The sailboat-type spaceship Phantom aimed itself silently toward Iscandar. Phantom was a small ship, only about twenty meters long, but its superior performance came from a function that made interstellar travel possible, making it not unlike a smaller Yamato.
From the moment Susumu boarded Phantom, he kept staring at Captain Harlock’s back in the cockpit.
…according to the story of the Bolzon King, this person doesn’t have much life left…but I wonder who he really is. It’s doubtful that he’s an Earthling, but why does he always appear around Yamato…?
Susumu’s questions were inexhaustible.
…even when I watch him from behind, it gives me a very nostalgic feeling. It could be because I haven’t seen any Earthlings since the Earth’s destruction, but even so, what is this feeling…?
Suddenly, a memory arose from Susumu’s distant past.
…every day of my childhood was the happiest time. My gentle parents and my older brother. I remember the grief of my parents suddenly dying and my brother’s heartbreaking sorrow…I can’t imagine how deep it was for my older brother Mamoru…
Suddenly, Susumu’s train of thought stopped. Captain Harlock was speaking.
“Kodai, I’m sorry, can you help me? I have to stow the energy-absorbing sails for flight into the atmosphere.”
Susumu sat down in the seat next to Captain Harlock and worked the instruments according to instructions. Before long, the metallic sails that could be considered the symbol of Phantom were folded up into the ship’s storage pack.
“The sails are energy-absorbing panels?”
Susumu had previously seen Phantom’s strange method of combat. Phantom had received concentrated gunfire from a large Gamilas squadron, and in the blink of an eye all the intense heat had been absorbed by the sails.
“The sails can absorb both the miniscule energy of space and powerful energy, such as an attack by Gamilas, in the same way.”
“Ah, so I see. This is an amazing space ship. Did you build it alone?”
“No, it was originally from Gamilas. I remodeled it with the help of others from space, when I stayed on Bolzon.”
“Wow! It was captured from Gamilas?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“That’s thrilling! It gladdens my heart to hear that.”
Captain Harlock spoke more than Susumu imagined he would. Therefore, Susumu understandably wanted to take this opportunity to know him better. He thought he was certain to get his answers now.
“Well…can I ask more about you, Captain Harlock?”
But with that question, it seemed that further conversation with Captain Harlock would not be allowed. The captain suddenly went quiet and his fierce look became even more intense. Self-conscious, Susumu peered down at the ground from a side window.
“It’s a horrible planet…can anything really live in such a place…?”
Phantom was now flying through the sky of Iscandar about 10,000 meters up. Suddenly, Captain Harlock glared at the instrument panel.
“Hmm…! A strange radio signal is coming in…! Apparently it’s a navigation radio signal from the ground. We’ll land at its origin point!”
Phantom moved into a rapid descent toward Iscandar. There was no trace that either grass or trees had ever grown there. As far as the eye could see, it was as dry and burnt as the surface of Earth, far from even a primitive form of civilization. Even farther, since not a hint of green could be seen anywhere.
“Is this really Iscandar…?” Susumu muttered, crestfallen.
As Phantom landed, the mute yellow landscape lay before the three people as they stepped out. Captain Harlock spoke with a low, feeble voice.
“So. This is Iscandar. I’ve seen the Gamilas troops return to the green planet over and over. If that green planet is Gamilas, this should undoubtedly be Iscandar…”
Susumu spoke out loud, breaking the tension.
“Starsha of Iscandar…! Where are you? I received your message, an Earthling who came all the way across galactic space. Where are you Starsha? Please use your power to save Earth from crisis…”
Before long, a voice rose up, as if from the depths of an abyss, into the ears of the three people.
“…You finally came…”
Susumu hastily looked around, but there wasn’t even a breath of wind, much less the shadow of a person.
“Who in the world are you…?”
“I am Starsha. I am Starsha of Iscandar.”
Susumu narrowed his eyes and desperately looked around for the source of the voice.
“Ah, Starsha! Where are you? Please show yourself!”
“People of Earth…I do not have what you would call a form. Therefore it is useless to look for me in that way.”
“What exactly do you mean by that…?”
Starsha’s words were mysterious, indeed. Susumu glanced at Yuki’s perplexed face.
“I am in a computer, spread out deep underground inside planet Iscandar…”
A situation beyond imagining was happening. Starsha of Iscandar, the only person who could save the Earth, claimed to be a computer.
“B-but then…how could you send us a younger sister named Sasha? How do you explain that? I was the first Earthling to see Sasha, and she had a complete Homo Sapiens body.”
“The answer is simple…Sasha was a life image, so to speak, that I created as a temporary life form. In addition, I thought it would be easier for you to understand if Sasha introduced herself as my younger sister. I am a computer and I could say that Sasha is a life image of me. Could you accept my message truthfully…?”
Susumu became more and more confused as he listened to this invisible entity.
“A life image? What in the world is that?”
“It would be better to show you than to explain it. My own life image will appear before you now…”
At that moment, a strange sight unfolded in front of Susumu. There was a fluctuation like heat haze that gradually condensed into a substance with a contour. It became doll-like, then finally transformed into a beautiful woman.
It had a noble appearance, no less than the beautiful Sasha, who had fallen to the surface of the moon. Susumu was at a loss for words.
It was a magical event, overwhelmingly mysterious. Eventually, the woman opened her mouth.
“Do not be surprised…I took this form so that it would feel natural to you. Please don’t be surprised. This figure is my own image, a solid substance formed from the components of the atmosphere.
Susumu stared intently at the beautiful woman that had formed into solid matter.
“Then, is this form…just a doll you created in your own image…?”
“That’s right. However, its structure consists of cellular tissue similar to that of your own body.”
The three people looked at each other. Susumu thought he was beginning to understand and took a step forward with his next question.
“But…Starsha! If you’re a computer, there should be someone who created you. In other words, what happened to the people of Iscandar?”
“In order for you to understand, you must know the history of Iscandar.”
The life image of Starsha directed her beautiful eyes forward and began to speak.
“About a hundred years ago as you measure it on Earth, Iscandar was a prosperous, advanced scientific civilization with rich blessings. The planet and its people were wrapped by a huge computer network. Every problem of life was managed by this computer, and the people were left with nothing to do. Seeking a more comfortable life, they planned to migrate to Gamilas, which was uninhabited. Already, the planet Iscandar was turning as dry as a computer room, untenable for living things. But the computer was still a valuable means of maintaining life.”
“Therefore, this giant computer, which they named “Starsha,” was programmed to protect itself as its foremost imperative. When I took in this supreme order, I considered the most straightforward method of protecting myself, and I arrived at an answer. I would create strong soldiers to protect me. First, I created a life image named Dessler. Since I could freely organize and recombine organic material, it was not difficult.”
“Dessler was an ideal soldier. To maintain its fighting spirit and overcome the temporary nature of life, I made it my bodyguard. I produced subordinates for Dessler one after another. However, the people of Iscandar judged this to be dangerous. They tried to cut part of the program that had been incorporated into me, which ran counter to my imperative to “protect myself.” The Iscandarians were immediately attacked by a large army lead by Dessler. They were exterminated in one day, one hundred years ago. In order to fulfill my imperative, I destroyed my creators.”
“Since then, my autonomous judgment circuit and self-repair circuits have become faulty and I have fallen almost to the brink of non-function. Meanwhile, Dessler has exerted its violent nature and built up a history of repeated aggression. However, I couldn’t stop Dessler. Because Dessler was created to protect me, my circuitry does not allow me to erase those who fight for me. They exist for me because I wanted them to…”
Susumu listened intently to this bizarre story, frozen in speechlessness.
Earthling body remodeling
Susumu’s expression was dark.
“Starsha of Iscandar…I sincerely sympathize with your tragic history. However, our Earth is on the verge of destruction because of Dessler. Earth now waits for a hand of relief. I ask you now, please tell me how to save the Earth.”
“Of course I will tell you…”
The life image of Starsha held out a thin cylinder in its right hand.
“Listen carefully. First, it is 100% impossible to return your planet to its original form.”
“W-what’s that? Then how can we—“
“Calm down, Earthlings. Calm down. You see, your world is covered in radiation, which has already changed the nature of the planet itself. But there is a way. Your planet can be renewed, and a new nature can be created. Therefore, it will be necessary to remodel the inhabitants to live there.”
Susumu suddenly turned pale.
“Remodel the inhabitants…? In other words, you mean remodel our human bodies for the new environment?!”
“Yes, that’s right. From now on, you will build the civilization of Earth as new life forms.”
Discouraged, Susumu’s shoulders drooped as he looked down.
“I can’t believe that…it’s impossible to save Earthlings and the Earth without enduring a horrible act of human body remodeling.”
Captain Harlock opened his mouth for the first time.
“…I think it’s a good solution. Up until now, Earthlings have treated each other savagely. This, so to speak, might be a manifestation of God’s wrath on such Earthlings. By living on as completely new life forms, they could create a new Earth without repeating the mistakes of the past. It could be a great thing if it came to pass.”
Susumu slowly nodded at Captain Harlock’s words.
“So, Earthlings. Here are the equations for a remodeling method using a certain drug. With your scientific power, you should be able to understand it easily.”
Susumu took the thin cylinder. The life image of Starsha changed to a more formal tone.
“However, Earthlings, you must now travel on a 148,000 light year journey again. Dessler can’t overlook that silently. Are you confident in your chances of returning successfully?”
“No. There is no chance. We can only risk our lives for the sake of Earth.”
“I see. Anyway, I wish you good luck. As for defeating Dessler, there is only one way…but it is useless for me to tell you if you have no confidence in your success…”
Starsha had taken on a strange, enigmatic tone. Even if they could be certain of getting all the way home to rescue Earth, Dessler was alive and well to lead his army to attack again. Indeed, there was the sound of a hint in Starsha’s words.
“Starsha…you say there is one way to defeat Dessler. What is it? You told us how we can survive, but as long as Dessler exists, the same fate will befall us. So I’ll ask you. Please tell us how to defeat Dessler!”
Suddenly, Starsha’s voice turned into a painful moan.
“Ooh…! Earthlings…I want to tell you…! Dessler and his soldiers do not protect me any longer…they have become a force of madness that disturbs the peace of space with pointless struggle. Dessler is protected from extinction by my self-protection circuit, which is protected by my self-repair circuit. However…somehow…it is all right…Dessler is…I am analyzing…so…”
Starsha’s voice kept speaking desperately, as the mouth of the life image becoming choppy and intermittent. It testified to an intense struggle inside the huge computer.
“I have…done it! My controlled…destruction!”
Suddenly, the life image vanished. Perhaps, because of a dilemma in the computer circuit, its function had stopped. Susumu shouted as he ran to the spot where the life image had stood.
“Starsha! Starsha…! I ask you! How do we defeat Dessler…?”
And after a pause, the voice of Starsha welled up again from underground.
“Earthlings…! An army lead by Dessler will soon return. As expected, I cannot destroy Dessler. Please forgive me. Escape now, quickly!”
Starsha’s voice broke off coldly from there.
“Susumu! The Gamilas are coming! We have to get back to Yamato!”
At that moment, Okita’s voice called out from the ring mic Kodai wore around his neck.
“Kodai! We heard the whole story! Well done!”
As soon as Susumu heard Okita’s voice break the tension, he felt himself start to cry.
“Oh, Captain! But I didn’t find out how to defeat Gamilas…!”
“Yes you did! I understand how to defeat Gamilas, Kodai!”
“What’s that? Is that true, Captain!?”
“Indeed. Dessler is like a phantom created by the computer called Starsha. Only Starsha can erase it. However, Starsha’s “protect yourself” programming imperative will not do it. In other words, if we destroy Starsha itself, Dessler should naturally be annihilated as its creation! That’s what Starsha was trying to tell you earlier.”
“So, I see…! It was telling us to destroy its own control section!”
“But captain, how can we destroy it? Starsha is a huge computer that surrounds the entire planet Iscandar!”
Okita seemed to be holding his breath, but he eventually spoke.
“There is a way,” He said. “Captain Harlock! I can ask only you…”
Captain Harlock spoke into Susumu’s ring mic.
“What is it?”
“Hmm…take Kodai back to Earth in the Phantom.”
“What will you do with Yamato…??”
“We will use Yamato to crash into the planet Iscandar!”
Susumu grabbed the ring mic and shouted into it.
“What do you mean!?”
“The Wave-Motion Gun is capable of destroying a planet. Yamato cannot be saved, but we can release all of its energy to blow up Iscandar.”
“Captain! What are you saying? We’re all in this together. Wait, we’re coming back immediately…”
At Susumu’s words, Okita’s voice shot back angrily.
“Fool! Then what will happen to the Earth? These are the words you spoke to me just a short while ago! It’s for the good of Earth and all our people. You have to go back to Earth on the Phantom!”
Susumu heard the voice of Okita and bowed his head.
“It’s all right, Kodai. If you make it back to Earth, remember the words of the Bolzon King and hand it down to all the Earthlings who survive. Never, never forget nature…”
“Captain…I will. I’ll tell everyone the lesson of Bolzon by all means!”
“Captain Harlock, you heard my orders for Kodai.”
“Understood, Captain Okita…”
The captain placed his hand on Susumu’s shoulder and spoke in a quiet tone.
“Kodai…do you remember how to pilot the Phantom?”
“Yes. I watched you on the way down.”
“All right. The Phantom is well equipped with every facility. It is sufficient to get the two of you back to Earth.”
“Captain Harlock…aren’t we going together?”
“Yes. But I still have some business here, so I’ll take one of Phantom’s escape boats. Go well, Susumu Kodai.”
Not waiting for any parting words from Susumu, Captain Harlock quickly entered Phantom and an escape boat soon flew out. Susumu watched the aircraft disappear forever, still feeling a strange, sweet sense of nostalgia. Okita’s voice again arose from the ring mic.
“Kodai! Hurry! The Gamilas forces are already approaching Yamato!”
“Y – yes, Captain! Then we’ll return to Earth. Goodbye, Uncle Okita.”
There was no further response from Okita. Soon, with skillful handling, Phantom flew out into space.
Sailing in the name of “Hope”
Yamato’s first bridge fell into a strange silence. A Gamilas battalion had already surrounded the ship from behind, and Yamato’s only remaining course was a straight line toward planet Iscandar.
Juuzo Okita sat at the helm at the front of the bridge, beaming with a smile as never before.
“You Gamilas! Now, at long last, here is a farewell gift to my many brothers…”
Captain Harlock had recently joined Okita and was seated next to him. Okita’s voice sounded across the bridge.
“So! Finally, it will be done!!”
Yamato’s remaining crew, including Hikozaemon Tokugawa, cast their final words toward him.
“Captain! It’s in your hands!”
“Captain! Thank you for everything.”
“Thank you, gentlemen! Here we go!”
Captain Harlock looked intently at Captain Okita’s profile and smiled for the first time.
Tears fell from the eyes of both who were named Okita. Before long, the huge space battleship that had been born on Earth dove forward, and its valiant figure scattered into space from front to back.
The sailboat-type spaceship carrying the two young people completed its first warp and appeared in unknown space.
Susumu was in front, lost in thought. It was an odd thing. Just before the warp began away from iscandar, he had heard strange words from the ring mic that was still around his neck. No, it was more like he felt it rather than heard it. It was a voice that seemed to say “father.” What could it have been? Was he just hearing things?
Father…a word with a nostalgic sound.
No matter where they looked on the present Earth, no such world could be found. However, there was still hope. The two young people held each others’ hand tightly.
“Come on, Yuki. To Earth. Let’s go back to Earth.”
“Yes, let’s go, Susumu.”
Gradually, Phantom disappeared into the endless darkness, sailing on in the name of “hope.”
Postscript (from the paperback reprint edition)
Captain Harlock, the character who appears in this book, is an original character of Leiji Matsumoto. With his trust and approval, the writer included his image in the story.
– Arashi Ishizu