Boarding the Bonhomme Richard
The ride over to Haneda Airport in two buses took just over an hour—luck of the draw, since the other company would leave too late to avoid rush hour traffic—and the charter flights to Nagasaki would occupy another two hours. From there, a short helo-ride would deposit them at the naval base at Sasebo. Seating on the plane sorted itself out in predictable ways, by rank and nation, though nothing required it.
“At least on the bus, we didn’t have to endure the gaijin,” Tsukino muttered, glowering across the aisle to where Emily sat with Durant and Oleschenko. The flight attendant offered him a water bottle and a bag of the orb-like, slightly sweetened cookies called hashimitsu.
“Are you still stewing over the drubbing she gave you?” Ishikawa snorted.
Tsukino growled and turned to Kano for moral support, but none was forthcoming. “You know it’s not right, Captain, not after what she did to us.”
Kano waved him off with an angry glance, and stalked down the aisle to look for an empty seat in the back.
“I could have told you he wouldn’t bite on that one,” Ishikawa said. “But you have definitely got to let it go. So you got your ass kicked… so what? It’s not like you didn’t totally deserve it.”
“Will you ever shut up, Dice?”
“I only wish someone had made a video of it.”
Out of the corner of one eye, Ishikawa noticed Oleschenko nudging Tenno, and gesturing toward the back, and he tried not to laugh at the captain’s consternation when she took the empty seat next to Tsukino instead.
“Moushiwake arimasen, Tsukino-san,” she said, in excessively formal Japanese, given her superior rank, and at the same time looking directly into Moon’s face.
“He’s not gonna like that,” Ishikawa couldn’t help thinking, knowing how mercurial his friend could be, “…and why is she apologizing to Tsukino anyway.” Such an odd figure, this American lieutenant, so clearly Japanese and yet somehow not. She spoke the language naturally enough, but with such formality, as if she’d been raised within the imperial court. Did she even know any slang? But in her manner, her gait, everything else about her, so much more like a boy.
“I did not mean to offend you,” Emily continued.
“Your apology means nothing to me,” Tsukino muttered. “Perhaps you can try it on Capt Kano.”
Tenno paused for a moment, sizing Moon up. Obviously, she’d already taken his measure in the ring yesterday, but perhaps she sought some other indication of his character now. Looking over Moon’s shoulder, Ishikawa saw a glint in her eyes, and shuddered—more like a predator, for that brief instant, than a human being, she seemed capable of any evil. “That must be how officers view us… or gods,” he thought, and gave Moon a shove to break the mood.
“Lighten up,” he said, forcing an uncomfortable laugh. “We all have to get along sooner or later. Might as well start now.”
“Don’t make everything into a joke, Dice,” he snarled back, without breaking eye contact.
“Don’t mistake this for an apology,” Emily said. “Even if I hadn’t beaten you in the ring, protocol does not require me to treat you as more than a bit of dirt on my shoe. But I suspect there’s something better than that in you, something worthy of respect. Help me find it… and you can start by showing me the respect my office demands… or I can grind you into the dust. It’s your choice.”
Neither one moved for a long moment, and Ishikawa’s heart thundered in his ears, as he wondered whether his friend could swallow that enormous pride. Finally, Moon nodded his head, and Emily grunted, stood up and nodded back, before returning to the seat next to Oleschenko.
Moon fell silent for a few moments, and refused to lift his head, which allowed Ishikawa to peer over his shoulder and make out bits and pieces of the Americans’ conversation, as much as his growing familiarity with English permitted.
“What the hell’d you do that for?” the Captain said—Ishikawa was fluent in American curse words, and much of their conversation came easy for him. “Kano’s alone back there. Don’t waste this opportunity.”
“Sorry, sir,” she said. “This isn’t the moment you think it is. It’s still his turf.”
“I don’t know what you’re playing at, Tenno…”
“There are layers, sir. I’ll get nowhere with him until I sort things out with his NCOs, especially Tsukino.”
“She’s right about that, sir,” Durant piped up.
“Whatever,” Oleshenko grumbled—using a word whose nuance Ishikawa had not yet mastered. “These guys are so touchy about losing.”
“Yes, sir,” she said. “No Marine would ever bristle at a public humiliation.” Ishikawa assumed she meant this ironically, but he wasn’t sure.
Oleschenko grunted, and said, “You’re not giving me a civics lesson, are you, Lieutenant?” She said nothing, and he continued, “…which is why a Marine mud-brawl would have been so much better than that ticky-tack little tournament.”
“Sure would have,” Durant said, touching his nose gingerly.
Ishikawa touched his own nose, without realizing it.
The hop over to the naval base at Sasebo in a pair of CH-46Es brought the usual exhilaration, sweeping in a wide pass over Omura Bay, Mt. Tara visible on the starboard side, the sun glistening on the western slopes of the old volcano, and the smaller Mt. Nagaura on the port side. They banked left over Segawa to avoid the residential neighborhoods crowding that end of Kyushu, and then right once they’d cleared the point at Kuchizaki and had a clear line into Sasebo. Shrines peeked at them from every point and promontory, if only the Marines cared to look for them.
Durant tapped her shoulder and she turned to see his swollen face grinning at her. She’d disconnected her cranial, weary of Oleschenko’s constant chatter about how she had to talk to Kano, and how she’d probably blown their best chance.
“Is that her?” he asked, pointing out one of the port windows, once she’d reconnected her headset.
“No. The Princess Toyotama shrine is on the starboard side, just below the point.”
“That’s not what I mean,” he said, and then he caught sight of her smiling face.
“Yup, that’s her, the Bonhomme Richard, at the outer wharf, on the leeward side.”
“Is this your first time on something this size, LT?”
“Nah, I did my third year surface cruise on an Arleigh-Burke out of Yokosuka.”
“That’s nothing compared to a Wasp-class helo-carrier.”
“I guess,” she said.
“He’s just feeling the pressure, you know, from higher-ups,” Durant said, gesturing to Oleschenko, who’d also disconnected his headset.
“I get that, Sarge. It’s just that Kano’s a tough nut to crack. There’s some history…”
“Oh,” he said, eyeing her somewhat differently now.
“Nothing like that, dumbass.”
“Well, you’re gonna have to sort him out soon. We get underway tomorrow.”
The Phrog banked right and then left, and then left again, more steeply on the final turn, tossing the platoon around as it prepared for its final approach in a rising breeze. Specialist Chapman, who had dozed off unharnessed, lurched across the cabin into Durant on the other side and, shoved rudely back onto his perch, woke disoriented and cursing at the webbing that now trapped his arm. The pilot called back to drop the ramp even before the tricycle landing gear touched the deck. Two gentle bounces, and Oleschenko was up barking out an order.
“Grab your gear and hit the deck, Marines.”
Two men in yellow jackets waved them toward a hatch on one edge of the flight deck, where the OOD awaited. Emily glanced up to see several men in strange uniforms staring down at them from Vulture’s Row. By the time the boarding protocols had been observed, the Phrogs were already gone, headed back to Nagasaki for two more loads, and a relative calm descended on the Bonhomme Richard, though it wouldn’t last long, since a line of Harriers could already be seen, snaking off into the distance, on approach for another round of a takeoff-and-landing exercise.
“It looks like the Chinese are already here,” she said, nudging Durant as they jogged across the deck. Three stripes on the shoulder boards of one man who stared at her with particular intensity marked him as an officer, probably the equivalent of a Captain. She tried to remember the Mandarin word for it, and muttered, “Shangwei.”
Down a ladder and around two corners brought them to a wardroom where three master chiefs stood in a row announcing berthing assignments and barking out orders in a tone of voice that expects immediate compliance from whoever hears it. The entrance of a Marine captain and his lieutenant in jungle-camo failed to raise any eyebrows, much less a salute or two.
“You’re squatting with Capt Diao, sir,” said one of the chiefs, holding a clipboard in one hand and running a pencil along one edge. “And Capt Ongpin.”
“Any English-speakers in that cabin?” Oleschenko asked.
“Oh, and Capt Kano, too.”
He glanced over at Emily with a gleam of helplessness in his eye, but other voices had already drawn her attention away.
“Lt Tenno,” another chief muttered, flipping through the pages on his clipboard. “Let’s see here… Clade, where’d we put Tenno?”
“Beats the hell out of me, Master Chief.”
The entrance of two ship’s officers stiffened the chief’s demeanor
“What seems to be the trouble, Master Chief?” a familiar voice called out from what seemed an impressive height, though he was merely standing a few feet away, and Emily turned to see an old friend.
“No trouble, Lt Talib, sir,” the chief replied in the ornate formality of which the Navy is fond.
“Lt Tenno requesting permission to come aboard, sir,” Emily said, with a rigid salute. And when Talib finally returned her salute, after a moment’s puzzlement, she continued in a lighter tone: “Aren’t you a sight…”
“Jarheads,” MC Clade muttered, perhaps a little more loudly than he’d intended, “…always screwing with protocol.”
“Don’t forget me,” a higher, equally familiar voice chirped at her, and a tall, slender blond with a page-boy haircut peeked over Zaki’s broad shoulder.
“CJ,” Emily exclaimed, before remembering her idiosyncratic commitment to protocol and snapping to attention with another salute.
“Oh, please, Em,” CJ said, stepping around. “That may work on the boys, but I need a hug.”
“We’re just trying to figure out where my bunk is.”
CJ frowned and turned to the chief: “I’ve got three empty racks in my berth, Master Chief. Put Lt Tenno with me.”
By this time, Clade had worked his way over to the Japanese contingent, who had been waiting in the corridor, and Emily noticed Kiku standing just inside the hatch.
“And Lt Otani,” she said. “She needs to bunk with me… I mean with us, you know, because of the language”
“You got that, Master Chief?” CJ said, and led the way out after he nodded. Emily followed her, calling “Ikimasho, Kiku-san” over her shoulder, and Lt Otani trotted along behind them, perhaps not used to the pace of CJ’s martial stride. And following in their wake, Zaki brought up the rear of the party
“It’s a maze down here,” Emily moaned.
“Yup,” CJ chirped. “Just like rabbits in a warren—that’s what Zaki always says.”
“Except this one’s the size of a small city.”
“It’s not that complicated,” Zaki said, pointing to the numbers painted on a bulkhead. “You just have to learn the code. These numbers identify what deck you’re on, how far forward you are, and how far off the center line.”
Lt Otani nodded approvingly. “Very good, thank you, Lieutenant-san. The numbers identify my position. Is it easy to find a path around the ship?”
“Not quite.” He scratched his chin and paused to allow a few red-jacketed sailors to squeeze by him in the ladderwell. “There are dead-ends and wrong turns, but you develop a sense for it eventually.”
With a crew of eleven hundred, the Bonhomme Richard was one of the first ships with quarters designed specifically to accommodate two hundred or so female crew members—as well as however many women might be included in the Marine Expeditionary Unit the ship was intended to carry in combat operations—the primary female-friendly feature being the inclusion of a private head within each berthing room.
Officers quarters tended to be roomy, within the narrow limits of shipboard life, and CJ’s could accommodate four, while enlisted sailors slept in rooms designed for sixty or more in racks stacked three high in most cases. But even with the extra room, once they’d entered, Zaki’s broad shoulders made even simple introductions, or in fact any movement, difficult.
“O-Zaki,” Kiku said with a giggle, and then blushed crimson, before bowing. “I am honored to make your acquaintance.”
“Zaki and CJ were classmates of mine at the Academy,” Emily said in Japanese.
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance, too, Lt Otani,” CJ said, extending her hand. When Zaki tried to bow, he almost bumped heads with CJ, the two of them towering over Kiku.
Once Zaki had been reminded of some other errand, and beds had been assigned and the gear stowed, CJ led them on a tour.
“First stop is the armory, so you two can check in your weapons.”
“Kiku-san only carries a regulation sidearm,” Emily said.
“I’m pretty sure the same can’t be said for you.” CJ laughed and nudged a bulky duffel with her foot.
“Armory?” Kiku asked with a raised eyebrow.
“All firearms must be secured unless we’re in an active combat zone,” CJ said, and led them through the bowels of the ship.
“Excellent condition.” Staff Sgt Huart turned Kiku’s Beretta over in his hands, before finding a place for it in a rack of similar weapons. “Looks like it’s never even been fired,” he said, and handed her a chit.
Once Emily had laid out her ordinance on a counter in front of Sgt Huart, CJ clucked at her. “I don’t know how you can even lift all that.”
Huart inspected and appraised each piece, then logged it in: “Remington 870… nice. Good in close quarters… really clears a room.”
“Yeah,” Emily said. “The M4 never really did it for me.”
“It’s got decent penetration against the lighter body-armor.”
“Maybe so, but it’s just too fussy for me. Plus, if I’m gonna use a gun at all, I want to end the fight, not just piss someone off.”
Huart snorted at that remark and began to call her military experience into question — “And just how many firefights have you been in, ma’am?” — but paused when he noticed Emily’s sidearm, hefted it in one hand, and smirked at her. “You’ve got good taste, Lieutenant, but this is outside the regs.”
“What’s the problem?” CJ asked.
“Marine regulation sidearm is a Beretta M9, ma’am. We’re gonna have to write her up for this one. Who’s your commanding officer?”
“She’s DRP, Staff Sergeant,” a deeper voice said from the corridor. “SOCOM made it official: they carry 1911s.” Emily and CJ turned to see who it was, and saluted when they recognized him. Kiku and Sgt Huart saluted, too.
“Deep-Recon, sir?” Huart seemed to want to object that helo-pilots aren’t really considered part of a DRP, but a glance at the gold ‘budweiser’ decorating Cmdr Leone’s chest silenced him.
After an uncomfortable moment, Emily asked, “Are we checking steel, too?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Huart replied, but when she extracted her wakizashi from the duffle he glanced again at Cmdr Leone, who returned a brief shake of the head, as if to say, “Just log it in. This too shall pass.”
But Kiku couldn’t let it pass, and picked it up, cheeks suddenly flushed, examining the sharp edge and the saya, caressing a wavy pattern that ribboned along the side of the blade. Then her fingertips touched a chrysanthemum design etched into the base. “This is not regulation issue, is it Tenno-san?” she said, in Japanese. “This must come from the Imperial Household.”
Emily nodded and slipped the blade back into the saya. “It’s a reminder of a service done and a debt to be repaid.” Then turning to Huart, she spoke in English, “Take good care of it, Staff Sergeant. It means a lot to me.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, ma’am, how would you even carry this in action?” he asked.
“Strapped to my back.”
“A Ka-bar isn’t good enough for you?”
“Never cared for ‘em, Sarge,” she said, rubbing her jaw. “In this sort of thing, I’ve found that size really matters.”
They lost sight of Emily and Cmdr Leone when Kiku showed an interest in a large candy display in the ship’s store across from Wardroom Two. “It really is a city,” she gushed. “Just as Talib-san said.”
“I doubt Zaki has ever been called that before,” CJ said.
Kiku looked up at her and tried to fathom her meaning. Had she said the wrong thing? She’d met many gaijin before, and once she got used to how tall the Americans tended to be, they were easy to manage. But sharing close quarters across a language barrier was likely to prove a challenge. Her knowledge of English was passable—she knew how to speak it better than she could understand what was said to her—all of which made her regret losing sight of Tenno-san.
When they finally caught up with her on the normally crowded Vulture’s Row, looking out over the flight deck, the scene was oddly quiet, perhaps because of a pause between flight exercises. When CJ stopped at one end, Kiku peered around her and saw Tenno-san staring down Cmdr Leone. She sensed CJ’s discomfort at stumbling into what looked like a private scene and wondered if they shouldn’t withdraw.
“I don’t need babysitting,” Tenno-san said, and pushed him away. Kiku’s feet seemed to be glued to the deck, and the approach of a line of Harriers meant it would soon be difficult to hear again. Still, body language spoke volumes, and these two would be hard to recognize as commander and subordinate.
After the last jet roared off the deck, she heard Cmdr Leone say, “What you didn’t need is another article fifteen write-up.”
“I could have handled him without your help.”
“Don’t blame us. The orders came from the top, from SECNAV himself.”
“Us? Let me guess. Your partner in crime is here, too.”
It seemed so strange to Kiku that a superior officer should shrink from Tenno-san, which is exactly how he seemed, his shoulders slumped and his eyes fixed on his shoes, like a schoolboy who’d been caught in some mischief.
“Well, you can tell him to come out of hiding,” she continued, when he nodded.
“It wasn’t our idea,” he said.
“Did Michael dream this up?”
“And Connie,” he offered, as if he hoped the mere sound of that name would protect him from evil. “I think it was mainly her idea.”
And perhaps the name would have worked some sort of magic, for all Kiku knew, if not for the arrival of others on the scene, and the temporarily windblown quiet of the flight deck.
CJ stepped forward, and when Tenno-san glowered at her, she cleared her throat and made a little gesture to a group of men approaching from the other side.
“You must be Lt Tenno,” said a small man in jungle-camo, sporting a black beret. When she nodded, he turned to the two men standing behind him, one dressed as he was, and wearing a red insignia embroidered with the word ‘Tagaligta,’ the other, taller man wearing the uniform of the Chinese PLA. After a brief exchange in a tongue Kiku did not recognize between the two smaller men, and a grunt from the Chinese officer, he continued. “This is Captain Ongpin of the Philippine National Police, and Captain Diao…”
“And you are?” Tenno-san interrupted.
“My apologies, ma’am. I am Corporal Iwatani, Capt Ongpin’s translator.”
“Then let me welcome you aboard,” Cmdr Leone said, perhaps a tiny bit irritated at having been overlooked until then.
“Yes, this is Cmdr Leone…,” she said, pausing to allow an exchange of grunts and nods to settle down. “Apparently, he will have operational oversight of our missions.”
With Iwatani translating into Tagalog for Capt Ongpin, who then translated into Mandarin for Capt Diao, the conversation promised to devolve into a game of ‘telephone.’
“Cpl Iwatani-san, may I assume from your name that you also speak Japanese?” Kiku asked, inserting herself into the conversation.
“Hai. Nihongo ga wakari masu,” he replied. “After the war, my great-grandfather, like many Japanese POWs, married and settled in Mindanao.”
“And this is Lt Otani and Lt Tanahill,” Tenno-san said, to complete the round of introductions.
Capt Diao muttered something to Capt Ongpin, who relayed it to Cpl Iwatani, who was about to translate for the others, when Tenno-san stopped him and said something in Mandarin directly to Capt Diao.
“Man, I hope all your communications don’t work like this,” CJ said.
“It will not be as bad as all that,” Diao finally said, now speaking English. “And, yes, Miss Tenno, Diao is a very common name. Why do you ask?”
“I met someone named Diao a couple of years back.”
“I take it from your tone that it was not an auspicious meeting.”
“No,” Tenno-san said, her face turning dark and hard. “It was not. A close friend lost her life as a result.”
“As I said before, it is a common name. Still, I am sorry to hear of your misfortune. I hope this Diao was not too blame.”
Tenno-san’s mood seemed to turn even darker as she took in Diao’s words. “Perhaps not alone,” she said. “But she paid a heavy price for it. You might even say she lost her head over the affair.”
As her last words washed over him, Diao’s jaw tightened and his eyes sharpened, and Kiku, still peering around CJ’s shoulder, wondered if he hadn’t somehow betrayed himself. And CJ herself seemed not to react well to something in those words, her breath caught in a shudder of surprise, or maybe even a sudden grief. In the meantime, Tenno-san had pushed past Iwatani and Ongpin, and started down the ladder at the far end of Vulture’s Row, trailing Cmdr Leone behind her.