wrapping the scarf around her nose and briskly walks to the car waiting outside, almost running.
“But…70 meters…that’s about 230 feet! What could be in there?” says Chris as he hops down the stairs to follow Tsukiko.
“I don’t know. But we’re going to find out.”
The ship is remarkably well preserved, as it ran aground in the deep end of a cave that no longer has water. The dry air circulation and the quality of the steel kept the rust at a minimum despite passage of at least 70 years. In spite of being in the same class as the Myoko heavy cruisers, the ship has numerous differences. It might even be a separate class in itself, even as a derivative of Myoko-class. Sleek, almost unarmed for a ship its size, and packing nuclear powered electric engines, the Masamune seems to live up to its namesake – a lithe and legendary blade. Chris can never get bored with looking at the Masamune’s shape.
“Ms Fujikawa! They are cutting open the front section right now! Your father is anxious for your arrival.”, waved a worker. “Mr Chowske”, the worker gives a curt nod and a friendly smile at Chris. “You really shouldn’t go in there, the structure might break and buckle under all the construction. If you can, you should tell your father to stop. It is not safe to do this alone, maybe you should consult the Chinese government.”, the worker finishes his advice with a frown.
Chris chuckles – “It’s fine, the expedition team members know what they’re doing. Thank you though, Mr Fong, I’m sure it’ll be all right.”. The worker uneasily shrugs and leaves. Fong comes almost every day for tea, and is one of Chris’s favourite Chinese workers around thanks to the worker’s crazy jokes, easy-going attitude and mad skills with the guitar. He is also one of the few Chinese workers that have stuck with the group since day one – even before Chris arrived to the area. He also tries to convince the team to drop the ship and leave it to the government, to no avail. Good man though, Chris thinks, as the worker casually walks away, whistling a jolly tune to end his day.
Tsukiko does a happy pout, as if she is still a child – “Otou-sama is always anxious about everything” – and Chris feels a chill down his spine. Fujikawa Takeshi is a loving father and the leader of the group, and it seems ever since he caught wind of the rumours of the young American’s affection for Tsukiko, he has been rather antagonistic towards Chris. The thought sure makes the walk inside the Masamune awkward for Chris.
Despite having a hull derivative from a heavy cruiser, the Masamune’s resemblance to a WW2 warship stops there. Instead of 4-shaft geared turbines and contemporary propeller bulges, the ship uses a steam turbine, heated by uranium rods. The propellers are very skewed, looking like sharp tilted knife blades instead of the usual mushroom fan shape of normal marine propellers. The books that Chris found on marine propulsion say volumes about the choices – sharp tilted blades and a large amount of propeller blades means the ship’s designer is more interested in making the ship a stable platform than making it a speed boat. Steam turbines heated by uranium, however, is peculiar – nuclear power is mad expensive, even more so during WW2 for Japan, yet the ship is decked out with the best experimental nuclear equipment the Imperial Japanese Navy can offer. In present time, the nuclear-powered ships are valuable due to their higher speeds, but during WW2 and with Japanese nuclear technology at the time, the only advantage Masamune had was the ability to stay for long periods at sea without the need to return to port.
“Otou-sama!” beams Tsukiko at the gruff looking man standing next to a newly cut opening in the hull, her voice waking Chris from his thoughts. Workers and interns run about to prep the place, as the large steel door behind the empty nuclear reactor is being cut down. Whatever is behind that door might be the answer for the existence of the Masamune itself, and that thought alone merits the 24/7 surveillance from the leader of the joint expedition, Dr. Fujikawa Takeshi.
The old archaeologist smiles at his beautiful daughter and glares bullets at Chris. The sentiment broke Chris’s confidence like glass – he’s not usually a little kitten when it comes to manly confrontations, but the fact that Takeshi looks twice as manly as Chris feels and the fact that Takeshi is Tsukiko’s father bring a lot more to the table.
“Uhm…Good afternoon, Mr Fujikawa.”, says Chris unevenly.
Ignoring him, Takeshi turns to his daughter.
“Why do you bring the American? This could be a state secret!”, Takeshi says in Japanese to Tsukiko and a dumbfounded Chris.
“His country outstrips most of us in weaponry already, father, and I don’t think he’s a spy. He’s too much of an idiot for that. He’s amusing and helpful to have around”, replies Tsukiko as she gives the frowning old man a peck on the cheek.
“I still don’t like him”, Takeshi grumbles. “but I guess he can come. As long as he stays 20 steps from my cherry blossom.”
Tsukiko does a mock pout, and follows her father inside the shielded compartment. Chris gingerly walks behind her, and knows to keep his distance after the glare of the group leader. It’s never prudent to anger your boss, nor the father of the girl you like. More so if they are one and the same.
The steel door opens with a heavy thunk and an ear-scratching screech – Takeshi explicitly required that it is not cut down in full, only to bypass the long lock running along the heavy frame. Even the door itself is interesting – instead of a simple slide lock or twist lock, it uses an iris mechanism, effectively sealing the entire circumference of the door with exception to the axle. The entire iris mechanism needs to be cut through for the door to be able to swing outwards. The mechanism is as old as watchmaking, but like watchmaking, it can be infinitely intricate, and the material that merits its protection seems all the more enigmatic and exciting.
The first thing they see is a storage room, wide and tall but not too deep, storing bags upon bags of something, and an odd apparatus resembling a boiler near the next door.
“Powdered milk.”, Chris says, reading the Japanese text on the bags. “Standard sustenance issued by the Imperial Navy, by divine order of the Emperor.”
Takeshi lifts an eyebrow, mildly surprised. “I see your Japanese is improving, Chousuke-san”, says the expedition leader in his mother tongue.
“Only slightly, Fujikawa-san.” Chris replies in Japanese with an appreciative half-bow.
“That must be the iron cow, turning fresh water into milk by adding powdered milk. It’s standard issue for navy and hospital ships all over the world. This much would make enough milk for a crew of a Myoko-class heavy cruiser for months.”, Tsukiko says matter-of-factly.
Her father chuckled. “Little cherry blossom, you are mistaken. The Myoko-class heavy cruisers ran with a complement of 773 crewmembers, but only because it possess 10 cannons, 8 naval guns, 2 machine guns, 12 torpedo tubes and 3 planes. Without the naval guns, the cannons and the torpedoes, Masamune has a much smaller crew. It doesn’t have to worry about weapon maintenance, about troops or the maintenance of the troops themselves. This much milk could last this peculiar ship for at least 5 years, I doubt there would be more than 100 people aboard this ship at a time.”
“Uhm, could you guys repeat that in English please? I lost you after “cherry blossom”…”, Chris chimed in weakly and trailed off as Tsukiko quickly retaliates in Japanese to her father.
“If it is just a sea trial, why would the Masamune run aground here? And you don’t load the entirety of sustenance like all these powdered milk here on an experimental ship. Masamune was built to do something – something that would require years at a time at sea and utmost platform stability. And looking at this storage room I’m sure whatever it was built to do it was already doing it.”, Tsukiko fires quickly.
“I wonder what that was.”, Takeshi said simply.
Chris got a bit bored since he couldn’t keep up with the Fujikawas with his mediocre Japanese, and steps ahead to the door behind the iron cow. It’s ajar, and a slight push forces the door wide open outwards. Similar to the door at the storage room, this door is also equipped with an iris lock mechanism, and a conventional sliding dead bolt inside. But unlike that of the storage room, this one was left unlocked and open as if whoever used it was in a hurry or forgot the protocols.
The air is stale, and the inside is dark, so Chris grabs his flashlight and fires a beam downward. The sound of the button being pressed makes an echoing “click” across the reinforced steel hull, and the light blinded Chris for a second, with his eyes still used to the dimly-lit state of the room equipped only with emergency lights.
He isn’t prepared for what he can see when his eyes eventually readjusted.
“Mr Fujikawa? I think you should see this.”, Chris mutters almost to the point of being inaudible, his figure leaning on the rusty door on the side of the storage room.
Notices the dramatic change in tone of the young American, Takeshi abruptly cut his conversation with his daughter and strides across the room to look, flaring his own flashlight. What he sees also takes the voice out of him for what seems like an eternity.
“Tsukiko-chan…you are right. Masamune is not just an experimental nuclear ship.”
“…it is a floating biology research lab.”, says Chris with a tone of finality to finish of Dr. Fujikawa Takeshi’s statement.
Below them is one of the largest and most advanced research bio-lab they have ever seen.
Not a single body, a single sample is around, only a few machines. But the space clearly had other machines, other people before, judging by the marking around it. The evenly thin dust settles on top of everything stated that the air in this room was exceptionally clean, and a quick glance to the top of the walls validates it. Military-grade filters. This room is not child’s play, and it stretches a whole 200 feet at least, and about 20 or so feet across. The emptiness only makes it feel bigger.
“Nikko. Sunlight. Some kind of super secret IJN research program?”, Chris waves the dusty pamphlet on the table next to him.
“Can I see that?” Tsukiko asks, her hand already reaching across. “Sure”, Chris says, handing the pamphlet over.
“The answer to kamikaze. Why make our heroes die when the enemy will kill themselves for us?”, Tsukiko casually read the paper.
“So it’s like a propaganda? I don’t think bio-labs should handle propaganda work on such an advanced ship. And no propaganda would be good enough to entice the Allies to kill themselves.”, Chris says as he peeks over Tsukiko’s shoulder to see the paper.
“No, it’s a synthetic virus, modelled from rabies. Knowledge of virus is already widespread at the time in scientific circles.”, Tsukiko answers, still perusing the two-paged paper. Whatever used to be stick to that must have been taken away. “It’s supposed to keep people in the enraged state, but only when needed, and doesn’t progress enough to kill the patient. The patient would either harm more of his compatriots or get shot down by their friends. Either way, the IJN wins.”
“But the English and Americans only found out about the DNA in the 50s, this can’t be it!” Chris exclaims.
Tsukiko glares bullet at Chris – “it says right here that the life map is isolated in late 19th Century by a Swiss. And what do you mean this can’t be it? Are you saying that Japanese scientists can’t match with yours?”
Takeshi can’t help a silent chuckle to himself. “The boy messed up”
I messed up – Chris thinks to himself, looking at Tsukiko as she turns away and find more things to read. He loathes admitting that even while Tsukiko is fuming in anger inside a dusty secret lab, the young Japanese woman is enthrallingly exquisite.
“Soviet handover.” Tsukiko says in Japanese, holding up a small piece of note.
“It says here that they will reduce bombing of the north Japanese mainland if information on the Nikko project is transferred to the Soviet research base in North West Mongolia. I doubt the IJN would agree to this, but maybe the crew and the researchers had an ulterior motive to their work after all.”, Tsukiko ended with finality.
“Or they couldn’t contain or control their test subjects”, pointed Takeshi at a bloodied corner in an otherwise pristine bio-lab, albeit with extra dust. The blood is a dark brown now, but it stands out in a light grey background, and the shape of the splatter is unmistakable. The body-shaped void of bloodstain in the middle of it all is also another dead giveaway.
Chris looks at the paper. North West Mongolia? Why would the Soviets have a base there, outside their own country? Staying in the area for a while, he knows that Soviets have had permanent bases for their troops in Mongolia for quite a while back, and he knows the Chinese that he stays with are always sour about Mongolians or Russians. Politics. Even the researches has to do with it.
“A friend of mine back in college is going to go to the same area in January, you know. He said something about working with the Red Cross in North West Mongolia. Lucky man, knowing exactly what to do with his life. I’m sure nothing can come up that will faze him. I wonder what I should do now. I doubt I even have clearance for this kind of excavation”, sighs Chris with exasperation.
“I know what you should do, Mr. Chowske. You should face that way, lie very still to the ground and drop all that you are holding, forget all that have happened and maybe you can still go back to your ignorant little America in one piece.” – says an eerily familiar voice with a heavy Chinese accent behind him.
The room is so quiet you can even hear a pin drop.
“Fong?”, trembles Chris, as he slowly turns back. The accented voice that he used to chat with over tea every lunch doesn’t sound the same. It is now heartlessly cold as ice, and as Chris turns back to look at the door of the storage room, it is clear that the worker is not alone. Behind Fong is a squad of masked Chinese commandos armed to the teeth, and along the walls are also commandos, pointing the ugly end of the barrel at the young amateur archaeologist.
“It’s Council Secretary Fong, now. And you’d best lie down to the ground before bad things happen.”, Fong smiles the very same smile at guitar nights every Friday around the camp fire. But it’s now clear that it is not the same smile.
Dr Fujikawa Takeshi is unconscious, cuffed by a commando on Fong’s right.
Tsukiko is face down to the ground, not moving as well, hit with something like a dart on her neck.
Chris is just about to touch and check Tsukiko’s pulse when a burning sensation of pain runs all over his body, making him numb and falling flat to the ground. So this is how it feels like being tazed, Chris thinks as complex thoughts slowly leaves his mind.
“Knocks him out, give him a false alias or something then throw him to a hospital. Poor boy won’t be believed by anyone and will probably be shipped back to his mother with the diagnosis of a psycho.”, Fong chuckles coldly in Chinese to the commando next to him.
“Why do you spare him, Mr Council Secretary?”, asks the commando respectfully.
“I like him. Has the singing voice of an angel. Too bad he left theater work and just has to do something stupid. Hurry now, we need to bring the honourable Takeshi here to Beijing the moment the courier helicopter arrives, and I would like to look presentable before I go. Maybe some tea and a shower, hmm? The Communist government rewards well those who are loyal.”, Fong said evenly but barely contains the excitement on his face.
Chris shudders again and again under the tazer’s effect, as fluid thoughts leave him. The last thought he has before blacking out is that he doesn’t want to be able to think anymore anyway.
Fujikawa Tsukiko is already dead.