As the military transport truck hit another bump, Tosh, Yuki, Hirose, and Dr. Takashima recoiled from the impact.
Yuki frowned. "Who taught this guy to drive - Speed Racer?"
Arms folded across his massive chest, Hirose subtly rolled his eyes. "Speed is of the essence, Ms. Shimura, if we are to find Kenji Matthews and bring him back with us to battle Cyclops."
The quartet sat in the back of the military truck on bench seats attached to the left and right sides of the truck bed; an olive green canopy roofed over them as they sped down a rutted countryside road flanked by thick woods. Tosh and Yuki sat on one side, while Hirose and Dr. Takashima sat on the other. In any other circumstances, the enclosed smells of gun grease and Hirose's overly flowery cologne might have proven too much for Tosh, but now, he barely noticed them.
"Dr. Takashima," Tosh said, "please continue with what you were saying."
As thin and frail as he was on TV and in photos, Dr. Takashima's taut face crinkled like fine parchment as he spoke. "When Ken is in his near-Godzilla state, he is unpredictable. That's why I believe he escaped from my estate."
Tosh nodded and leaned towards Dr. Takashima. "Why did he call me and ask for my help?"
"Mm-hm," the famed monsterologist said, faintly echoing Tosh's nod. "When Ken is between his near-human and near-Godzilla states, he is often confused. I believe Ken was in just such a condition when he called you in America. After he called you, my phone showed a record of the call."
Tosh's brows pushed down. "Then why didn't you call me and tell me?"
Dr. Takashima presented that enigmatic nod again. "Two reasons. One, I was afraid your phone might be, how should I put it, under surveillance. Two, I didn't want to tell you Ken was staying with me until I tried a few experiments of my own to bring him back to his fully human state."
"Hmm," Tosh replied. "Guess your experiments didn't work."
"Sadly, no." Dr. Takashima temporarily lowered his head. "But I did discover that negative emotions such as anger or hatred can act as a catalyst to produce Ken's near-Godzilla state, and that, reciprocally, positive emotions can cause Ken to revert to his near-human state."
Yuki jumped in. "I think I'm way ahead of you, doctor. You think that maybe Tosh -- "
"That maybe Ken hearing Tosh calling out to him might provoke the natural emotion of brotherly love, and hence cause Ken to revert to his near-human state, in which he is completely lucid and almost completely in control of himself."
Hirose rose a languid eyebrow. "Almost?"
Dr. Takashima nodded. "Until the G-cells are purged from Ken's body, he may remain a slave to Godzilla's impulsive nature."
The truck braked with a sudden lurch.
Yuki sighed as they all rose. "Nice going!" she yelled to the driver in the truck cab, who couldn't hear her, of course.
"Hey," Tosh said to her, trying to hide his own disquiet, "chill out."
"Easy for an American to say. If I hadn't been promised first dibs on this story when CCI says it can come out I'd - Tosh, what's wrong?"
Tosh cursed the faint tremble of his lower lip. "Nothing."
Yuki's look was a mixture of concern and surprise. "You're scared."
"Whatever gave you that idea?"
She shrugged. "I'm psychic, didn't you know?" Her flicker of a smile disarmed Tosh, but only momentarily.
Tosh and his three companions stepped out of the back of the truck and into the night-darkened woods. There to greet them were six Special Operations soldiers, two of whom emerged from the transport truck's cab, the other four of whom climbed out of a Jeep in front of the truck. According to Hirose, one of the soldiers was an ace sniper - in case Ken attacked them, no doubt.
Milling at the foot of the hills near Dr. Takashima's rural estate, Tosh considered what a motley assembly he was among - Dr.Takashima himself, CCI's "head bully" Hirose, Yuki the indignant journalist, and the six CCI Special Ops soldiers. A silent white mist surrounded the ground around their ankles, and large coniferous and broad-leaved trees loomed above them, clotting these dark, verdant hills far from Tokyo's metropolitan environs.
A full moon spilled ghostly illumination across the crowns of the trees, but little of that light reached the ground, which was just as well with Tosh. He wouldn't want Yuki to notice just how much his lower lip was quivering now; after all, midst the clean scent of pines, he detected a whiff of sea breeze, and that could only mean Ken -- the weregodzilla who was Tosh's older brother -- lurked nearby.
In a slightly palsied hand, Dr. Takashima held the remote control tracking device, which looked like a small radio. "Yes," the famous monsterologist said in his well-known reedy voice, "I'm sure that Ken is only twenty meters ahead. I am sure the homing device hasn't detached itself from his back."
The six camouflaged Special Ops soldiers stood with legs slightly bent, rifles at the ready, their helmeted, night vision-goggled heads slowly monitoring the dark woods before them. They made a formidable-looking crew.
"Wh-what now?" Tosh asked his three companions, fearing the answer, and hoping the Special Ops guys couldn't see his trembling lip.
"Now," Hirose said, "we must convince Ken to come down from the hill on his own, if possible." Hirose handed Tosh a bullhorn. "Call to him. Ask him to come down. Even if he's in his near-Godzilla state, there's a good chance he will respond to you."
Tosh gulped. "And if he doesn't?"
Hirose beamed enigmatically. "Then we will be forced to employ more direct means of persuasion."
Tosh nodded and moved the small end of the bullhorn in front of his mouth. "Ken! Ken, if you're out there, it's me - Tosh! Your little brother! Are you out there, Ken?"
Silence, save for the chirping of a few scattered crickets.
"Ken, if you're there, let us know! Come down! Tokyo needs your help! There's a monster loose in the subways under Roppongi that only you can stop! If you don't, hundreds of people may be killed! Dozens have been killed already!"
Several more seconds of quiet fed Tosh's worst fears. Maybe Ken wasn't out there - or maybe he was, but perhaps he had changed so much into a Godzilla clone that the human Ken no longer existed.
"Ken! Please! If you're there -- "
A brilliant flash of light cut through the woods. Tosh shielded his eyes and heard someone scream. When he jerked his head around, spots of light dancing before his eyes, he saw that one of the Special Ops soldiers had fallen to the ground -- he'd been hit in the shoulder; the terrible stench of sizzling flesh filled the night air like the aroma from a profane barbecue. One of the wounded soldier's Special Ops buddies immediately attended the badly burned shoulder.
"I'll be all right," the injured combatant muttered as his comrade pulled the Kevlar body armor and shirt from the man's body and applied a sterile dressing to the third-degree burn.
Stroking his goatee, Tosh felt like apologizing for his brother, but he knew that wasn't appropriate.
Hirose, hands behind his back, turned swiftly to Dr. Takashima. "What do you think, doctor?"
Dr. Takashima's wrinkled head shook as though from a low-level tremor. "Perhaps Ken is past the point of even knowing who Tosh is."
"No," Tosh said, "that can't be true."
Dr. Takashima's head drooped, and his eyes had the sad look of a father who had to tell his son that the family dog had died. "I'm afraid it can be true, Mr. Matthews."
"You're wrong. You've got to be -- "
"Look out!" Yuki cried.
Another blinding white beam flashed from the woods. This time, no one was hurt, but the beam did explode into the trunk of a large, nearby pine, blowing out huge chunks of wood and sap. The air grew thick with the smell of ozone and scorched timber. Momentarily, the top-heavy pine wobbled before it came crashing down beside the military truck that had brought Tosh and his companions to this destination.
Hirose sneered. "Enough. If gentle persuasion won't work, perhaps extreme prejudice will."
"No!" Tosh's feet were flying almost before he knew it, and it seemed as though it were someone else running directly into the deep woods from which the blinding ray had blazed.
"Tosh!" Yuki yelled. "Come back!"
Too late. Tosh had sprinted more than fifteen meters before he thought about consequences, but there was nothing else he could do and still stand to look at himself in the mirror tomorrow. The woods became a night-shrouded maze; underbrush crunched under Tosh's sneakers, and his winded pants rattled like death wheezes.
He stopped dead in his tracks just three meters from a thick, upright shape standing next to sturdy pine. Ken? A distinct fishy smell tainted the air, and it seemed to be mixed with sea spray and ozone - Godzilla's signature odors.
Before Tosh, the apparition appeared murky due to the deep cover of the night, but it was over seven feet tall, and leaves swished as it thrashed its long, serpentine tail. The body was humanoid, but incredibly bulked up, as though it had been Mr. Universe on steroids; across its chest and arms and legs, barely visible scales ran in rutted patterns not unlike tree bark. As for the head, the reptilian snout opened, revealing sharp white teeth that glistened in the moonlight. But the eyes - weirdly, the eyes were somehow recognizable. With a curious start, Tosh realized this really was Ken warily standing his ground.
"Ken?" Tosh said softly. "Ken? It's me. Tosh. Your little brother."
Kengoji -- the name Dr. Takashima called Ken when he was in his near-Godzilla state -- grumbled from low in its throat and rippled its upper lip. According to Dr. Takashima, Ken's actions while in his near-Godzilla condition could prove quite unpredictable.
"Ken," Tosh said, his heart running a frantic race with his thoughts, "Ken, you've got to come back with me."
From Kengoji's spine, a crackling sound could be heard, and a light behind the creature's back illuminated the nearby foliage. Tosh freaked - the thing was about to let loose with its ray!
"Ken," Tosh said, hot tears teaming in his eyes, "Ken, don't do this."
Kengoji opened its mouth, and in the back of its throat, a globe of light flickered.
"For God's sake, it's me. Tosh."
The light at the back of Kengoji's throat suddenly illuminated the roof of the weregodzilla's mouth
"Me! Toshiro! Your little brother!"
The light was now licking the back of the weregodzilla's fangs; in another few seconds, the ray would burst from the creature's jaws like an unbridled missile.
"You're not a weregodzilla, you're Kenji Matthews - Kenji Matthews! Remember, Ken, you've got to REMEMBER! Please, dear God, REMEMBER . . . !"
The thing before Tosh must have remembered something, for slowly, the light in its mouth drew back into its throat until it was gone, extinguished in the darkness, and the creature shut its jaws.
Feeling so strung out he could have collapsed to his knees, Tosh breathed a sigh of relief.
Then, something happened Tosh hadn't bargained on. Like a shape-shifter in a high-tech movie, the weregodzilla started to transform. Mutating bone and cartilage popped and crackled as the bulked-out arms and legs and chest rippled and drew inward, the scaly armor giving way to more human-looking flesh tones. Best of all, the snout receded into a face that took on a distinctly human and - yes - a distinctly Kenji Matthews cast. No longer was the weregodzilla a dangerous and unpredictable Kengoji; now it was Ken Matthews, clearly in his near-human state, though he was larger than he'd ever been before, and he was still riddled with scales, albeit softer-looking ones.
Ken looked at Tosh, his eyes curious and watery. He tilted his head as though puzzled. "Pardon me, but have we met?"
Wavering between disbelief and anguish, Tosh knew he'd been had when Ken burst out laughing. Tosh shook his head. "Why, you . . ."
Ken gripped his brother's shoulders firmly and shook him. "It's good to see you, little brother." He moved his gaze to the woods behind Tosh. "Looks like we've got company."
Sure enough, Yuki, Hirose, Dr. Takashima, and four of the CCI soldiers emerged from the trees and calmly walked beside Tosh and Ken.
Yuki shook her head at Tosh. "That was an incredibly stupid thing you did. You could've gotten yourself killed."
Tosh grinned. "But I didn't."
"Thank God." Gently, Yuki took Tosh's hand and squeezed.
"No time for this," Hirose said. "We must get back to the city immediately."
"Hmm," Ken said, rubbing his chin. "I know you. Hajime Hirose. CCI's top hatchet man."
Hirose eyed Ken with grudging respect. "I accept your appraisal as a compliment. Now let's go."
In the back of the military transport truck, Ken took a seat alongside Tosh and Yuki on one side, while Hirose and Dr. Takashima faced them from across the other side. In no time, the driver barreled down the country road towards the main highway where a circling helicopter was waiting to ferry Ken directly to Tokyo's Roppongi district, which Cyclops currently threatened. Dr. Takashima explained to Ken what Cyclops was, what it could do, what it was doing, and why it was imperative that Ken help Tokyo defend itself against the cancer-causing creature. Ken agreed to do what he could.
Then, apparently seeking a lighter moment, Ken gave Tosh and Yuki a comical once-over and nodded as though in approval. "You know, you two make a cute couple."
Tosh's cheeks grew warm, but Yuki remained unaffected.
"Well," Yuki said to Ken, "you always did have good taste."
"But godawful timing, I'm afraid."
Yuki pulled in her lower lip and raised an eyebrow. "Speaking of godawful, I love your underwear."
Ken chuckled and brandished his well-known smirk, gesturing palms up as he referred to the expandable blue underwear that hid his privates. "Let's just say I'm still on the modest side. Dr. Takashima provided it."
"Yes," Dr. Takashima said, faintly nodding. "Ken, I am so glad we didn't have to shoot you back there."
That bald statement seemed to take even Ken aback. "Shoot me?"
"Yes," Hirose butted in. "We all followed you up the hill, but hid about ten meters from you and Ken. The CCI sniper had his sites trained on your left eye. At my command, he would have fired a slug through the jelly of your eye directly into your brain, blowing out the back of your skull."
"But," Dr. Takashima said, "that proved unnecessary, as I believed it would. I believed that you would respond positively to your brother and revert to your near-human state. I had faith."
Ken wobbled his head. "Well, thank God for faith."
"Precisely," Dr. Takashima replied, smiling.
Hirose folded his arms and let his lids droop half-way over his eyes. "Dr. Takashima, what concerns me now is whether we can bring Kenji Matthews back to his near-G state to battle Cyclops."
"Not to worry, hatchet boy," Ken said. "I've got plenty to be angry about. And I know how to focus that anger when I need to."
Without moving his face, Hirose let his eyes slide in Ken's direction. "Glad to hear it."
Ken smirked. "All I gotta do is think about CCI, and my blood gets to boilin' every time."
Hirose let Ken's barb pass without comment.
Then, as though he were about to reveal a great secret or a terrible sin, Ken turned towards his little brother. "Tosh, about the soldier that got hit by my ray. I couldn't stop that from happening. It-it was as though I was buried somewhere deep inside Godzilla's consciousness." He averted his eyes to the floor. "I need you to know that, bro."
Tosh was surprised and touched at his brother's uncharacteristic show of vulnerability. "Ken, we know you can't control your actions when you're in a near-Godzilla state. Dr. Takashima explained that to us."
"Yeah," Yuki agreed. "We know you only act deliberately contrary to your old flames."
Ken chuckled, but his jaw grew tight. "Anyway, Tosh, about the soldier I - about the soldier who got hurt. You've got access to my bank accounts. Make it right."
Hirose sighed. "Not necessary, Mr. Matthews. CCI takes care of its own."
"Like I said," Ken said to Tosh, pointedly ignoring Hirose and speaking louder than necessary, "make it as right for the soldier and his family as you can."
Tosh looked at his older brother, and a strong surge of emotion filled his chest. He'd lost his lone sibling for over six months - he didn't want to lose him again. "Ken," he said, almost whispering, "are you sure you want to do what Hirose asks?"
Ken shrugged playfully. "Hey, a monster's loose in Tokyo, cats and dogs are running for their four-legged lives, and who else is there to come to the rescue except your friendly neighborhood weregodzilla?"
Tosh chaffed at his brother's flippancy. "I'm serious."
Sobering in an instant, Ken cuffed the back of Tosh's neck and smiled. "Me too." The touch of Ken's near-human hand was like sandpaper, a reminder of Ken's current - and perhaps irresolvable - predicament. Tosh and Yuki exchanged worried glances.
Silence descended over the assembly as the truck continued to rumble through the woods, while overhead, the staccato whump-whump-whump of an overhead helicopter's rotor blades filled the night.
© Todd Tennant 2004