I Am Become Death
Outline by Entity and Don A. Martinez
Written by Don A Martinez and Carolynn ‘Aerie’ Marie
Artwork by Damocles
"I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."
-- The Bhagavad-Gita, quote by Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer
* * * * *
The world spun in a blaze of fire. Brooklyn clenched his teeth and shut his eyes as he tumbled through time and space. The brick-red gargoyle felt like he was drowning.
Suddenly, without warning, the Gate’s motions became harder, more dangerous, like a cat shaking a mouse by its neck. He slammed hard, beak-first, into a rock surface. Dust flew up in a great mushroom-shaped cloud. He rolled over onto his back and gagged as filth entered his mouth, caking his throat.
Luckily, the paved street had broken his fall. "It feels more like the fall broke me," he grumbled, rubbing his shoulder. Body parts he never knew could ache now feel like they had been crushed by an 18-wheeler. Sata's miso soup would have tasted great right about then. His stomach twitched at the thought of his lovely mate and her dark, fiery eyes.
"I wonder what she’s doing right now," he murmured miserably as he limped to his haunches. "Or at this time in the future …" Not for the first time, the time traveling had confused him again.
Brooklyn blinked the grit out of his eyes as the dust settled around him. Dark shadows loomed overhead, forming a ring of … were those buildings? His heart rate tripled as his vision cleared. He recognized the shape of the buildings and the words printed on that sign over a shop window. The peculiar tang of roasting duck and kitchen grease wafted in the cold evening air. From a street corner nearby, a chorus of children’s voices sang and clapped. ‘Inu ga wan-wan hoeroru wai … yip, yip, yip …’
"Jalapena," he muttered at the empty city street. "Talk about ‘Ask and ye shall receive’. I’m back where it all started." It had to be Japan, mid-20th century at the very latest.
In an odd way, the Japanese words and the familiar aroma of Japanese food was very comforting, as if this Dance was actually welcoming him.
He caped his wings and scampered into an alleyway between a ramshackle house and a darkened store with ‘Out of Business’ pasted across its front in big black Japanese letters. The entire city was silent, as if cloaked in death. Even the children’s singing had faded away, now replaced with the chirping of crickets. It made him feel uneasy. He hadn’t been alone like this since before he met Sata.
"Keep cool, Brook." He massaged the shoulder he had landed on and winced. "Let’s check it out."
The brick-red gargoyle slunk on all fours towards the center of the city, using the shadows as his protection against eager eyes.
* * * * *
Odious. Simply odious.
Two days trapped in an unknown city in an unknown time. If only he’d been able to find a blasted newspaper printed in English instead of this stupid foreign script, then he would have at least figured out where he was.
Dr. Isaac Payne clasped his arms around his legs as he sat on the sidewalk, deep in thought. It had been two days since he had been dropped into this dusty time, one day since he had eaten anything. And three days since he had last seen that Beak Freak, Brooklyn.
The closest he could infer about his location was Asia before the 21st century. The signs in store windows and buildings showed an unfamiliar language to him. It certainly wasn’t the Roman alphabet, and it didn’t resemble Russian.
The worst, however, had to be the looks he had been getting over the past two days. The inhabitants of the city kept their distance or whispered furtively to each other. Mothers pressed their children closer to their sides and crossed the street to avoid him. Once or twice, Payne had hid while a police vehicle (a non-flying one, yet!) passed. Though nothing had happened so far, he had an inkling they would have stopped him if he had stayed out in the open.
His wrist phone wasn’t working. He wasn’t too surprised over that; the satellite system that was the wristie’s power source wouldn’t be around for another few centuries, but it was aggravating to hear the mechanical voice incessantly repeating Lost power line again and again.
If only that blasted Chronos project had worked …
Something poked him in the shoulder blades. Payne’s head twisted around, and a little boy with almond-shaped eyes jumped a foot. His ebony black hair stuck up in a cowlick, and round glasses rested on the tiny bump on his face meant to be a nose. The glasses’ bridge was taped together as if he constantly broke them while running into walls.
"What are you looking at?" Payne growled. Another boy, shorter than the first and with a black left eye, cautiously appeared behind his friend, and they both crooned Ooooooh at the same time.
Payne was beginning to feel like a three-headed moose on display.
Broken Glasses spat something that sounded like gaijin. The other boy put his fingers against his narrow eyes and pulled the lids wide like a Caucasian’s. He gave a wide, toothy grin. A little girl with two fat tufts of hair over her ears jabbed him in the side, causing the older boy to turn around with a frustrated look. She clutched a worn ragdoll to her chest and started to speak in a high voice. It sounded like a scolding.
Both boys rolled their eyes at each other. The little girl furrowed her thin little eyebrows and stamped a sandaled foot into the stone sidewalk. Her voice rose in anger.
"Gaijin!" Broken Glasses said angrily to his friends, and shoved his forefinger at Payne as if the man were a specter whose existence was in question.
"Hai, gaijin." A brick-red figure peeked out at them from an alleyway. Payne’s eyes popped out of their sockets. The gargoyle’s appearance had a much different effect on the children than Payne expected. The boys’ scowls melted into grins. Meanwhile, the little girl ran up to Brooklyn and tried to shove the ragdoll in his face.
Payne shot the gargoyle a glare. Brooklyn, however, looked only startled. He wasn’t too surprised. He surmised it was one of the few times humans hadn’t run away from him screaming.
"Well, well, well," he said dryly. "It’s the Timedancing Winged Wonder. I was wondering when my ride would get here."
Brooklyn froze, his eyes dilated as he took the picture in before him. "Payne …"
The bald doctor spread his arms wide despite the fact that the front of his laboratory coat, usually cleaned and pressed, was a slate gray from the past two days. "Small time vortex, isn’t it?"
The gargoyle’s tone darkened. "You were sucked into that time portal back in 2043. You’re gone."
"Not exactly ‘back in’," Payne corrected, stroking his goatee. "Time travel does get confusing like that, doesn’t it? Get back," he snapped as those blasted kids poked him again. "It’s bad enough that I’m here-"
"Gaijin. Stranger." Payne raised an eyebrow at the gargoyle, then at the little girl, who poked nervously out at him from behind Brooklyn’s protective arm. "They say you’re an American. The younger ones have never seen a white man before. You’re a bit of a main attraction, if you get my meaning." Brooklyn had an annoying little smile of satisfaction forming across his beak.
"I don’t like being a main attraction," Payne snapped. "What about you? You’re not exactly Mr. Inconspicuous, yourself. They seem to be fine with your presence." He snorted as the girl grabbed Brooklyn’s large fist up in her smaller hand and ducked into hiding again, her face suddenly shy at seeing a white man in her midst.
Murmurs filtered through the city air. Up and down the street, heavy oak doors creaked open, revealing scores of curious eyes. Japanese poured into the street, whispering in rustling undertones amongst themselves.
Payne found himself edging towards the gargoyle despite himself. "What are they saying?" he whispered.
Brooklyn didn’t seem to mind. He looked bewildered. "They’re saying …" His brow rose. "… they’re saying you’re an American."
"American," Payne spat. "What about you?"
"They seem more unhappy to see me with you than the sight of me, myself," Brooklyn answered wryly. The little girl nervously disappeared further into the tent formed by his caped wings.
A gray flash zipped past Payne’s face, grazing his forehead and causing stars. His vision was blotted out as something red trickled into his right eye. "Get us out of here," he hissed in Brooklyn’s ear. Several men picked up more rocks with obvious malicious intent.
The brick-red gargoyle didn’t stop to argue. He gently disengaged the girl’s grip from his leg. She let out an angry wail and clutched her doll tighter. Payne watched the crowd anxiously as Brooklyn said something to calm her. Whatever it was seemed to work, for she quieted and stepped backward as Brooklyn grabbed Payne by his underarms. He hopped up against a wall and used it for leverage, propelling himself up into the air like a bullet shot from a gun barrel. Payne’s stomach lurched.
Within moments, they were safely above the ground. Brooklyn flapped his wings for altitude, oblivious to Payne’s squirms.
He thought he heard Brooklyn cry, "Hold on, I’m setting down", but over the scream of the wind, Payne wasn’t sure. Buildings yawned upwards from the gloom as they dropped several feet. Touching down in a darkened alleyway, away from the prying eyes of the people, Brooklyn roughly deposited Payne on the pavement, growling under his breath as he did.
"Good, nobody here." He turned to Payne, who had recovered his balance. "And now what exactly am I supposed to do with you? You're really a fish out of water here."
"I don't care!" Payne's voice was pained and frustrated. "I don't care where I go, I just want in on your next dance! As long as it gets me as far away from this Godforsaken place, the better!"
Brooklyn rolled his eyes. "You're kidding, right? You think after all I've had to go through, that I'm just going to drag you along with me to give me a reminder of everything that's wrong with my blasted life?!"
"Exactly. It's your fault we're in this mess to begin with. You're the one who's going to get us out." Payne's expression took an unholy light. "Or would you rather that I meddle with the timeline?"
Brooklyn snorted. "That's a good one."
"In case you didn't come across this when you were doing your big time travel project, let me key you in on a little secret ... you can't change the past!!"
"Maybe not," Payne retorted, "but you're forgetting something, buddy. How do you know what events I would have influenced, or which events took place in the natural order of things? Unless you're psychic, and I'm quite sure you're not, there is no way for you to know, is there?"
Brooklyn looked prepared to make a snappy comeback, but, suddenly, it was a moot point. No matter how much he tried to argue Payne's twisted logic, the time-displaced human was right. Unable to come up with a decent argument, he growled softly. "Come on, then. I'm going to make sure of which events you influence and which you don't."
Payne smiled with arrogance and self-satisfaction ... this was one argument he was going to win every time.
"How very kind of you," he said, dusting himself off. "I wished I’d packed my bags. Which reminds me …" He plucked a wormy potato out of his pocket. "Snatched it off some refuse cart. Until I find a restaurant, this should do."
Brooklyn’s eyes narrowed. "It figures."
"What?" Something trickled into his eyes. He wiped the sweat from his forehead but was disgusted to find his cuff stained red with blood. That rock had hit home.
"You’re still wrapped up in yourself. It’s so disgusting. You were nothing like this when we first met. You seemed just like ‘the good doctor’, just like a certain other mad scientist back home-"
Payne began to toss the potato back and forth between his hands in a private game of catch. "Uh, news flash, my friend," he interrupted, "but IT WAS AN ACT! They had news flashes in your century, didn’t they?" He balanced the potato on his index finger right before the other’s beak, ignoring the rumbling from the gargoyle’s throat. "You’ve got to remember how we work at the lab. True, we can tell the truth, but how far does that get us? I mean, please, we work for the government. Since when does truth get you anywhere? Sometimes-" He tossed the potato and neatly caught it in a tight grip. "-you have to take what you want. The whole point of, for example, war. Someone wins. But someone must also lose. The winner takes all by just … what was that old phrase? ‘Going for it’. I went for it, and I would’ve had it if it wasn’t for that mousy little Minnie and you and your wife.
"Speaking of which … where is she? You and the little woman have a spat?"
Brooklyn snorted. "You’re pathetic. If I wasn’t worried about you causing a major hiccup in the timeline, I’d drop you like a hot potato." He snapped his claws together for emphasis.
"But you can’t." Payne smiled.
Brooklyn’s hand shot out and snatched the potato as Payne threw it up for another catch. The bald doctor let out a yell. "Hey! I don’t go around snatching your lunch, do I?"
"You had to steal this from someone to make it your lunch-" His mouth clamped shut as something scuffled from behind a crate, reeking of fish. Two little girls looked up at them, frightened, but upon seeing Brooklyn, their faces lit up like a pair of thousand watt bulbs. Scrambling over discarded bones and fish guts, they held out their soiled hands and said something quickly. Their strange words fell deaf upon Payne’s ears.
Brooklyn’s stony face softened. Payne squeaked as he gave them his potato. His potato!
The children bowed low and scurried off, already breaking the food into shares as they went.
"You …" Payne couldn’t even spit the words out. A muscle in his jaw began pulsing away. "You little Beak Freak…"
Strangely, Brooklyn felt completely at ease, like something very healing had just happened to him. "They hadn’t eaten in a week, Payne. Show a little compassion."
"Compassion, indeed." A gargoyle male the color of deep turquoise appeared from behind a small truck parked in the alley’s mouth. Sleek, sinewy muscles glowed from beneath a plain white tunic and gold embroidery. A pair of horns twisted up from his brow and curled over and behind his jet-black hair, tied into a knot at the nape of his neck. He waved the bo staff in his hand at Brooklyn.
Brooklyn was too startled to notice Payne jump a foot.
The turquoise gargoyle’s stern face broke into a smile. "But then, you seemed compassionate the first time I ran into you, Brooklyn."
If looks could kill, the new male would have keeled over already. Brooklyn couldn’t keep back his stares.
"Then …" His throat had suddenly grown incredibly thick. "Then I’m in … Ishimura! I’m … I’m home …" Relief flooded over his body like a cool rainfall.
"Ishi-mura?" The coolness in Brooklyn’s body turned to acid rain. The new male looked at him, puzzled. Brooklyn’s hope evaporated. "No, no, Brooklyn-san. You are mistaken. You are here, home, yes. Home in Nagasaki, 1945. Remember the war?" He strode forward, placing a warm hand on his shoulder. "We were worried about you, running off like that yesterday. It was as if you had just disappeared. Suki didn’t even believe me when I told her that we had found you."
His brow rose at the sight of Payne, who showed equal enthusiasm. "How is your friend, Brooklyn-san? Still …" He tapped the side of his head.
Whoever this new gargoyle was, he knew Brooklyn. And, Brooklyn noted with some sarcasm, he certainly knew Payne.
"Hai," he responded. It felt vaguely comforting to speak Japanese again. "Same as always. And how is … Suki-san?" Whoever this new fellow was, it was better to play along.
"My Second is doing fine. She has taken some of the clan to the other side of the city to distribute food to the people over there, near the water. The food rations have become even tougher. We are taking this section tonight, right after we stop by a friend’s. You are welcome to join us, Brooklyn-san." He bowed low, his thick forked tail swishing the ground. "Hiro is always hospitable."
Hiro. The name still didn’t ring a bell, but Brooklyn shrugged it off. "Domo-arigato gozaimasu, Hiro-san." The brick-red gargoyle returned the bow, then noticed Payne watching their rapid-fire conversation with suspicion.
Hiro smiled again. It was such a peaceful smile, like a ripple in a pond. "We appreciate your kindness. After what happened two days ago … the people here are becoming frightened. There are tales circling around of a bomb dropped to the north. I have not heard much of it, yet, but the humans speak incessantly of it. Some are already moving to the bomb shelters."
"What’s he saying?" Payne demanded, obviously annoyed to see both gargoyles whispering secretively to each other.
"My clan and I will meet you over there," Hiro whispered, sensing a dispute growing despite the language barrier. He flexed a claw across the street in front of a store. Caping his wings, he slunk out of the alley. Brooklyn watched him go, then turned to Payne.
"He says we’re in Nagasaki during ‘the war’, but that’s about all I can get out of him." Brooklyn sighed. "Strange. I’ve never heard of a Nagasaki clan before…" He began to trail off, then suddenly remembered. "Oh … we’re distributing food to the people here. Coming?"
Payne gave an ugly look. "That’s all I need. More snotty kids harassing me."
Brooklyn shrugged. "Whatever floats your boat. I’ll meet you here later."
"So you're going, huh?"
Brooklyn glared at the doctor. "I guess the concept of 'gargoyles protect' is above someone like you, isn't it?"
"Protect, huh? From what?"
Brooklyn growled, eyes glowing. "I for one am not prepared to watch an entire city starve to death. I don't know what kind of joyride this little trinket's going to take us on next, so who knows how long we're going to be stuck here?!"
Payne sighed. "Hope it isn't too long. I'm still hungry, and the least you could've done was let me have that blasted potato!"
Brooklyn rolled his eyes again. He located another potato, a smaller one, and pitched it at Payne, hitting the scientist squarely in the chest. "Here ... if it shuts you up, all the better. I've got food to distribute."
Payne, making sure nobody took this one away from him, greedily wolfed down the vegetable. "That's a little better."
"I'm so glad you're satisfied," Brooklyn intoned with as much sarcasm as he could muster. He jogged off to where he knew Hiro and the others would be waiting.
Almost as soon as the red beaked gargoyle left, Payne found himself accosted by a number of small Japanese children. They did not help his mood any.
"Get out of here, you little brats!" He swung his arms widely, trying to shoo the children away. Three of them started giggling, then impersonating Payne, speaking rapid-fire Japanese at the others, who themselves started giggling and doing the same arm motions.
"Great, they think they're seagulls." Payne rolled his eyes, planting his chin in his hand. "Hmm ... Hiro said something about a very powerful bomb to the north. 1945 ... that would be the Second World War. Not much I could've been able to get on it even in the future, most of the archives were long gone."
The children were now circling and flapping their arms. Payne sighed again, closing his eyes and trying to ignore the kids' spectacle. "Why does that year seem so familiar?"
* * * * *
If it hadn’t been for the Japanese signs and the army trucks with their canvas-cloth tops, Brooklyn would have thought he was home in Manhattan. The street’s pavement clicked underneath his claws. A siren wailed up the avenue and around the corner. Enticing aromas danced under his nose. A house nearby was preparing duck.
People whispered as they walked past on their way home from work. Oddly enough, they were eager whispers rather than frightened gasps.
"Brooklyn-san!" A figure waved at him from a building doorway. Dodging bikes with wooden wheels and men carrying heavy briefcases, Brooklyn scuttled across the street and hopped up the steps to an apartment building.
"Hiro-sama!" he panted.
Hiro bowed. "I was afraid you weren’t coming. Quickly, the others are already inside."
"Others?" Brooklyn wondered to himself. Hiro led him past several apartment doors before halting in front of a polished oak one. He rapped on it.
A young woman with almond-shaped eyes and cherry-red lips answered the door. She wore a plain haori cloak over a simple kimono, and her ink-black hair was twirled up in bun.
"Konbanwa, Hiro-san," she said, her eyes lighting up. "The others are already here." She bowed to Brooklyn, all smiles. "And you must be Brooklyn-san. Hiro-san told me he found another gargoyle last night, but it surely is a pleasure to finally meet you. Hajime mashite. Watashi no namae wa Imachi-chan desu."
"A pleasure to meet you, Imachi-san." Brooklyn bowed again, bewildered. What was up? He was expecting to help distribute food.
"How is your husband?" Hiro inquired politely as she led them inside. It was a nice apartment. Though sparse, probably due to the war, everything was neatly dusted and tidied with the loving devotion of a dutiful housewife. A pale china statue sat over the fireplace. Brilliant orange azaleas blossomed in a glazed pottery bowl nearby.
The cheerful look on Mrs. Imachi’s face waned. "I have not received a telegram from him in two months," she whispered. "Everyone is saying there are problems where he is stationed. That Japan is … losing the war. I am afraid for Okuma."
Hiro caught her hand. "He is a brave man, Sachiyo-chan. I have every inch of faith that he will return home soon."
Mrs. Imachi laughed. "The sooner he does, the sooner his children will calm down. Doi told me her brothers were teasing her again today."
"At least it is always exciting around here," he added slyly.
"Wait until I catch them playing throwing discs with my chawan pot again. Then you will see some excitement." Her grin was wicked as she treaded into the kitchen.
The gargoyles turned a corner into a small eating area. Sitting Indian-style around a short table were several other gargoyles, their hands politely folded on their laps. They looked up expectantly as the human led the males in and directed them to two unoccupied straw tatami mats. A lavender female, dressed in a blue kimono, nodded and slid over to allow more space.
Brooklyn self-consciously tucked in his legs, aware all eyes watched him. Seeing his anxiety, a fiery red male with a twisted horn nudged him and winked. Everyone else, however, dropped their gaze and looked up to Hiro expectantly.
"My rookery brothers and sisters, this is Brooklyn, whom I told you about," he said. Brooklyn was amazed at how much authority Hiro could put into such a calmly spoken sentence. He raised his arm in greeting. "I welcome him among us for as long as he enjoys our company. Brooklyn, this is Akuira-chan." The lavender female smiled and bowed her head. "Sako-san." Twisted Horn nodded. "And Izumi-chan."
A light yellow female in an embroidered blue kimono gestured to Brooklyn. "It is nice to meet you," she said, a strand of smooth ebony hair falling over one eye. "Where do you hail from?" Her claws drummed eagerly against a two-handled curved knife, a sen, thrust into her sash.
Brooklyn swallowed hard. All four gargoyles were staring intently at him, eagerness showing on their faces.
"In a land far, far away," Brooklyn finally said. "You could fly for nights and still not get there." That was truthful. Sort of.
"Aha, a traveler!" Sako chimed, fascinated. He took a sip from a bowl in front of him. "Yes, it is a time of change. You are not the only gargoyle to set off into the world to escape this war, I imagine."
"Yeah, other gargoyles. Like the Ishimura clan."
Sako looked puzzled. "Who?"
Akuira gave her rookery brother a swift elbow in the ribs. Sako clutched his side, moaning. "Wait until Imachi-san returns," she hissed. "Honestly." She turned to Brooklyn. "Hiro-sama has told you, I am sure, of the bomb up north."
Brooklyn’s ears perked up. "He mentioned that, yes." He leaned forward, suddenly intrigued.
"Hiroshima, of all places," she continued dolefully, and stared at Hiro. "Bad luck to have a city bearing your name be destroyed in such an awful manner."
Hiro laughed in his soft voice. "Ever since we were hatchlings, she has been a rookery mother to all of us. Always telling us what to do."
"And doling out punishments," Sako chuckled, rubbing the tender spot where his sister had jabbed him. Akuira raised her hand again, but it seemed more in play than in seriousness.
"Of course, these are serious times," Hiro added thoughtfully. His sleek form sat rigid, but his tail drooped, the only sign he showed of distress. The energy in the room shifted and became more dark and tense. "August sixth. Just two days ago. The radio said it was a beautiful sunny day with hardly any clouds." The words wavered. "Witnesses from miles away had to block their eyes when the bomb fell. They said it was as if an entire sheet of sun stretched across the sky from one horizon to the other."
Izumi poured water into Brooklyn’s bowl. "No sake," she said apologetically. "We can not feast while others starve. It is a strange thing," she continued as she set down the teapot and dusted her hands. "All the reports say it was an adam bomb. Not bombs. It is impossible. How could one bomb level an entire city?"
The apartment’s front door swung open with a bang. Three children dashed in and slammed the door shut, dropping their coats in the process. They ran right into their mother as she carried in a bubbling teapot filled with boiled water and tea leaves.
Sako watched the three children squabble. "Speaking of bombs going off…"
"Shigeko, Doi, and Maiko!" Mrs. Imachi’s tone was harsh. "We have guests!"
"Mother, mother!" a little boy’s voice cried. "We were over in Shitamachi on our way home, and guess what-"
"-gargoyles!" the other boy exclaimed, his broken glasses falling off the bridge of his nose. He scowled. "Doi wanted to show off her stupid ragdoll, though."
Doi retaliated furiously. "Usagi is not stupid! Mother made her just for me."
The children were still arguing as they entered the dining room and stopped dead at the sight of the seated gargoyles, who calmly watched them blush. "Doi did start it, though," the boy with the broken glasses said, though his tone wasn’t as loud this time. He reddened. It was the same boy who had called Payne gaijin.
Dimples appeared on Doi’s flushed cheeks as she bowed to Brooklyn. "You left before you could say hi to Usagi-chan," she murmured shyly. She held up a toy doll. Its bedraggled yarn hair and blue kimono appeared to be fashioned out of scraps from a sewing basket. It was dusty from being dropped in the dirt so much, but Doi embraced it as if forged from gold.
"Oh, wow! She’s very beautiful!" Brooklyn complimented. Doi beamed and shot her brothers a look that taunted I told you so. Maiko and Shigeko scowled again, but said nothing. Brooklyn and Hiro exchanged two amused smiles.
"I believe you have homework to do, you three," Mrs. Imachi said. Her eyes narrowed at the boy with the broken glasses. "Shigeko…"
"Homework, homework, homework …," Shigeko moaned as he headed down the hall, dragging his books behind him. Maiko twitched his shoulders as if seizuring.
"You’ve got to help me with my numbers!" Doi flashed Brooklyn another proud look, clutched Usagi to her breast, and trotted after her brothers. Her black pigtails bounced as she ran.
Hiro chuckled and sipped more water. "This war certainly has not dampened their lively little spirits."
"It will mine," Mrs. Imachi said, "if I catch them setting off fire crackers in their room again." She gave a broken sigh and seated herself next to Izumi. "I wish I knew how my Okuma is doing."
The pale-yellow female patted the woman’s hand. "You are tired," she said. "Who can blame you?"
"The bomb…?" Brooklyn prompted again, curious to finish their conversation before they were interrupted.
"Ah, yes." Hiro’s eyes flickered sadly. "I do not know what you call them, Brooklyn-san, but here, we have nicknamed the bombs b-chans. They are nothing big. Usually, when the humans hear the alarm go off, they just take cover in the bomb shelters.
"But this week, it was different," he continued softly, his bright eyes glazed over. "A powerful bomb, the likes of which has never been seen on this earth, was dropped on Hiroshima by the Americans."
Americans. No wonder the crowd had thrown that rock at Payne. The war was at a breaking point now. If Japan ended up losing, it would be the country’s first defeat to an outside power in over 2,000 years. Sata’s stories convinced Brooklyn of that. Seeing the proud looks on his hosts’ faces, the brick-red gargoyle faltered. He didn’t have the heart to tell them that the United States would win.
Izumi had called it the adam bomb. Though the translation was off, it was close enough, Brooklyn considered grimly. A bomb millions of times hotter than the sun had been dropped on a city, snuffing out the lives of thousands in a split second. Brooklyn imagined Lexington and Broadway’s terror-stricken faces as Manhattan suddenly exploded in a ball of fire, hotter even than the Phoenix Gate. He shook that off, troubled by the thought.
It reminded him of something else, too.
Sometimes you have to take what you want. The whole point of, for example, war. Someone wins. But someone must also lose. Brooklyn flinched at Payne’s poignant words. Yes, but win at what cost?
"People supposedly turned to dust. They say they are still picking bones out of their teeth in Tokyo," Sako said grimly. Akuira looked too solemn to swat him for such a macabre joke. Brooklyn bared his teeth in disgust, but Sako immediately saw his ugly look. "Even if the rumors are true about Japan losing the war, we can not give up. The poorer people are having a difficult time, but even the rich hear their bellies cry out in hunger." His mirthful face had changed to one of sadness.
Brooklyn’s drooped in apology. Still, something deep inside his brain whirred and clicked away…
"What was the city’s name again?" he inquired after a moment.
"Hiroshima." Mrs. Imachi cocked her head. "Did you pass through it during your travels?" She poured everyone’s tea, a simple concoction of bay leaves and steamed water. The others ducked their heads. Mutters of the customary dinner prayer ‘Ita-daki-masu’ were heard before they began to drink.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn sank into a stupor. He certainly hadn’t passed through Hiroshima on one of his Dances or else he would have remembered. The name seemed so familiar. It slunk through his brain like mist. But as soon as he thought he had the answer, it slipped from his clutches like smoke.
He shrugged his shoulders as everyone peered up from their tea. "Nah," he said finally, hoping he sounded confident. "I must have just heard it in passing." Despite his assurance, dread buzzed in his head like an evil black fly.
His worried thoughts ground to a halt when Hiro rose to his feet. He folded his napkin neatly on the table and cleared his throat to attract attention, but everyone was already listening in deference to their leader.
"It is time," he murmured.
* * * * *
It was one of the best nights Brooklyn had had in a long while. He followed Hiro and the others over to the south side of Nagasaki, where the tiniest tenant houses lay in thick clusters. Each gargoyle had a heavy sack slung over their back, except for Izumi. The sen rubbed uncomfortably against her side when she wore a backpack, so she clutched the sack tightly in her arms as she flew.
She grinned as Brooklyn fumbled with the bag’s strap. "Having fun, are we?"
Brooklyn muttered, annoyed. "Where did you get this food?"
"Some people with surplus supplies are gracious with donations. Others, however … they have to be persuaded." She grinned at Brooklyn again.
He blinked and forced hair out of his face, trying to close the bag and steer his wings at once. "What do you mean?"
"Some factories outside of Nagasaki overproduce, and they just let the surplus rot. They don’t know that some in cities are starving. We manage to sneak in and out."
The brick-red gargoyle raised an eyebrow, skeptical. "Don’t guards catch you?"
There was a laugh from Sako. "Oh, do not worry. They usually do not know what hit them." Brooklyn had a funny feeling this statement was literal. "Hiro-sama! Suki-kun and the others! Down there!"
Hiro glided silently up behind them, his wings slicing noiselessly through the air. Brooklyn thought he saw the turquoise leader smile. "Good. Follow me, everyone!" His wings bent vertically until they touched each other, and Hiro dropped like a stone. The others followed suite. Brooklyn hugged the bag to his stomach and chased after them.
He landed with a thump on the riverbank where half a dozen other gargoyles stood in wait. Everyone else carried bags of potatoes and pumpkin. There were whispers and gestures towards the new gargoyle. Brooklyn only stood at silent attention and pretended not to notice.
A rose female with long horns and a bud mouth approached them. "Hiro!" she exclaimed. "So good to see you again." Her face lines creased in annoyance. "Where have you been?"
Hiro looked sheepish. "Introducing a friend to the sights of Nagasaki. Suki-chan, Brooklyn. Brooklyn, I give you Suki, my Second-In-Command." His uncomfortable expression seemed to say a whole lot more. Brooklyn thought he saw Hiro’s face blush a deep ocean blue.
"He was telling the truth then." Suki’s bud mouth curled. "I thought he was seeing things when he said you disappeared."
"Oh, that …" Brooklyn couldn’t think of a safe answer.
Suki continued, raising an eyebrow at his discomfort. "After we hand out food, we were planning to head out to the bay. It is a beautiful night for singing. Akuira-kun is wonderful with her lute. And you know what they say about the moon-"
"-being a meeting place for lovers. I know." Brooklyn would have pulled out his own eyeteeth just to hold Sata right then. He nearly swallowed his tongue.
"Great Hiro-sama!" Sako interrupted at the perfect moment. "Where shall we go first?" His tone was teasing.
Akuira answered. "Nowhere, it seems," she murmured as a mob of humans poured out of the apartment buildings. Another wave of people sped down the street like a wild tidal wave. She laughed as toddlers in ripped pants held out fervent hands. "The Bon Festival has come early this year, little ones! No rice cakes or somen noodles, but almost as good."
No one seemed to mind. A woman surrounded by children looked grateful at the wormy potatoes, while a young man eagerly broke pumpkin in half and fed it to an emaciated dog at his side.
"I figured we’d be handing out rice," Brooklyn commented. He arched his back and danced to the side to escape the crowd, but the wave of hands swayed in pursuit.
Hiro placed a potato in another pair of cold outstretched hands. "I wish, my friend. Japan’s rice supply goes to the Imperial army. All that is available is potato and pumpkin, unless you are lucky enough to be a factory worker. Unfortunately, that is one area in which we can not help the people." He tapped the tiny hand on his wing for emphasis. "If I could hide my wings somehow and get into a factory, I would."
The brick-red gargoyle nodded in sympathy and turned. He ran smack into a wall of human faces and reaching hands.
"Ho, ho, ho!" he exclaimed, getting into the act. "Have you been good this year?" The children stared at him blankly, obviously unaccustomed to Western holidays. Brooklyn sighed. "I’ll take that as a yes." He tipped a handful of pumpkin slices into his hands and handed them out, grinning as faces lit up like Christmas lights.
"You are strange, Brooklyn-san," Sako commented. His smile was like a hatchling’s who was planning a prank. "I’m going to like having you around. Too bad there aren’t many other gargoyles nearby … we could make this into one crazy party." He chuckled and tossed another potato to the crowd.
"Yeah," Brooklyn muttered to himself. "Other gargoyles." It didn’t make sense. Hiro’s clan has such an open relationship with the people, and yet neither Goliath nor the Ishimura gargoyles had mentioned another Japanese clan. Why weren’t they remembered in modern times?
It was as if this clan had simply disappeared off the face of the earth.
* * * * *
Payne was still deep in thought, but at least the children had finally left him alone. Bits and pieces of the whole story were starting to come to him.
"Japan, 1945 ... that would've been a hot spot during the war ... wait, I've got it!"
He shot upright, smiling, as the memory came back to him. "Hiroshima! Of course, the dropping of the atomic bomb, the end of the war. Bomb dropped, war ended. Right?"
He returned to his thoughtful pose again. "Wait, there wasn't just one ... two. Two bombs were dropped. One would've probably been enough ... atomic weapons are out of fashion but deadly. Especially now ... hmm, Hiroshima ... wait, Nagasaki!"
He almost shot upright once more, but suddenly had an overwhelming feeling of dread take him over. "Good Lord, we're at ground zero!"
* * * * *
The gargoyles returned from their mercy run, Hiro and Brooklyn at the lead. In the distance, on the street, Brooklyn suddenly spotted Payne, wildly waving his arms to get his attention.
"I guess we set down here." Brooklyn motioned to Hiro, who in turn passed along the word to the rest of the group. They came in for a gentle landing, right next to where Payne had been standing. Payne, however, made a beeline for Brooklyn, speaking fast and nearly unintelligibly.
Hiro raised an eyebrow ridge at the strange human. "Brooklyn, I believe your friend there is mad."
Brooklyn rolled his eyes. "He's hardly my friend. Go on ahead, I'll deal with this wacko."
Hiro nodded, acknowledging and leading the rest of his Clan away. Brooklyn took the opportunity to deliver an open-handed slap across Payne's face. He wobbled a bit, then recovered.
"Thanks, I needed that."
"Don't mention it. Now start over from the top ... what's going on?"
Gasping for air after his outburst, Payne swallowed hard to regain his control. "The big weapon they were talking about earlier ... it was the atomic bomb."
"The first of two. And we're right where the second one's going to be dropped!"
Brooklyn's eyes glowed. "Why should I believe you, Mr. 'I-Wanna-Get-Out-Of-Here?' How do I know you're not trying to get me to take you with so that you can get away from this squalor?"
"Oh come on, man, you must have some knowledge of this war! Think, it's World War Two, we're in the southern part of Japan, and a hugely powerful weapon just struck a big industrial city to the north. Now tell me, do you recall anything about the atomic bombs?"
Brooklyn's eyes had long since stopped glowing, as he listened to Payne's logic. "My experience was mostly in Europe in my World War Two dances ... though I do recall hearing something about two bombs, yes."
Payne nodded. "Yeah, that's right! First one fell on Hiroshima. That's to the north of here."
Brooklyn cocked his head, listening more closely.
"And right now, we're in Nagasaki. The second bomb's going to drop here any day now."
Brooklyn was now starting to believe Payne. "What can we do, then? We don't know when the next one's going to drop yet!"
"Maybe we do ... I think I recall the interval between the two bombs." Payne's face suddenly went pale. "We're in serious trouble."
"Well, if my estimate is correct ... Hiro said that the first bomb dropped two days ago, right?"
"Yeah," Brooklyn answered. "So?"
"So ... if the first one dropped then, it means that the second one falls ..."
Payne's next words struck deeply within Brooklyn.
"... this morning."
"You’re lying!" Brooklyn snapped. Payne flinched, and Brooklyn suddenly realized he had instinctively raised his fist threateningly over the human’s head. He lowered his arm, but the fear in Payne’s eyes hadn’t dissipated. "I’ve already gotten separated from Sata! I won’t let something like this happen to them! Not now!" He flung his arm wide towards Hiro’s clan. They watched him politely from the street corner, waiting for him. Their eyes betrayed concern.
"Brooklyn, stop thinking with your heart and use that head of yours!" Payne exclaimed. "It’s as plain as that big nose on your face! Perhaps the reason you don’t remember a Nagasaki clan is because they were blown up."
Brooklyn staggered as if slapped across the beak. Bile rose in his throat, but somewhere deep down, he knew Payne was right.
Sako cupped his hands around his mouth and tried again. "Brooklyn-san! Are you coming?"
Hiro strode forward, ignoring Sako’s cries. "Brooklyn, my friend, are you alright?" His gentle eyes were wide with distress. It was the first time Hiro had dropped the formal –san ending. He had just addressed Brooklyn as a brother.
"Are you coming?" he prompted. "If we hurry with the food, we may reach the bay just before dawn."
The brick-red gargoyle wrapped his wings around his body as if they could protect him. If he told Hiro, could they make it out of the city by dawn? His nagging subconscious knew that was impossible. Hiro was too honorable, too concerned. He would never abandon the humans. To do so would be like asking him to abandon part of himself.
Perhaps if they could lead the humans away, too. But evacuating thousands of people took hours. A ribbon of coral-pink tinged the sky, telling him that dawn was too close.
He glanced at Payne. The bald doctor gave a pressured look in return.
"I’ll be there shortly. Just give me a sec." He couldn’t leave them like this. Even if it meant his death. Brooklyn gritted his teeth.
Hiro beamed. "There. I knew you would come. Follow me." He turned on his tail and headed back up the street to his clan.
"You made the right choice."
Brooklyn glared at the human. "By sentencing Hiro and his Clan to die? How is that the right choice, Payne?"
"Realistically, there's no way you could save all of these people, or Hiro's clan. The bomb's effects are too widespread, you're better off trying to save yourself ... we're better off trying to save ourselves."
Brooklyn growled savagely, grasping Payne by the shoulders and slamming him against a nearby wall, eyes glowing in his frustrated fury. "I'm sick of your cowardliness, Payne! I have my own reasons for not telling him, and they don't involve turning tail and running for my life, as you've perfectly demonstrated you're more than willing to do!!"
"But if you want any chance of seeing your mate again, you have to, you know that!"
Payne's mention of Sata brought Brooklyn down from his anger momentarily. He set the human down.
"There, that's better. When is the Gate going to activate again?"
Brooklyn chuckled. "I don't know."
At this, Payne finally showed the true panic he'd been trying to hold back. "WHY NOT?!"
"Because I don't control the blasted thing!" Brooklyn sharply retorted. "And even if I did, what makes you think you have a ticket to safety even if it goes off? Your threats of causing chaos in the timeline become pretty moot if you're nothing but vapor."
His last words came with glowing eyes. Payne was starting to back away from the newly-enraged gargoyle when the Phoenix Gate's familiar flames appeared out of nowhere, creating a sphere around both Brooklyn and Payne and carrying them away.
"No! Not now!" The Gate’s reaction had come out of nowhere. Brooklyn couldn’t leave Hiro and his clan now. The tingling evaporated as the Gate’s flames imploded, dropping him on his head. Payne slammed hard onto his back and he let out a yelp.
"It’ll take some getting used to," Payne said weakly.
Brooklyn wasn’t even listening. He jumped to his feet and looked about wildly, afraid of what he would see. Instead, the world around them looked oddly familiar. The smell of kitchen grease and duck wafted through the chilly night air. Brooklyn stared up at the concrete buildings in shock.
"Look at that!" He flexed a finger up at the diamond-studded sky where the moon hung swollen like a seven-month belly. Its position had moved. "We’ve only been pulled through time, not space. It’s the night before we first arrived."
Payne limped to his feet. "You have to pick the one time-traveling device sadistic enough," he growled. "It hasn’t saved us. It’s just prolonging the agony of awaiting what’s to come-"
"-or prevent what’s to come," Brooklyn interrupted. "Hiro! Hiro!" He cupped his hands around his beak as he called, running down the street without a care as to who heard. "Hiro! Akuira! Sako!"
He skidded around a corner and fell flat on his face. Brooklyn ignored the pain in his shins and, pulling himself up, loped off on all fours. He heard Payne give a frantic shout from behind, but he couldn’t stop. Where would Hiro be?
Brooklyn turned south and quickened his pace.
"Hiro!" He turned onto a small side street to find a welcome sight: Hiro and about a dozen others. They all carried the same sacks, laden with food. Grateful humans already lined the avenue, some weeping in relief.
The turquoise male’s head shot upwards, his eyebrows knit together in confusion at who was calling him. He did a double take as Brooklyn skidded to a halt.
"Konbanwa, friend," Hiro said politely, puzzled at the sudden intrusion. "Or should I say, ohayo. Good morning. I was not aware that other gargoyles had survived Time." He bowed.
"Hiro, it’s-" He stopped himself just in time, remembering his manners. "I mean, Hiro-sama, I have heard of the work you are doing for the people in this city. I am Brooklyn, a traveler, and wanted to see if perhaps I could help." He bowed as low as he could go.
The leader’s sleek arms folded across his waist as he bowed. "Ah! We would be grateful! Come, Brooklyn-san. It is an honor to meet you. You must forgive my surprise," he added as he handed Brooklyn a small bag of pumpkin. "I have not heard of any other clans here for a long time. I am quite honored that a traveler would stop to help strangers." His bright eyes shone with respect.
"Hiro-sama?" Suki walked up behind him with a little boy in her arms. The child looked at Brooklyn and giggled at the stranger. "Who are you speaking to?"
"Hiro-sama, this isn’t the only reason for my arrival." Hiro raised an eyebrow at the sudden desperate fling at success Brooklyn could come up with. "I … I have heard of something coming. A bomb-"
"Bombs?" Suki blinked. Her face twisted in concern. "What bombs? We are doing our best to-"
"Bomb," Brooklyn said emphatically, despite the annoyed look on her face at being interrupted. "Just one bomb." He turned as Payne ran up, wheezing as if he had just run the New York Marathon.
Brooklyn took a deep breath. "Listen, there’s something very important you need to know-"
"Suki-chan!" the boy cried, hugging her neck even tighter. "Look! The sun!"
The last thing Brooklyn saw before his eyes clouded over was the look of utter surprise on Hiro’s face.
* * * * *
The roar of Brooklyn's awakening from his stone slumber was barely detectable through the sounds of sirens, engines and screams. However, one set of screams drew his attention immediately ... those belonging to Dr. Isaac Payne.
" ... come on, we've got to get out of here ..."
"Slow down, Payne, what happened?"
Payne, attempting to control his panic, took a deep breath. "The Gate activated shortly after sunrise and took us here. We just arrived about a minute ago."
Brooklyn took in the sights around him in awe and terror. People ran in all directions, fleeing for their lives. Emergency and military vehicles working overtime, fighting heavy pedestrian traffic and unusual weather patterns to reach other victims within the city. Desperately, he scanned the skies, looking for any signs of the Clan, for if the city was in crisis Hiro and his clanmates would surely be helping in the relief efforts.
But he saw nothing.
"Where are we?"
Payne took a careful look at their surroundings. "I'd say a couple of miles away from ground zero. We're still getting the effects of the blast, though, so we're close enough for it to be dangerous."
"Of course you would say that. I've got to find the Clan!"
Grabbing Payne harshly, Brooklyn found a convenient wall and launched himself into the radioactive sky, just now beginning to produce an oily black rain.
* * * * *
After only a few minutes, Brooklyn had located them. And all of his fears were confirmed. He set himself and Payne down close to where the gargoyles were ... out of stone sleep, but twisted into a massive pile of limbs, the kind neither had ever seen short of in films. All had expressions of horror and pain on their faces.
"Brooklyn ... I'm sorry ..."
Brooklyn suddenly began blindly looking around the bodies. "I need to find Hiro! Help me!"
"I don't think he's going to be any different."
"He has to be! Come on, Hiro!" Brooklyn kept looking until he finally found who he was looking for.
Hiro was in just as bad of shape as the others had been. He was curled up in a fetal position, his wings lying flat against the ground. His face was caught in an expression of stunned shock, lifeless eyes staring out into oblivion. Equally as dead as his clanmates were.
Brooklyn let go with a pained roar of mourning and sorrow into the night, letting his rage free. Payne carefully approached him finally, as Brooklyn dropped his hands by his sides, the sorrow now taking over.
"How could this have happened? In stone sleep, short of a sledgehammer they should've been safe."
"I've done some research into gargoyle physiology in my time," Payne offered. "Best guess is that because your bodies absorb solar energy during stone sleep, the blast might have supercharged them beyond what they could handle."
He crouched down next to Hiro, looking over the body carefully, then nodded. "When they awakened this evening, as soon as they were free of the stone they all suffered massive coronaries. This definitely looks like a heart attack."
Brooklyn sighed dejectedly. "I could've warned him ... I had every opportunity ..."
"It wouldn't have made a difference. If the blast hadn't killed them, the radiation probably would have." Payne looked around in panic. "And it's going to kill us as well if we don't get out of here quickly. We're already probably over normal tolerances for radioactivity."
Payne's words fell upon unhearing ears, as Brooklyn knelt over the body of his new friend, so recently made and so quickly taken away from him. He let a silent tear fall.
"Farewell, Hiro. I'll never forget you."
A fiery rage swelled up in his chest. Brooklyn slammed his fist into the ground and bowed his head, too weak to move. His fingers caressed something. Opening his eyes and sniffling, he found himself clutching something all too familiar. It was a dusty ragdoll with yarn hair and the tattered remains of a blue kimono. Tendrils of smoke curled upwards where the head and arms had been singed black from the blast.
The legs wouldn't move; he suddenly realized the heat had melted them together.
Payne placed a hand upon Brooklyn's shoulder, just as the Phoenix Gate flared up again, snatching them away from the wasteland that had once been Nagasaki.