Soon after all of Yamato‘s departure checks were completed, the countdown to warp began, but Juuzo Okita’s condition was growing worse. For this reason, the countdown was halted and the various section chiefs rushed to Dr. Sado’s hospital room with dark expressions.
Sasuke Sanada’s state was particularly grim since all his firm opinions had unfortunately backfired. There was certainly a difference in weight between Okita’s life as an individual and the fate of all life on Earth. That was true in theory, but the reality of it pressed down on even the cool-headed Sanada.
“His pulse rate began dropping as soon as he was moved to Yamato,” Hiroshi Sado explained with a sad look. “In his current state, he’s being kept barely alive with the support of breathing equipment. When the time comes, we’ll have to consider cryo-preservation.”
Susumu looked down at Okita’s pale face and cried out with frustration.
“You can’t identify this bacteria at all!?”
Hiroshi Sado seemed completely defeated.
“Hmm. I don’t. It’s the first time I’ve seen this strain. It doesn’t budge no matter what treatment I apply. In fact, it seems to have become more virulent since it was transferred to Yamato…”
“This is my fault,” Sanada groaned. “After all, everyone else said we shouldn’t remove him from planet Bolzon…!”
Hikozaemon Tokugawa gently placed his hand on Sanada’s shoulder. Suddenly, Susumu’s expression changed.
“Doctor Sado! Isn’t it strange that the bacteria became more active after being moved to Yamato? Doesn’t that mean something? For example, could there be something here on Yamato that makes it easier for the bacteria to thrive…?”
“Eh…!?” Hiroshi Sado’s expression also changed. “Well, that’s an interesting idea! How does the environment of Bolzon differ from Yamato’s?”
“It’s gravity, doctor!” Yuki Mori shouted.
“So, it is gravity! Yamato’s gravity is 1G, whereas Bolzon’s is 1.5 G. All right, let’s test it at once.”
The room was filled with energy. Hiroshi Sado placed a bacterial cell in a small airtight box and set the projection system to show a magnified view. Before long, an image of the mysterious, wriggling bacteria appeared on the screen.
“Right, I’ll increase the gravity!”
Dr. Sado’s finger moved to the gravity switch and the gravity in the airtight box increased slightly.
1.5 G…the bacteria’s movement changed strangely.
1.8 G…now it looked as if it was in pain.
2 G…its movement stopped and it undulated gently.
2.5 G…its movement stopped and froze completely.
Dr. Sado’s hand dove into his pocket and pulled out a silver whiskey container and drank from it with relish as if playing a trumpet.
“If the bacteria remained in a place where less than 1G was applied,” he said with a big sigh, “the captain’s life probably wouldn’t last one day. It was planet Bolzon itself that kept him alive this long.”
Sasuke Sanada stood before Susumu with a joyful expression.
“Thank you, Kodai. If you hadn’t thought of that…”
“Sanada, it’s as Dr. Sado said. Planet Bolzon saved the captain. If you want to thank someone, thank Bolzon.”
“Hmm. You’re right.”
The room filled with relieved smiles.
“Now, place the captain in an airtight chamber immediately and increase the gravity to 2G!”
At Dr. Sado’s instructions, the process got underway at once.
One week later, Juuzo Okita was completely recovered.
The miraculous return of Daisuke
Yamato rushed forward. The long rest at planet Bolzon had almost consumed the navigation schedule’s safety margin. Now they were driven to a state in which just one day of delay would lead to the extinction of life on Earth.
As could be expected, Juuzo Okita’s recent recovery left him not looking well. Seated in his control box, he busily conducted this forced march.
“Verify start time for the warp engine.”
“Roger! Warp engine startup in one hour, twenty minutes!”
“Right. Then continue light-speed sailing and reconfirm measurement of the warp path.”
Suddenly, the voice of the radar officer shook the bridge.
“Captain! There’s a reaction on the main radar! Directly on Yamato’s course, approximately 15 million km.”
“What do you estimate the object to be?”
“It seems to be floating. A space craft, apparently adrift.”
“Right, we’ll investigate. Confirm the floating object ahead and check for a point where we can stop!”
Soon, the reaction was projected onto the panel screen. The bridge crew held their breath and waited. Gamilas attacks were extremely clever. Even if this was simple flotsam, carelessness was taboo.
“Yamato, stop! Distance, 80,000 km. Sending an image to the panel screen.”
At that moment, the view 80,000 km ahead was enlarged and projected onto the screen.
“L-look at that!!” Susumu shouted. “That’s my combat boat!”
Indeed, projected there was the small combat boat he had once used. Okita raised his voice in surprise at the unexpected sighting.
“Yes,” Kodai continued. “Moreover, it’s the boat Daisuke took out.”
“Right, investigate it at once. But it could be a Gamilas trap, so proceed with extreme caution!”
Susumu quickly organized a survey team with two transport boats that promptly approached the drifting combat boat with him in command.
“Chief Kodai, there are no suspicious shadows within a radius of 300 square km. Shall we radio the combat boat?”
“No, wait! I’ll transfer to the combat boat and conduct my own survey. Bring us in alongside it.”
“But that’s dangerous,” one of the Space Fighters shouted with concern.
“That’s why I’ll do it alone,” Kodai answered. “If it’s an enemy trap, forget about me and turn back to Yamato!”
Nonetheless, Susumu’s heart was pounding, It was possible that Daisuke Shima had given up and come back safe.
“Daisuke…please be safe somehow…”
With a life rope tied to his waist, Susumu swam through space from the transport boat to the stern of the combat boat and made his way slowly forward, step by step.
“This is Kodai. Yamato bridge, do you read me? I’ve started my inspection of the drifting combat boat. No damage to the hull. The hatch is closed normally…moving around the front to survey the state of the interior through the radar window…”
Since the combat boats had been made for dual use both inside and outside of an atmosphere, the mechanical structure of the windshield was semi-circular.
“Nothing abnormal about the boat…no damage to the instruments as far as I can see. WHOAH!”
Suddenly, Susumu’s eyes widened within his space helmet.
“Hold on! Someone’s lying under the pilot’s seat! OH! Captain, it’s Daisuke! Daisuke Shima is lying inside!!”
The commotion inside Yamato was even greater than Susumu’s surprise. Daisuke Shima, thought to have died, was discovered here in the vast darkness of space. This miracle astonished the Earthlings, who were hungry for good news.
The combat boat that safely housed Daisuke was immediately towed inside Yamato. He was physically weak, but had seemingly survived on willpower alone and declined medical treatment from Dr. Sado.
“Daisuke, this is great…”
Susumu hugged Daisuke’s shoulder with all his strength and a tearful voice.
“How on Earth did you make it? We’d completely given up on you…”
“Yeah…I’m sorry I worried you. I went too far into enemy territory, and I was captured along with the combat boat. But I was ready for them, and I intended to fight to the death. I managed to break free and destroy the enemy flagship with thorough sabotage. When I ran, I found the combat boat storage by pure luck. Because of my sabotage, the confused Gamilas aliens ignored me, and I was able to escape. The fuel had been drained and the communication equipment had been removed, but there was no other way but to trust my luck to heaven. So I laid down on the floor to wait and use as little physical strength as possible…”
“Well done! Daisuke, really, it’s like a dream…”
Okita and Yuki Mori watched them joyfully. Crew members hung on Daisuke’s every word, eager to see his miraculous return for themselves. After things calmed down, Yuki Mori shyly approached Daisuke.
“Shima…it’s really good that you’re safe. Please forgive me…”
Daisuke stared at her with a puzzled look.
“Can we be friends from now on?”
“Yes, of course.”
Susumu watched their exchange, nodding his head repeatedly.
A spate of shipboard accidents
Yamato continued on with smooth sailing. The engine ran smoothly and no movement of the enemy Gamilas was seen for over half a month. The atmosphere was more peaceful than ever.
But one day an accident occurred on board. Engineer’s mate Sukeharu Yabu discovered an abnormality in the central panel of the radiation detection devices installed throughout the ship. In other words, the detectors weren’t operating normally, and if an accident were to happen, such as a radiation leak from the reactor, it would be a very dangerous situation.
“How long will it take to repair?” a perplexed Hikozaemon Tokugawa asked when he received Sukeharu Yabu’s report.
Several accidents had happened, but this was the first time a problem had occurred in ship maintenance.
“The cause is completely unclear, but since most of the control panel is shorted out, it will take at least three days.”
“Three days. We don’t know when an unforeseen accident could happen. Start repair as soon as possible.”
“Understood. We’ll start right away.”
At least it didn’t seem to be a major problem this time, but it could have been a fuse that ignited a major accident that Tokugawa couldn’t even imagine.
More accidents became apparent 24 hours later. Three small nuclear reactors were installed in Yamato’s stern underside engine block, a place that could be considered the heart of the ship. At first, eight of the personnel assigned there collapsed one by one from intense nausea and dizziness. If it continued it would threaten everyone in the area around the engine block.
Medical cases with unknown causes were constantly carried into Dr. Sado’s hospital room, and even the dazed crew members that brought them in fainted in front of Hiroshi Sado’s eyes.
“This is no good…!”
As he conducted a medical examination, Hiroshi Sado went pale and suddenly stood up.
“These are symptoms of radiation poisoning! Somehow, Yamato has a radiation leak!”
Immediately after receiving Hiroshi Sado’s report, Juuzo Okita ordered chief engineer Tokugawa to inspect the engine block with small radiation detectors. An inspection group was quickly organized and began studying the site in protective clothing. It was discovered that the area around one of the reactors was already filled with a lethal dose of radiation that was slowly spreading in all directions.
“Seal off the engine block and the engineering crew quarters, and begin cleaning up the pollution immediately!”
Okita’s orders flew through the ship, and Yamato was thrown into a panic in the face of this internal, unfeeling enemy.
“It’s very strange…”
The section chiefs were huddled around Okita on the first bridge, having just finished discussing the ramifications of this event.
“At the same time the central control panel of the detection system fails, there’s a radiation leak from a nuclear reactor. This is too coincidental to be an accident…”
Okita and Susumu both had the same gut feeling about it, but if it wasn’t an accident the alternative was absurd.
“But then, if so, it means someone on Yamato’s crew did it intentionally. Do you think so too, Daisuke?”
“Hmm. As accidents go, it’s certainly a strange one, but I can’t believe such a thing.”
“Ah, of course!”
“Captain! If such a rumor flies around the ship, the crew will lose their focus. I absolutely can’t believe it.”
“Hmm. Maybe it’s just our imagination. Let’s be careful, Kodai. This voyage will fall apart if we can’t trust one another.”
Still, there would be casualties from this accident. The engine block returned to normal three days later, but ten days afterward fifteen members of the engineering crew died of radiation sickness.
The day after their funeral was held with burial in space, another accident occurred.
In the area around the combat boat launch control room, 3:00pm was rest time in the Space Fighters’ quarters. One hour later, a large explosion went off. It was one of the few times all of the Space Fighter personnel could find peace, but their rest was suddenly broken by a descent into hell.
Most of the 35 Space Fighters were wounded, and more than half had already taken their last breath. It exactly matched a hellish depiction of shrieking agony
A relief squad was organized immediately, and a rescue operation of the injured was carried out together with an investigation into the cause. The loss was enormous.
Nineteen had been killed instantly and ten of the remaining people were injured with burns and bruises from the blast. Most of their quarters had been brutally destroyed. But the cause remained completely unknown.
In other words, there was nothing in the area that could have caused a huge explosion, so when all other factors were ruled out the only presumption left was that someone must have done it deliberately.
The prospect was demoralizing. For the last Earthlings, mutual solidarity was what gave them all the strength to continue this difficult journey, and now it was self-evident that a malicious person was in their midst who could not be trusted.
The crew sank into silent distrust of one another, but not a single one of them uttered a word about it.
And then, finally, a truly decisive incident occurred.
To be continued