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The Caldron

The Caldron

Photo courtesy of Billboard.
The Holdovers Review
February 20, 2024

Saving Sister Sara

It’s been over half a year since the Empire of Japan surrendered to the United States of America, ending the three years long Greater East Asia War. The defeat was crushing; the once proud and powerful navy was no more. The occupied country had no right to possess anything like this.  With this she and her comrades were successively scrapped and forgotten, in shock, humiliation, and induced infamy. Once a frontline force of one of the world’s most powerful navies, she was reduced to a mere landmark under command of the enemy. A large part of her damage remained unrepaired and she slowly began getting used to the thought of getting scrapped. After all, what else is there for her? She’d have preferred a warrior’s death, but a samurai who failed to protect their master doesn’t deserve such honour. Stuck in one place, her anxiety kept growing, thoughts of her comrades lost to a technologically and economically superior enemy with seemingly endless armies and fleets, were slowly driving her nuts. The only comfort she could find in this situation was the cruiser, Sakawa, stationed nearby. Always energetic and eccentric, Sakawa visited her every day. The couple grew quite fond of each other very quickly.

This state of affairs continued, until one day, a feeling she hasn’t felt in what seemed to be forever, came over her. Her engines–her engines were running once again, barely, but enough to feel the pleasant breeze and waves crashing on her hull. Sakawa was on the move too. She couldn’t help but wonder: will she become a practice target, like Takao and Myoukou before? If not for 181 Americans on her, she’d allow herself some wishful thinking of an uprising against the occupant taking place. Ah, what an end to her story it would be!

Making barely ten knots, she was headed east to the Marshall Islands. The change of scenery made Sakawa very happy. She kept running around, singing and shouting, despite her bad shape. A truly uplifting view it was. Filled with enthusiasm she even managed to reach thirteen knots, but such speed wasn’t enough to make the journey any shorter. She was still unclear on the objective of this mission, but from what she could grasp from her crew talking, was that she and Sakawa were going to partake in some kind of military experiment. Not a scientist, she quickly stopped paying attention, instead choosing to enjoy her first time at the open ocean in nearly two years.

Their long journey took its toll on Sakawa. The cruiser’s engines broke down and despite giving it her best, she was unable to tow her dear friend, putting one of her remaining boilers out of commission. If that wasn’t enough, both of them ran out of fuel. Help came in the form of tugboats  two days later. Those might have been small, and taking a mighty battleship, such as herself, in tow required not only a lot of effort, but also enormous strength. Their saviours showed both. At a sluggish pace, they managed to safely reach Eniwetok a few days later, where temporary repairs were done.

After nearly a 3 months long break, looking after Sakawa, she was on the move once again. The cruise was short, but the feeling of wind on her face and waves crashing against her body made her feel alive once again. She was moved to the closest atoll to the east, the Bikini Atoll, a name she considered to be somewhere between amusing and ridiculous. Who could understand the Westerners, though? Alongside her and Sakawa, the atoll was filled with multiple different warships, mostly American battleships. They were all once mighty symbols of their nation. Oh, how she’d love to spar with them. She could tell that Americans didn’t share the same sentiment, however. Glances of contempt and hatred rained upon her from every side. Amongst them, two pairs of eyes were clearly different. One belonged to a German heavy cruiser, Prinz Eugen, who kept arguing with Sakawa. She was convinced that her big sister, Bismarck, would easily beat any Japanese battleship. She’s known this name very well, the largest warship ever built by any European country. Just thinking of facing such an opponent made her heart pound like the Japanese carriers pounded Pearl Harbor at the outset of the war. However, at the end of the day she was the one still standing, and the pride of Kriegsmarine lay somewhere at the bottom of the sea, taken out by a bunch of paper aircraft. Amusing as the thought was, even her juniors, the largest battleships to ever sail the oceans, couldn’t withstand the fury of American aircraft carriers.

Putting tales of Bismarck’s might aside, she was much more interested in the second pair of eyes, warm and full of sympathy. The American aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, once a Lexington-class battlecruiser, equivalent of the Japan’s Akagi, was sitting on her own deck, enjoying the light breeze. Saratoga was an experienced warrior, responsible for multiple Japanese losses despite her age, yet she couldn’t help but feel anything but enormous respect for the carrier. Surrounded by an aura of something that Japan’s own carriers severely lacked, a motherly love. For some incomprehensible reason, she couldn’t help but feel fascinated. Gathering all her courage, she’s decided to come up to her old adversary… and then it happened.

A blinding flash of white light and a roar which made Yamato-class guns sound like toys. The most intense pain she’s ever felt overcame her in an instant, taking away her senses. She could barely make out Sakawa’s crying among the mass of screams. Cries of pain and fear filled the air, but her mind stayed firmly fixed on Sakawa. She tried to spot the cruiser, but soon lost consciousness.

When she came to be, she noticed  a bunch of people assessing and repairing the slight damage she’d taken. For a moment she was filled with pride of withstanding such a powerful explosion, but this feeling quickly faded away, as she reminded herself of Sakawa. She started frantically looking for the cruiser, soon realizing that a large part of the “fleet” was sunk or sinking, and no sight of her last surviving friend. Between excruciating physical pain and the sorrow of having lost the last comfort she had, her spirit gave in. Falling to her knees, she covered her face and started sobbing, repeating “please, let it stop already,” like it was some kind of a mantra. The once proud flagship of the Imperial Navy was completely broken. She now realized something she’d known for a long time. There’s no glorious end to her story, no great uprising, no warrior’s death in a decisive fleet battle. She was destined to be sunk in the middle of nowhere, by a weapon she has no means of defending against, and it was only a matter of time…

Days passed in an anxious wait for the end to come. She finally gathered herself – she wanted to feel the waves once more. Jumping off board, she noticed the figure which had stolen her attention on that fateful day. It seemed that Saratoga had the same idea. Instinctively, they started walking towards each other. The motherly smile was gone from the carrier’s face, some of her hair stained black from dust that floated in the air for a few days after the explosion. Without saying a word, Saratoga threw herself into the battleship’s arms, hiding her face in her old adversary’s chest. Among muffled sobs, repeated cries of “why?” could be heard. Finally, Saratoga lifted her face, it was swollen red from crying, and asked again “Why are they doing this to us?!”

Before the battleship could answer, a geyser of water exploded from right beneath them. All that was left, was the view of rapidly sinking Saratoga and excruciating pain.

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