Yamato maintained combat readiness while staying on its predetermined course. In the solar system, they were already completely within the hands of the alien Gamilas. When they might attack, or what kind of attack it might be, were both unpredictable. Under combat conditions, it wasn’t possible to even have a meal.
Yuki Mori, in charge of the life division, made a proposal to Captain Okita, and started working to distribute meal packs directly to each department. For the moment, it was impossible to sit in the dining room at leisure.
The food factory that Yuki Mori supervised was a little old-fashioned. Hydrogen bacteria took in gas from the air all over the ship: nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide, as sources to proliferate the production of protein. A key role in exclusive food production on board was played by plankton bred in flasks for radiation processing.
Yuki Mori herself carried meal packs to the first bridge.
“All right. The first meal of the voyage is plankton salad and a hydrogen bacterium hamburger…”
While receiving his pack, Juuzo Okita remembered that he hadn’t had much of a meal over the last two days.
“You should eat slowly…”
Yuki Mori continued distributing the packs diligently. Young Daisuke was already cramming the hamburger into his mouth.
“Thank you very much. I’ll have it right away.”
“Oh, Mr. Kodai is…”
The was no sight of Susumu on the bridge.
“Oh, he’s in the rocket hangar block, in a strategy meeting with the space fighters,” Daisuke said.
The voice of the main pilot sounded in the bridge.
“We’ll be in range of Saturn’s orbit soon.”
“Then everyone relax and eat.”
“Captain, I hope we can pass safely through the solar system.”
With that, Yuki disappeared into the side elevator. Daisuke scowled as he checked an operations panel. He had already finished his meal pack and thrown it into the decomposition container.
“Hmm…if we’re attacked now, we won’t be able to avoid a hard fight. Radar supervisor, don’t overlook even a small shadow!”
“And Mr. Sanada, is the Wave-Motion Gun energized?”
“Of course, Captain. It can’t be done while we’re at light speed, so I’ve already done it.”
As Yamato sailed across Saturn’s orbit, it was filled with a sense of urgency, seemingly ready to burst with a single touch.
Yuki returned to the life division block. She hurried along the A passage that ran along most of the ship at its outer edge. On her left, a semicircular dome projected outward. During combat readiness, its lights were turned off so as not to leak outside.
Suddenly, Yuki’s foot stopped. She saw the shape of someone standing alone at the window of the observation dome.
“…Oh, Mr. Kodai! What’s happening? Why are you here?”
The silhouette certainly was Susumu Kodai.
“Oh, Ms. Mori. It’s nothing. I’m just having a little look outside.”
Outside the window, the dark abyss of space spread out endlessly. Anyone looking out at it would be filled with gloom.
“Look at it, Ms. Mori…there are no Earthlings out here any more. I can hardly believe it…”
Invited by his words, Yuki moved slowly toward the window. They paused there for a while until she suddenly broke the silence.
“Kodai…were you thinking about your older brother?”
Susumu looked at Yuki, surprised.
“Did you know my older brother…?”
“Yes…Mamoru Kodai, the eagle of the Japanese Defense Force. He was famous. When the news got out that Mamoru Kodai was killed in battle, it seemed like everyone in Japan lost all hope.”
“Is that so? I actually fought with my older brother, and I wanted to die, too. But…he wouldn’t permit it…!”
“I think your older brother was right. After all, it lead to the strengthening of Yamato‘s defense. Good luck, Mr. Kodai.”
“Thank you, Ms. Mori. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“Yes…both an older brother and sister, and a younger sister as well…but they all died. I was the only one my grandfather could save.”
Indeed, Yuki’s words trembled slightly.
“I’m sorry. Could I ask you for a small thing…?”
In order to dispel the atmosphere of sadness, Susumu suddenly spoke up.
“Could you stop calling me ‘Kodai’ from now on? Please say Susumu.”
“Yes…all right, Susumu. In return, please stop calling me ‘Ms. Mori’.”
Yuki’s usual smile returned to her face. Susumu tensed when a report suddenly sounded through the ship.
“We’ll soon enter Neptune’s orbit. Also, in just five minutes we’ll perform the first navigation test of the warp engine. Everyone needs to strictly adhere to the prescribed precautions! Repeating…”
“Well then, Ms. Mori…no, Yuki…”
The two hurried to their respective departments with light steps.
Susumu rushed into the first bridge and walked straight up to Okita’s control box.
“Captain! At last, we can escape the solar system.”
“Hmm…but even if the warp navigation goes smoothly, we’re still not out of the woods…”
“The Wave-Motion Gun was a success. I think it will be all right.”
But even Hikozaemon Tokugawa, who was in charge of the warp engine, had a worried look on his face.
“How far are we going to fly? Can we do the calculated 1,000 light years?”
Tokugawa slowly shook his head at Susumu’s question.
“No, this is only a test jump. There are still too many obstacles in this area, so going long distance is impossible. Therefore, the first jump will be approximately two light years. Just to the boundary of the Alpha Centauri solar system.”
“Two light years…? That’s all?!”
OKita spoke, his eyes fixed on the digital panel indicating details of the test start.
“That’s how it is, Kodai. On the other hand, if it succeeds we won’t lag any longer. We can start sailing at a rate of 1,000 light years a day.”
Daisuke began the countdown.
“Warp test starts in one minute!”
Okita’s voice resounded next.
“All hands, secure your boxes!”
“Stop light speed engine!”
“…20 seconds …”
“Start warp engine!”
Hikozaemon Tokugawa was almost praying.
“… three…two…one…activate jump equipment!”
For an instant, Yamato expanded in every direction, then fell into an endless abyss. Half the crew fainted while the others ejected the contents of their stomachs. From the beginning of the jump to the end, only five seconds passed. But to human perceptions, all sense of time was completely lost.
On the first bridge, Okita shouted as his consciousness returned.
“Warp engine stop!”
Daisuke glanced at an operation panel and cried out.
“Success! Yamato jumped to the destination point as calculated!”
Hikozaemon Tokugawa let out a big breath as Okita nodded silently. The radar supervisor gave a shout.
“Captain! Please look at the video panel!”
At that, the bridge crew looked up at the expanding video panel screen and raised their voices in amazement.
There were clusters of translucent lumps of ice, scattered about two kilometers in every direction. They occasionally caught a faint, gleaming light that made them seem to glow. But there was another reason for the wonder in the crew’s voices. Drifting among the lumps of ice were dozens of destroyed space ships.
“It’s…a graveyard…a graveyard of space…!!”
It wasn’t certain who had muttered those words. But it was indeed a graveyard of space. Susumu turned to Okita, his eyes wide.
“…Are they from Earth?”
“I don’t know…but to be abandoned forever in such a place…it’s miserable..!”
Okita’s words carried an acute sense of his own future. Daisuke sat at his sub-control box with a stunned look.
“Still, why have they gathered in such a place…?”
“Maybe this place is a gravitational interference zone between the sun and Alpha Centauri. They were caught up in two strong gravitational fields. A zone of drift space, so to speak. The lumps of ice must also have been caught here when drifting objects like comets passed nearby.”
Daisuke’s shoulders seemed to tremble slightly.
“A graveyard of space after all…”
“There’s an empty point 100 kilometers ahead of Yamato! We should give the crews of those ships on honorable burial if we can…”
Not a single person offered an objection to Okita’s sentiment.
“Kodai!” Okita called out. “I’m sorry…but choose ten people to go and check one of the ships in a supply transport. If the crew is in bad shape, we’ll consider some method of disposal.”
“I see. I will go.”
“No, choose others to go. You should take command of the space fighters. The ship is still in combat readiness. And…”
Okita continued, looking at the video panel screen.
“…see if Mamoru Kodai’s God Wind can be found in that.”
“Roger…! I’ll organize a work party at once.”
Perceiving what was in Okita’s heart, Susumu bit his lip as he left the bridge. A few minutes later, a medium-sized transport boat took off from Yamato‘s starboard side toward the cluster of ice lumps.
Hyper heat bomb
Susumu chose ten space fighters and sent them off in the transport boat. When he returned to the first bridge shortly afterward, a strange scene was projected on the video panel. From the shadow of an ice lump, a dark object gradually emerged. The quick-eyed radar supervisor was the first to sound off.
“A space ship!”
The voice of Susumu filled the bridge, which overflowed with tension in a flash.
“It’s going for the transport boat!”
Okita gazed closely at the video panel screen.
“Well, wait a moment…there’s something strange about it.”
Susumu had unconsciously pressed forward, but was restrained by the captain’s calm. The radar supervisor announced another new discovery.
“For some reason, that space ship is the only one of its kind.”
Okita’s words hinted at the style of the ship.
“Hmm…but it’s strange for a space ship.”
It was reminiscent of a large sailing ship that existed on Earth 400 years earlier, with beams of metal plating that gave the mysterious impression of several masts.
“It wouldn’t look like that if it was intended to fight. Apparently, it does not seem hostile.”
“Oh, Captain, I see some kind of marking on its hull!”
As the ship slowly changed direction, a huge mark was revealed on its flank…indeed, like a painted picture.
“What is that mark…?”
“Captain! Ah, it’s an eagle. It’s definitely a picture of an eagle!”
“An eagle …? Then, it must be from Earth!”
Okita glared at the radar supervisor with a look that tolerated no jokes.
“Well…there could be eagles on other planets…but could it be a ghost ship?”
The radar supervisor looked confused by the sudden development.
“Captain…it moved. It looks like it’s trying to get away from us.”
On behalf of the radar supervisor, Susumu adjusted the screen. Rather than moving in a way as if to escape, it was drifting slowly as if beckoning to them.
“Right. Anyway, follow at this distance and keep an eye on it…”
“But captain, what about the transport ship?”
“Hmm. What can be done? I entrust it to you, Kodai. Let them continue to work, and call them back at your discretion.”
“Yes…understood. It’s doubtful there any other space ships, so let’s continue working double reconnaissance.”
The transport boat had already crossed about half the distance toward the lumps of ice. Even when Susumu contacted it, the strange space ship did not move to escape. It merely continued its strange behavior without stopping. Kodai turned again to Okita and shouted impatiently.
“Captain! If we keep up this way, there will be no end to it. Let’s catch up to it at once and uncover its true nature!”
Yamato had already followed the mysterious space ship a considerable distance from the cluster of ice lumps.
“Hmm…we’ll wait a bit longer. It seems to have separated itself quite a bit from the transport boat. Could you shrink the panel image to half size and give me a simultaneous display of the lead spaceship and the ice cluster to the rear?”
Okita’s instructions allowed the radar supervisor to regain his presence of mind, and he began operating the machine skillfully. Before long, as the mysterious space ship proceeded calmly on the left side of the video panel, the transport boat moved into the mass of ice lumps on the right. The image was clear.
Then, suddenly, it happened.
The transport boat slowly entered the mass of ice, and as it touched one corner of an iceberg, the space around it abruptly exploded. The event occurred in an instant. All the ice and the wrecked space ships within 100 kilometers in every direction disintegrated in a blast of extreme heat.
The horrific scene was caught on the video panel, freezing everyone on the first bridge and rendering them speechless. Not even the bold Juuzo Okita could suppress a gasp. And it was no wonder. If Yamato hadn’t moved from the empty point where it first stopped, it would certainly have been vaporized in the storm of high heat.
The attacks of Gamilas were full of diversity. Taking advantage of the curiosity and compassion which were characteristic of Earthlings, they had mercilessly set up a powerful hyper heat bomb among the drifting space ships. An unquestionably clever strategy…!
Okita shook as a cold chill went down his spine, then he suddenly noticed something. That strange space ship…had its appearance saved them? Okita’s gaze darted over to the left side of the video panel. The mysterious ship was no longer there.
“There’s no mistake…that space ship intentionally saved Yamato. But why…? Could it be an enemy or an ally…?”
As Okita muttered with unusual excitement, the section chiefs around him had pale expressions. Susumu in particular was greatly shocked.
“Captain! The transport boat…our men…!”
Ten of Susumu’s subordinates had been lost in an instant before his eyes, and he raged with such guilt that he completely lost his self-control. Okita’s hand suddenly lashed out to slap Susumu across the face.
“Settle down, Kodai! It was not your responsibility. They stood in for Yamato, so to speak, and they fulfilled their mission. Don’t blame yourself.”
“But I sent them…!”
“Understand, Kodai! We have no time to be troubled by sentimentality. This voyage must advance even if we have to step over the corpses of our brothers. Weren’t you prepared for this hardship before we started?!”
Okita’s voice had already lost all trace of emotion.
“Then listen up! We’ve just barely left the solar system. We have no time to be absent-minded. Prepare to move out immediately. The warp navigation of 1,000 light years must proceed on schedule!”
Hikozaemon Tokugawa rushed in to stand before Okita.
“Captain! It’s dangerous! There are too many obstacles in the local solar system for us to make the 1,000 light year jump. I suggest that we only do half a jump, 500 light years. Even that much would still be dangerous, but…”
Okita glared at Tokugawa.
“It must be possible if we get the exact position of the obstacles. Mr. Tokugawa. We must take risks and make sacrifices to overcome the danger, or this journey will not succeed. Will you do it, Tokugawa?!”
“Okay, Captain, I understand that I’m being too careful. We must be prepared to give our lives for Earth. Let’s challenge the danger proudly!”
“Thank you, Mr. Tokugawa.”
Before long, Yamato‘s bow moved to point toward a dark point in space where the points of light were sparse. On its starboard side, Alpha Centauri, which represented the centaur’s foreleg in the constellation Centaurus, shone out into the loneliness of space.