Destroyer № 35 (Fubuki)
July 20, 2410
I have this dream sometimes.
It's midnight on the 12th of October, 1942, off Cape Esperance. We're supporting a supply operation. While Admiral Jojima and his force land supplies and reinforcements for our troops on Guadalcanal, Cruiser Division 6 under Admiral Gotō—Aoba, Furutaka, Kinugasa—is tasked with shelling the airfield on the island, which the Americans have started calling Henderson Field since they took it from the Army back in August. My sister Hatsuyuki and I are their escorts.
We're north of Guadalcanal itself, entering the strait between it and Savo Island, on our way to the AO, and as far as we know we have the night to ourselves. The Americans have never given us much trouble at night, so we aren't expecting much from them tonight either. It's pitch-black, the moon has long since set, but our lookouts are well-trained for night operations and have the latest optics, so we're confident. So confident that no one worries about the Americans' radar.
We don't have radar. The Navy doesn't trust such newfangled contraptions. Training and guts, they say, are all we need; and we believe them, because after all, that's all the Imperial Navy has ever needed.
The Americans find us just before midnight. Admiral Gotō thinks they're friendly ships, maybe part of Admiral Jojima's force that's gotten lost, and orders the recognition signals flashed from his flagship, heavy cruiser Aoba. The Americans must appreciate that; it gives them an even better target. Their cruisers open up, blasting two of Aoba's turrets to scrap and killing most of the men on the flag bridge, including the Admiral.
So now the rest of us understand what's happening even less.
While we scramble to figure out what's going on and take useful actions, the Americans turn their attention to Furutaka, who's next in line, and beat her up so badly that she'll sink within a few hours.
Then it's my turn.
I'm a Special Type destroyer. I was the first Special Type destroyer, a revolutionary ship when I was launched in 1927, and I'm still a very capable combatant 15 years later, if I do say so myself... but I'm still only a destroyer. I was never built to stand up to the firepower of two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and five Yankee destroyers.
If the battle had unfolded differently, I wouldn't have had to. But the Americans are on our right, they think both Aoba and Furutaka are sinking, and my station is to starboard of Aoba. Hatsuyuki is over on the other side, to port, so now she's behind Aoba and the smokescreen she's laying to help the Americans think she's done for. Kinugasa's turned to port as well, heading away from the Americans' line... so the only thing they all have to shoot at for the moment is me.
Their massed shellfire rakes me from bow to stern, blows me to pieces—wrecks my guns, my torpedo launchers, my engines, sets me on fire, holes me in so many places I probably couldn't have stayed afloat even if the pumps worked, which they don't. In minutes I'm stopped, awash, my crew half dead and the survivors abandoning ship. Out of the fight; out of the war; on my way out of the living world.
From the time the Americans spot us until the shooting stops, it's all over in less than half an hour.
In my memory, and in my dream, it doesn't really hurt very much. The whole thing happens so suddenly, and so fast, that it's all just... surreal. Like I'm watching it happen to someone else. The principal sensation I always feel is not the pain of torn metal and fire, but the cold. People think the waters are warm in the tropics, but that's only near the surface. Once the waves close over me, there's only a steadily growing cold that seeps into everything, forces its way into every recess and compartment as the pressure mounts, blots out every other physical sensation.
In a way, I'm glad I was sunk at night. It meant it was already dark; I didn't have to see the light of day seep away to blackness as I fell toward the floor of what was even then becoming known as Ironbottom Sound.
The only other sensation I had, and always relive, is regret. A wish that I had been able to do more. A hope that my sisters will be all right.
They weren't, of course. Of the 23 of them, only two—Ushio and Hibiki—survived the war. Hatsuyuki escaped that night, but American aircraft got her less than a year later. But I didn't know that. Couldn't know that. All I knew, all I know in that moment of the dream, is the cold, and the dark, until at last even those sensations fade away and I'm just... numb.
Normally, the dream ends there, with the end of my first life. I don't dream about finding myself in Valhalla, or about any of the endless battles I fought in the centuries I was here as a ship. I was sunk many, many times in those days, but since I returned to the docks every morning regardless, none of those memories are particularly traumatic. That kind of thing was just part of the routine.
But like every kanmusu, as far as I know, I do relive my first end. I have, off and on, for all of the 18 years since I woke up in this human-like form I have now; starting, in fact, on that very first morning. Ordinarily, it comes every month or two, irregular, but inevitable.
The fleet counselors tell me it's a common thing for Einherjar of all species. There's even a word for it, borrowed from the old dragon tongue: Viirhahnu, the Dying-Dream. I won't say you ever get used to it, exactly, but... you come to live with it eventually. I used to wake up screaming, possessed by an overpowering need to get out of bed, to hit something, just to prove to myself that I can break the silence, that I can move, that I can feel, even if what I feel is only pain.
I don't do that any more. I'm sure Yūdachi-chan and Mutsuki-chan are glad about that. They've never held it against me, but I know I gave them some pretty rough times in the early days. Things have been much quieter in our part of the destroyers' dorm since I started taking my morning run and training with Iowa-san.
I've had my Viirhahnu every night for the last week running. And every time, the end gets... stranger.
Here's what it was like today, the longest and strangest version yet.
It starts like it always does, with the operation, the surprise, the shelling. But it doesn't end when I sink. Instead, I stay there, on the seabed—blind, silent, numb, paralyzed—for I don't know how long. They tell me dreams happen in real time, but it feels like years—decades—centuries, even. Centuries of nothing.
And then it gets worse.
Then come the hooks. Out of nowhere, clawing at me, snagging on my already torn and mangled body. The shellfire didn't hurt so much, but the hooks do, as they rip into me and haul me out of the mud. My back was broken when I hit the bottom, and as the hooks pull me free, the slightest movement is agony—and there's nothing slight about any of the movement I'm doing now.
Even the daylight is painful as the hooks drag me to the surface. The light I wanted nothing more than to see again. It's as blinding as the dark, but it hurts so much more. This isn't right. I wanted to come back, but not like this, not a broken, rusted wreck, torn from the mud by grapples that even now are slowly widening the new holes they made in whatever's left of me.
Then... I don't know where I am next. It's like a drydock, but not any drydock I've ever seen. There are no shipwrights, no repair fairies, nothing any sane shipgirl would recognize—just weird machines and robot arms and Njörd only knows what the rest of those things are. The light here is even brighter, and artificial, and it hurts even more than the sun. Some of the robot arms pry away the hooks and for a second I'm foolish enough to think that relief is at hand...
... until the other arms start... doing things. Straightening plates. Grinding down jagged edges. Installing plugs and patches and who knows what else. Others rip out what's left of my engines and put... something... where they used to be. Nothing is gentle. Nothing about it feels like it cares in any way, like its designers knew it would be working on a living, feeling being. It's just machinery, doing stuff it's been programmed to do, in the most efficient way possible.
It's so much worse than being sunk ever was.
And then... I'm on a table. I'm me, the human(ish, as Yūdachi-chan likes to qualify it) me. Arms, legs, head. But I can still feel the other me, the ship, in the back of my mind. All of that pain is still with me... but at the same time, my human body feels... nothing. Almost nothing. I can tell that it's there, that it's lying on a table, but all of its sensations are muted. There's no texture, no detail. Just... what's the word? Proprioception.
And I can't move.
A figure leans over me. I can't see who it is; the light in the ceiling is too bright, she's just a blurry silhouette. I can only tell she's a woman by her voice.
«And here you are at last,» she says, and I realize she's speaking Russian. How do I know that? I don't speak Russian. How can I understand her?
«Hmm,» says the woman thoughtfully, running her fingers down my left arm. I can barely feel it. «Well, you're not my best work,» she says, and her voice is as unfeeling as my body. «But you're a start. And you'll probably do for what they want.»
Then she turns and walks away, out of my field of vision. I can't even move my eyes, much less turn my head, so I can't follow her or see who she's talking to, only hear her say,
«She's all yours, Captain.»
Another voice, a man's, starts talking, but he's just saying nonsense. Random words. As he speaks, I can feel my mind start to shut down. I try to fight it, but it's no use—it's almost like I can feel my neurons going out, one by one, until all that's left of my world is the unbearably bright light above me.
And then that's gone too.
I woke up, of course, and I don't think I've ever been gladder to do so... but those words, that gibberish the male voice was saying, keep circling around and around in my head. Now that I'm awake I can't even remember what they mean, though I'm sure I knew in the dream, like I understood what the woman was saying... but I still can't stop thinking them.
I'm exhausted. Every day since this started, I wake feeling like I've been beaten up. I swear I can still feel the hooks ripping into my hull, even though my body isn't a ship any more. Even Lady Freyja's Dawn doesn't help. I can still get through the day, but every morning is a little harder... and every night I'm afraid to go to sleep, because I know it'll happen again, and it seems like it gets worse each time.
I don't know what to do... and I'm not sure how much more of this I can take.
"The Dying-Dream" - a Fleet Record Mini-Story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
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