Rice pressed the binoculars against his eyes, staring out the open door of the US Army Blackhawk helicopter flying near Suwon. Tanks, APCs, self-propelled guns, trucks and other vehicles covered large stretch of field just a few miles away. The North Korean 5th Army Corps.
You see what I see, buddy? He communicated with Gamera.
I see them.
Take 'em out.
Rice shifted his binoculars to the right. A large contrail cut across the sky, diving toward the ground.
How about we strafe them from the air first, then we'll . . .
His brow furrowed as he looked through Gamera's eyes. "What the hell?"
"What is it, Sir?" asked Senior Chief Warthan, who knelt behind him.
Rice didn't answer. He continued staring at the North Koreans. His disbelief soon gave way to amazement.
The tanks and SPGs rotated their turrets to the rear. Several soldiers held up sticks or poles, a white sheet tied to each one.
"Oh my God. They're surrendering."
"What!" both Candaele and Soto blurted at the same time.
"They're surrendering! The bastards are surrendering! Gamera!" Gamera, don't attack them. Do not attack them. They're surrendering.
If that is your desire. What shall I do then?
Land near them and just look intimidating.
I can do that.
Rice cranked an eyebrow. Did Gamera just make a joke?
He ordered the pilot to land near the North Koreans. When he and the other SEALs got out, Gamera stood about forty meters from the lead elements of the 5th Corps, growling as he eyed the enemy soldiers.
Rice watched as North Koreans dropped their weapons and held up their hands, aiming terrified looks at Gamera. One soldier, rather tall for a Korean at around 6'2 with a weathered face, caught sight of Rice and his SEALs. He removed the pistol from his holster, threw it on the ground, and called over one of the soldiers waving a white flag. The two walked over to them.
"Are you in charge?" Rice asked, with Myung-Dae translating.
"I am General Soo, commander of the Fifth Army Corps. I beg you to call off your monster. I formally surrender my entire command to you. We will not resist."
"Good to hear. Tell your men to move away from their vehicles and weapons and sit on the ground. Anyone does anything we don't like . . ." Rice glanced up at Gamera. "I'm sure by now you know what my pal here can do."
"I do. We will do as you say."
Soo walked back to his men, shouting out orders. They tramped away from their vehicles and fallen weapons, many staring up at Gamera as they walked.
"Soto. Tell CFC we just took the entire North Korean Fifth Corps prisoner."
"Yes, Sir." The comm specialist smiled wide. "If this doesn't earn us a medal, I don't know what will."
Rice's SEALs and Gamera watched over the North Korean. Soo was true to his word. Not a single soldier of his caused any trouble. After three hours of guard duty, the growl of numerous engines floated over the air. Rice looked toward the highway and saw a column of vehicles headed their way. Older combat vehicles. M60 tanks, M-113 APCs, even Jeeps. Definitely South Korean. Probably one of their reserve units.
Rice handed control of the prisoners over to them. He headed back to the helicopter with the other SEALs, checking over a map of the peninsula. "Let's see, last report we got, the Four Twenty-fifth Mech Corps was still positioned around Songnam, and we've got the Seventh Corps dug in near Wonju. Anyone got any preferences?"
"I say we hit the Mech Corps," Warthan said. "Let's start taking out their defenses around Seoul."
"Well, like an ROTC instructor of mine once said, never argue with a Senior Chief Petty Officer, because they're always right."
"A wise man, Sir."
Rice grinned and looked to the other SEALs. "All right. Let's hit the road to Songnam. Soto. Let CFC know where we're headed."
They climbed aboard the Blackhawk. Just as they lifted off, Soto turned to him. "Sir, General Taylor's on the line. He says he needs to talk to you right away."
Rice took the receiver, wondering if the Combined Forces Commander had a priority target for them. "General. This is Commander Rice."
"Commander, what's your current status?"
"We just handed over the prisoners from Fifth Corps to the South Koreans. We're on our way to Songnam to take out the Four Twenty-Fifth Mech Corps."
"Negative, Commander. Your SEALs and Gamera are ordered to stand down."
"Sir?" Rice's face scrunched in bewilderment.
"We've recently been in contact with General Ri, the Chief of the Korean People's Army General Staff. Their so-called Great Leader has left the country, and apparently ordered his Special Purpose Forces to eliminate everyone on the National Defense Commission as punishment for failing to win this war. Ri found out about it and stopped them. He's taken control of the North Korean government, and has ordered all his military forces to lay down their arms and surrender."
Rice's mouth opened, but he was too stunned to speak. He drew a breath, trying to regain his senses. "Sir, are you saying the war is over?"
Every SEAL around him looked his way, all their faces registering surprise.
"That's exactly what I'm saying. I'm ordering a halt to all American and South Korean offensive operations effective immediately. The Japanese have already sent similar orders to their Self-Defense Forces. Gamera is not to engage in any offensive actions against North Korean forces. Understood?"
"You and your men return to Pusan and await further orders. Good work, all of you."
"Thank you, Sir."
Rice lowered the receiver. He stared at the deck, trying to absorb what Taylor had told him.
"Is it true, Sir?" asked Mongkut. "Is the war over?"
He turned to the sniper. "That's what General Taylor said. He said the crazy Umpa-Lumpa skipped town and some big-shot general took over the country and surrendered."
No one spoke. Only the thumping rotors of the Blackhawk could be heard.
"It's over." Candaele grinned wide. "Hot digiddy damn, it's over!"
The SEALs whooped and cheered and slapped one another on the arms and backs. Many of the hardest slaps were reserve for Lieutenant Myung-Dae, whose face scrunched up, like he was about to cry. The Korean, however, held it in.
My task here is finished.
"What?" Rice looked over his shoulder, then realized it was Gamera who "spoke."
Thulgira is dead. Your human enemies have been defeated. It is time for me to leave.
Rice stared out the open door at Gamera, whose eyes locked on helicopter.
"Pilot. Hold your position."
The Blackhawk hovered. Rice and Gamera continued to stare at one another.
I can't believe this is it. I was getting used to having you in my head, and vice versa.
I have served my purpose, as you have served yours as my link.
I pretty much figured this was a temporary thing. Probably just as well. No one person should control something as powerful as you.
And that is why you were a worthy link.
Rice thumped his chest and pointed at Gamera. Thanks for your help, buddy. We never could have done this without you.
Nor I you. Farewell, Jim Rice
Take care of yourself, big guy.
Gamera lifted his head to the sky and roared. His rear jets erupted and he shot into the sky. Rice watched as the turtle climbed higher and higher.
"Where's he going, Sir?" asked Candaele.
"Whoa!" Soto blurted. "Check that out."
Rice looked down. His pendant glowed bright red for several seconds, then faded. He clutched the stone. It felt cold. He couldn't feel the slightest tingle of energy coming from it.
"Is, um . . . is Gamera still in your head, Sir?" asked Warthan.
A frown formed on Rice's face. "Not any more."
Gimhae International Airport, Pusan. Two weeks later.
"The first troops of the newly formed United Nations Korean Relief Force, or KOREFOR, arrived in that war-ravaged country today," said the attractive blond anchor for FOX News. "While they will aid US and South Korean forces in security operations, their main focus will be on humanitarian relief. The recently ended war has left millions of Koreans homeless, and millions more injured and unable to receive adequate medical care as many of South Korea's major hospitals were destroyed. The first contingent of KOREFOR troops come from Australia, New Zealand, The Philippines and Thailand. Over the next few weeks, more troops will arrive from Canada, India, Brazil, Peru, Finland and twenty other countries. As the UN forces in Korea increase, they will assist in the demobilization and disarmament of the North Korean military, and aid officials from the International Atomic Energy Commission in the dismantling of what remains of the North's nuclear program. Many of their facilities were destroyed during the war by US bombers, and the six nuclear missiles they launched at South Korea, Japan and Alaska were all intercepted and shot down by Gamera."
A graphic appeared behind the anchor, showing the faces of The Great Leader and Uldis Barznav. "Officials from the Defense, State and Justice Departments met with their counterparts in South Korea and Japan to determine the best way to try North Korea's former ruler, along with Doctor Uldis Barznav, who created the technology that controlled Thulgira, and members of the National Defense Commission. They are all charged with war crimes for the deliberate murder of civilians during the Second Korean War. US Secretary of State Oldendorf says he envisions a Nuremburg Trial-like approach, in which a panel of judges from the three countries attacked by North Korea will preside over the case. Officials with the International Criminal Court say they are willing to try the case, expressing concerns that judges and lawyers from the victorious nations would not be able try the case impartially, thus denying North Korea's leaders their right to a fair trial."
Rice emitted a snorting, humorless laugh as he watched the TV in the lounge. "Nice to know there's someone out there who cares about the rights of a bunch of slimebags who slaughtered millions."
Warthan grunted. "Some people are just too nice for their own damn good."
"Yeah," Candaele chimed in. "They shoulda done to them what the Romanians did to their dictator back in the Eighties. Quick trial, convict him, then take him out back and shoot him."
"Works for me," Rice said.
A short, young female airman walked over to them. "Excuse me, Commander. Your plane is ready to take off. Please follow me."
Rice smiled and jumped to his feet. "You got it, Airman."
Excitement and anticipation swelled inside him as he and his SEALs followed the airman through the terminal. By tomorrow, he'd be back in the United States, alive and in one piece. He'd see Rita. Heat surged through him as he imagined her face, her body, and them in bed together, for hours and hours. Maybe days and days.
They just stepped out on the tarmac when he noticed two familiar people in combat fatigues. Lieutenant Myung-Dae and Commander Kon.
"We heard you were heading back to America," Kon said.
"Yup. Our job's done here." Rice bit his lip. "I guess your jobs are just starting. You got a lot of work to do to put this country back together."
"We rebuilt after the first war. We can do it again," Myung-Dae said with utmost confidence.
"And it looks like we will have a bigger country than before," Kon added. "The President hopes that by this time next year, reunification will become a reality."
Rice smiled. He liked the sound of that. No more DMZ. No more threat of North Korean nukes. For the first time in more than 60 years, there would be peace on the Korean peninsula.
"Well, when that happens, I hope we can come back here and cross-train with you guys again."
"I look forward to that," Kon said.
The SEALs all shook hands, with Rice telling Myung-Dae, "Nice working with you, Lieutenant. You did good work."
"Thank you, Sir. Hopefully we work together again."
With a final farewell, Rice and his SEALs boarded their waiting C-17 transport.
"Next stop," Candaele declared. "The good ol' US of A."
The SEALs cheered as they went up the ramp.
Fifteen minutes later, they were airborne. They spent the flight talking about their plans when they got back to The States, or playing cards, or reading paperbacks, or eating from an MRE. Damn, but Rice was sick of the things. When he got back to San Diego, he planned to take Rita to some nice restaurant, have himself a big-ass steak, a big-ass baked potato with sour cream and butter, a big-ass slice of All-American apple pie, and wash it down with a big-ass mug of beer.
I wish this friggin' crate would go faster.
They had a layover in Guam before continuing on to Hawaii. The SEALs slept most of the time, being awakened when it was time for their meal. Another friggin' MRE.
They refueled in Hawaii, then winged their way east toward the Continental United States. When one of the C-17 crewmen came by with more MREs, Rice was sorely tempted to shoot the guy.
At 1640 local time, they touched down at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego. Finally, they were home.
"Hello, America!" Candaele dropped to his knees and kissed the tarmac. "Oh, how I missed you, baby."
He looked up at the other SEALs, most of whom snickered at him.
"C'mon. You know you wanna do it."
"You can kiss that dirty asphalt all you want, Candaele," said Rice. "Me, I'm gonna go home and kiss my wife . . . a lot."
The others hooted and hollered.
"Yeah." Soto strutted proudly. "I got plenty of senoritas around here who need some kissing from yours truly."
"Yeah, right." Warthan scoffed. "The only senoritas you're gonna be with tonight are Rosie Palm and her five sisters."
The SEALs laughed out loud. Soto flipped them off.
They got into a couple Humvees and drove to Coronado, where they turned in their weapons and gear. When they left the armory, a bald, solidly-built man stood waiting for them.
"Welcome back, men. Good job over there."
"Thank you, Sir," Rice said to Captain Alec Marshall, the CO of SEAL Team Three.
"You still have a couple more debriefings to go through, but we can put that off until tomorrow. After that, you're all getting a month's leave."
The SEALs cheered, high-fiving each other and thanking Captain Marshall.
"You're all free to go home, except you, Commander."
"What do you need me for, Sir?"
Marshall frowned. "Not me. Them." He jerked a thumb to his right.
Rice turned. He saw a black government-issue sedan parked by the curb. Two unsmiling men wearing dark suits and sunglasses stood next to the car.
"Who are those stiffs?"
"No one." The skin around Marshall's nose crinkled. "They don't officially exist."
Rice groaned, his shoulders sagging. Just what I need after a long friggin' flight.
"Watch your ass with them, Jim," Marshall warned.
He trudged over to the car, wondering who the men worked for. CIA? NSA? DIA? Some alphabet soup agency no one was supposed to know about?
"You wanna see me?"
"Are you Commander Jim Rice?" asked the taller of the two.
"Yeah. Who are you?"
"We're from the Department of Defense."
Yeah, and I'm the drummer for Dropkick Murphys.
"Come with us." The tall man opened the car door.
Rice let out an annoyed sighed and got in. They drove to the base-housing area in silence. His eyes flickered back and forth between the two suits. The tall man, who drove, looked like he wore a toupee. His partner had a stocky build and wide face with protruding lips that reminded him of chimpanzee.
Rug and Chimp. That's what I'll call you guys.
They escorted him to a Bachelor Officers' Quarters that was currently unoccupied. In the living room a table had been set up with a polygraph operated by a plump, middle-age woman with a sagging face and her brown-gray hair tied in a tight bun. She kind of reminded Rice of the woman who ran the cafeteria at his old middle school.
Two other suits stood by the doorway of the bedroom.
"I need your pendant," Rug demanded.
Rice scowled at him, then removed it from around his neck. "I better get that back. That's a gift from my wife."
Rug didn't acknowledge his request. Instead he handed it to one of the suits, who disappeared into the bedroom with his partner.
"Sit down," Rug ordered him.
"What's this about?"
"We want to ask you some questions about your mission in Korea. Sit."
Rice plopped down in the metal folding chair next to the table. Lunch Lady attached all sorts of wires to him.
"Now, I need to set a baseline for the polygraph," she told him. "Please answer the first two questions truthfully, and the third question false. Do you understand?"
"Yeah." He slouched in the chair.
"Is your name Lieutenant Commander James Edward Rice?"
"Do you currently serve with the United States Navy's SEAL Team Three?"
"Were you born in Providence, Rhode Island?"
Lunch Lady stared at her computer screen, then shifted her eyes to him. "Good. We can begin. Now, did your unit take part in the Second Korean War?"
"During that time, did you control the monster known as Gamera?"
"Yes . . . well, yes and no."
Lunch Lady looked up, frowning. "Commander Rice, just answer yes or no to the question."
"Sorry, but that's not really a yes or no question."
"Either you controlled Gamera or you didn't. Now answer the question."
"I didn't control Gamera. We . . . worked together is the best way I can describe it. We shared each other's thoughts, we shared each other's strength. But I didn't control him like, say, some tech weenie controls a Predator drone."
"Okay." Rug strode over to him, looking unhappier than before. "You don't want to answer yes or no to that question, then how about this one? Did you, at any time you controlled Gamera, have a desire to use it against the United States Government?"
"What? Are you for real?"
"Answer the question."
"Of course I didn't, you schmuck."
Rug turned to Lunch Lady. She shook her head and looked up at him. "His readings did spike, but that could be because he's angry."
"You're damn right I'm angry." Rice scowled at her.
"Or maybe he is lying." Rug stood in front of him, arms folded. "Maybe he did think about using a giant fire-breathing turtle to overthrow the government. Who wouldn't? We all saw what Gamera did. Spit out a couple fireballs, and an entire North Korean army division is incinerated. That kind of power would go to anyone's head."
"Well maybe you're just biding your time. Maybe you sent Gamera away, told him to lie low, let this war fade from the public's mind before you called him back to take over the country. Is that your plan?"
Rug glanced over at Lunch Lady, who said. "All indications are it is a truthful response."
The corner of Rug's mouth twitched. He turned back to Rice. "Have you had any contact with Gamera since the war ended?"
"And why is that?"
"My link with him was broken when the war ended. He served his purpose, that's what he told me."
"Gamera told you this? You two actually talked to one another?"
"Yes, through some sort of telepathy."
Rug looked to Lunch Lady, who nodded. His face stiffened before he turned back to Rice.
"The machine says you're telling the truth. But we know these things can be fooled." Rug leaned down, his face less than a foot from Rice's. He could smell the guy's after shave. "I know SEALs are trained to control their emotions, their breathing, their heart rate. To remain calm when all hell's breaking loose. Or maybe you're getting mad to throw off our readings. Because to be honest, I can't believe that anyone who controls a monster as powerful as Gamera would not consider, even for a fleeting second, using that thing to take over not just the country, but the world. You expect me to believe you're some kind of altruistic hero straight out of a comic book? You expect me to believe you're that selfless?"
Rug shoved his face closer to Rice's. "I want to know every thought you had when you were controlling Gamera. I want to know how that little necklace of yours works, and I want to know how we can use it to defend this country in case Gamera or some other monster attacks us. And we're not leaving here until I get the answers I want." Rug jabbed a finger into Rice's chest. "Are we clear, Comma-"
Rice left arm shot out, yanking the wires connected to it. He grabbed Rug by the balls and twisted. The asshole gasped, his mouth wide open.
Chimp rushed over. Rice's right elbow rammed into the man's gut. He crumpled to the floor.
Lunch Lady looked on with fearful, bulging eyes.
Rice twisted Rug's balls harder. His face turned bright red.
"Listen, peckerhead," Rice spoke in a low, menacing tone. "I don't like people shouting in my face, I don't like people poking me in the chest, I don't like people questioning my loyalty to this country, and I sure as hell don't like you. Now here's the summary of what happened to me in Korea, so listen good, because I'm only gonna say this once. My pendant linked me with Gamera. We worked together to kill Thulgira, shoot down six nuclear missiles that threatened millions of people, and incinerate half the North Korean Army before they surrendered. My link with Gamera ended, he flew away, I haven't heard from him since, I don't expect to, and that is that. Got it?" He swung his head toward Lunch Lady. "Got it?"
She checked her screen, then looked up. "H-He's telling the truth."
Rice let go of Rug's balls. He collapsed to his knees just as the other suits emerged from the bedroom. They gave Rug, and Rice, curious looks. One of them said, "We, um, examined the pendant. There's absolutely no trace of any energy whatsoever. It's just an ordinary stone."
"It's not an ordinary stone." Rice yanked out the wires connected to the polygraph. "It's a good luck charm from my wife."
He stomped over and snatched the pendant from the suit's hand. Neither he nor his partner made a move to stop him as he headed toward the door. He looked over his shoulder at Rug, who was still on his knees.
"We're done here."
"Yeah," Rug replied in a strained voice.
Rice exited the BOQ and looked around the area to get his bearings. His and Rita's house was roughly two-and-a-half miles to the west.
Guess I'm hoofin' it.
He set off down the sidewalk, hanging the pendant around his neck. He clutched the hook-shaped stone between his thumb and index finger, smiling as he stared at it. An image of Rita's face materialized in his mind's eye. He smiled wider.
You were right, babe. This thing really did bring us good luck.