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Hideaki Isamu ran along the deck, knowing that Captain Katashi expected nothing less than absolute efficiency and timeliness from his crew. Isamu skirted against the railing, allowing other sailors to rush past him in the opposite direction, and the young man was glad for the perfect paint job. The last thing he needed was a sliver of old paint or rusted metal to rip open his palms as he glided along the rail before turning back and running full speed ahead.
Isamu stared out over the blue-gray waters of the Ross Sea. It was a magnificent sight. To the south, as far as he could see, was the white crust of the massive Ross Ice Shelf, a V of thick sea ice that stretched from the end of the bay to a mere 200 miles from the geographic South Pole. It was more than 185,000 square miles of ice between 50 and 150 feet thick. The Saburou Maru was miles off of the shelf, but even from this distance, the thin sliver of purest white was an unmistakable horizon, taking Isamu's breath even on a mere glancing notice. He was looking at a body of ice that someone once said was the size of France. Ignoring something that huge, that magnificent, would take some formidable willpower, but Isamu tore himself away and concentrated on his duty.
The announcement had spurred the crew to the proximity of a pod of whales. While the water was choppy, whitecaps forming bright scars against the rippling surface, he noticed the breaches of whales in the far distance.
The Saburou Maru was on its annual research trip down into the Antarctic waters, along with other ships in the fleet, to determine if there were enough whales present to continue sustainable whaling for Japan. Isamu squinted and made out that the humps were from Minke whales, small animals, less than thirty feet in length. As opposed to the other species such as Fin or Sperm, the Minkes were common.
Isamu recalled a number of more than half a million living within the Antarctic ocean, plentiful enough to sustain Japanese whaling. Those numbers had not diminished significantly in the wake of research catches, some 14,000 between 1988 and the present.
If they were that plentiful, Isamu didn't feel bad about going after them. Captain Katashi was the same way. Whaling was central to Japanese culture; it was in the blood of many a young man seeking adventure on the high seas. There were times when Isamu wondered why world opinion was so harsh on Japan when there were cultures out there that treated human beings as property and enforced female genital mutilation.
Priorities, Isamu thought. Minke whales were not in danger of extinction and human lives were far more important than
Something shook the boat.
"What the hell?" Isamu asked.
"We need fire control crews to starboard aft!" Katashi said over the announcement system. "Emergency."
Katashi was a firm, calm man, but even Isamu could hear the slight tremor of urgency in his voice. Isamu was a member of the on-board fire team and immediately about-faced and started to a causeway that would take him from the port rail.
Catching a few whales would have to wait. His fellow seamen were in trouble as even now the stench of burning paint, metal and
Is that pork? Isamu wondered. Dread flushed through the sailor as he bolted into the passageway and took off. Some part of his mind drifted back to the tales of the south seas and how they likened the cooking of human flesh to the smell and flavor of pork; hence the name "long pork" for cannibalism. His stomach twisted into a knot as he ran, but he didn't allow himself to slow down. If there was a fire and someone was burning, then he needed to get there immediately. He was part of the fire safety crew and he'd allow nothing to slow him down.
As he reached the starboard deck, he immediately plunged into a thick, roiling cloud that hit him like a brick wall. A spasm of coughing struck him and Isamu stumbled back, hacking gunk out of his nose and throat in an effort to regain his breath. He reached into his pocket for a rag and pressed it over his nose and mouth to form an improvised filter, but as he leaned out, the charcoal-gray smoke made it impossible to see more than a few feet toward the aft.
The grisly stench was stronger now and it was accompanied by screams of pain. Isamu cursed himself for being so impatient to get to the scene of the accident that he'd passed the fire-gear locker on the starboard side. He'd assumed that he'd prove able to get to the equipment locker on that side of the ship, and his haste now cost him. Rather than rush back and take even more time, Isamu relied upon his memory, feeling along the way to where he remembered the equipment locker stood.
Getting it open, Isamu reached in, found an oxygen mask and pulled it over his head, but only after the face piece was in place did he take the rag away from his mouth. No longer assailed by chemical smoke, his tears helped to clear his vision. Now with less of an excuse to be clumsy, he shrugged into a fireproof coat and tugged on his gloves. An industrial-strength fire extinguisher would get him moving toward the center of the disaster while others prepped the hoses.
Almost as an afterthought, Isamu grabbed up a walkie-talkie and plugged its jack into the firefighter's mask. Now he could transmit and receive, hands-free.
"I'm in gear. Heading to the fire with the extinguisher," he announced, following protocol. He'd screwed up once, and found himself floundering in the passageway. Another mistake would cost lives.
He scrambled toward the thickest of the smoke, the high-test extinguisher making him list with each step simply due to its weight. The bottle was heavy, seventeen pounds of mono-ammonium phosphate, which would give it sufficient endurance to move in and save as many of his shipmates as he could. The phosphate was a good neutral compound, perfect for dealing with anything from electrical to burning fuel. It would cut loose with a high-pressure cloud, more than enough to snuff out a large column of flames that he could maneuver through.
Sure enough, his first tug on the trigger quenched a section of deck, not only clearing a path for him to cut through to the main fire, but also allowing a couple of injured sailors to escape. Isamu waved and patted them on, careful not to touch any burned areas, for risk of exacerbating tissue damage to already injured skin. "Fire control, I have three coming in, severe burns, but they're still ambulatory."
"I read you," came the quick response. "We're prep-ping sick"
Thunder crashed and Isamu suddenly lost his radio signal.
"Hello? Hello!" he shouted through his mask.
He couldn't waste more time. He gave the extinguisher trigger another squeeze, blasting more of the phosphate and smothering more yards of sizzling deck. As he did so, the smoke thinned, just for a moment, and he could see where a gigantic "bite" had been taken out of the ship, hot metal smoldering as a surging wave slapped it, a cloud of steam rising from the wreckage. The fires came back within moments, farther on, but because Isamu was far from the actual hole, he could see that the flames came from metal that was white-hot. For some reason the explosion looked as if it had originated two or three yards from where the hull should have been, but the harpoon guns that they used didn't have that much gunpowder and the magazine was elsewhere, closer to the bow.
A third thunderous impact shook the ship and Isamu whirled to see what was happening. Even as he did so, he noticed a low black object about four hundred yards away. At first Isamu thought it might be a whale from its sheer bulk, but it was too far out even to be a sperm whale. Another part of what made Isamu think it was a whale was the puffing smoke. It looked like the exhalation of a whale, the hot moisture of its breath expelled into frigid Antarctic air.
But another puff erupted. Something dark and small shot up and sailed through the sky toward his ship.
Hideaki Isamu had only a few moments to realize that the object on the waves looked reminiscent of an American stealth fighter, so famous and recognizable from countless video games and Japanese anime. He also recalled that there were shipswarshipsthat had a similar configuration. Comparable stealth craft had even been used in one of Isamu's favorite movies to destroy a Red Chinese
The Yingji-82, yingji literally meaning "eagle strike" in Chinese, was a magnificent piece of weaponry. Though it was nearly 21 feet in length, because it was stored inside the trimaran's missile magazine, no camouflage paint was required to make it low profile. White with red piping and nose cone, the missile accelerated from the low-profile launcher and accelerated to 664 miles an hour in the space of a few seconds.
The YJ-82 was fired straight up, especially since the range and target were being guided by the launcher's own internal radar that currently painted the Saburou Maru with beams invisible to the human eye. The Eagle Strikeknown by NATO forces as CSS-N-8 Saccadehad been designed from the ground up as an antishipping missile, complete with the ability to carry 360 pounds of high explosive to its target at speeds just below subsonic. The speeding munition rode on its turbojet at Mach 0.9 toward its target.
Though it was a current front-line surface warship and air-to-surface fighter jet weapon, the Yingji-82 wasn't exactly the newest in designs. It had begun its fighting history in 1989 and spread to the Middle East, particularly to Iran, thanks to sales by China in 1992. The weapon, though it hadn't been utilized in major military engagements, had proved its stealth in crippling an Israeli naval frigate in 2006. Hezbollah, supplied by the Iranians, hit the INS Hanit with a YJ-82 that managed to penetrate the warship's multilayered anti-missile defenses.
A Japanese whaling ship such as the Saburou Maru wouldn't stand a chance. The first round struck with enough force to make a forty-foot-wide hole in the aft of the whaler. Materials around the blast zone were heated up phenomenally, igniting any flammable objects in the area. On a warship, the flames would not have been so bad, as there was far more fire control equipment on hand and far less that would actually burn. On a whaler, which didn't expect torpedo or missile strikes, it was a churning inferno.
The Yingji-82 came down in close proximity to Hideaki Isamu, its semi-armor-piercing high explosives penetrating the interior of the Maru. Isamu didn't suffer at all as the detonation produced a sheet of force that instantly burst every single cell in his body. Neurons detonated under the pressure wave, and as such, Isamu literally had no means by which to experience the trauma that killed him outright, liquefying organs.
Others were not so lucky, as sailors were hurled into the frigid Antarctic waters. The poor men wouldn't last long, twenty minutes if they managed to keep themselves afloat. Unfortunately broken arms and legs or deep concussions rendered those seamen helpless. Unable to hold their breath, several already were gone, breathing in ocean water and drowning instantly.
Four missiles took apart the Japanese whaler completely, bulkheads torn asunder. The 150-foot craft groaned in agony, the swelling oceans producing enough stress on the threadbare keel to snap it in two.
The Saburou Maru was merely the first of the Japanese research whaling craft to be lost in the space of three days. Three more, including one factory ship, were destroyed, lost at sea.
Barbara Price stood at the center of the Computer Room in Stony Man Farm. She was surrounded by a sprawl of computer hubs, each built and personally designed by the four master information-gatherers that made up the Sensitive Operations Group's cybernetic support crew. Between the four of them, if it could not be uncovered, it was beyond discovery.
Right now, Price was keeping her eye on the world map up on the video screen wall, also mirrored on her tablet computer.
In three days, four Japanese industrial ships had been lost. Casualties added up to nearly four hundred Japanese sailors; the rest of the whaling fleet being forced to abandon operations for the year. Already, the Tokyo stock market was reeling from the loss of manpower and matériel, even though no one had stepped forward to claim responsibility for the deadly attacks. The losses of the ships and manpower totaled up to $350 million U.S. dollars, adding another $24 million thrown into the mix due to the salaries of the crews not being paid out. At the thought of the damage wrought on four hundred different families, Price found herself feeling a little nauseated.
This was just the first round fired across the decks of the nation of Japan, and the carnage was on a scale of 9/11 to America, at least in loss of life. How many families would be forced into poverty and homelessness without wage earners? How many children would turn to crime to support themselves?
The effect on those people was of no interest to the twenty-four-hour cable-news cycles, no matter the political leaning of the network. Already cable news was bristling with the debate over the sinkings. On liberal channels, the mystery attackers were the vigilantes who finally struck a blow to end the barbaric practice of whaling. On more conservative channels, the debate turned toward unfair United Nations rules regarding national culture and business, as well as the economic impact on a national ally.
Aaron Kurtzman, Stony Man's computer genius, motioned Price to his side.
"The team and I have developed some intel on the missiles," Kurtzman told her.
Price took a look at the information as her tablet tapped into Kurtzman's research. Already things were tangling into a twisted web of conspiracy. The Chinese missiles seemed to have been routed through Iran.
Akira Tokaido raised his hand. "We've got developments at the White House!"
Price grimaced and brought up Tokaido's interface. Pennsylvania Avenue was alive and livid with antiwhaling protesters, all of whom were under surveillance by the army of Secret Service and Metro P.D. officers that secured the home of the leader of the Free World.
Of equal concern to Price was the fact that her superior and good friend Hal Brognola was also at the White House.