Crossover Fan Fiction ❯ Missile Truck ❯ Rust Buckets ( Chapter 1 )

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Missile Truck


ONE: Rust Buckets


“You have got to be kidding me,” I complained, staring at the antique, broken down, Type 96 missile truck. Its six ground to ground self-propelled rocket artillery tubes empty of their anti-tank/landing craft missiles. It was meant for shoot and scoot from a protected fixed position. The upgraded missiles were fire and forget, at least, but Japan had a huge stock of the guided variety, which meant the controller needed to remain until intercept with the target, and that made the truck a target. Most of the Kawasaki truck’s paint was flaking off and revealed plenty of rust bubbling through the sheet metal. The optional window louvers were closed and rust marks drained down along the hinges. A hydrocarbon stench of diesel fuel and hydraulic fluid rose from the puddle beneath.

“Did you think your court martial was a joke?” asked Combined Arms Captain Meshida with considerable sarcasm. The man had been a bilingual comedian until the Japanese feminists learned he was a reservist in the JSDF and gotten him charged with sexism, a new concept in Japan. As usual, Japan was decades behind the rest of the world, mostly because we are slow to adapt to new things, even when those things are stupid, bad, and wrong. Our population has collapsed due to modern family law policies which rewarded women with all a man’s savings in the inevitable divorce, when she gets bored two or three years after marriage.

JSDF had a recruiting problem, and there was a surplus of broke divorced men. A certain shift in policy away from recruiting young suicidal idealists towards bitter middle aged survivors offered a solution. The ruling party offered shelter from alimony payments for active servicemen. This worked out to half a man’s wages returned to him. As a consequence, divorced men flooded into the JSDF to defend the islands from the rampaging hordes of madwomen in Tokyo. As a bonus, many of the JSDF bases were in rural locations, away from easy transit for madwomen. Life there was a direct and immediate improvement over obsessing over 2D drawings of cute girls or living in net-cafes and growing a beard. Japan may have “solved homelessness” but that life was horrible. And the JSDF had guns, which many Otaku liked. The real thing was so much better. Games don’t offer recoil or the wonderful smell of burnt powder and the splat of a target exploding downrange into a spray of blood.

But this? A missile truck? The most famously horrible and ineffective weapon system of every kaiju movie since the 1950’s, and opinions had not changed on this topic in decades since. The equipment was built by the low bidder, and survival of crews in any simulated engagement was so close to zero against any aircraft, tank, or competent artillery crews it was a certain-death assignment. Die for Japan, losers! And now I’m one of them. I stared at Captain Meshida.

“Banzai?” I deadpanned.

“Fuckin Banzai, shitbird,” he replied with equally resigned sarcasm. He actually called me kuso-tori, but you get the idea. I sighed. Our commander was a comedian. I have seen his standup act on WePipe. He’s funny, but in the painful way because he talks about things which are true, then calls them a joke. That was his defense in court, if I remember correctly. It hadn’t worked. He’d been sentenced to eight years of community service, and he’d opted for the JSDF option when it came. I doubt he realized he’d be assigned here, but I was surprised too. Such is life. Embrace the suck, as the American Marines say. Training with them in Okinawa after six months of motorpool and drivers training at Kadena air base near Chiba. Naturally, the best troops were getting trained on American Tomahawk nuclear missiles, but I’d failed the reliability exam for that one. Not suicidal enough. But that brought me back to the present. I knew how to operate a missile truck. Not how to do more than basic maintenance like oil changes and how to operate the manual transmission and 4WD locking hubs. I could change the tires and patch them when needed. I knew the procedures to reload the missile tubes. I did not know how to deal with the delicate red lacework that panels of sheet steel had become.

“You need to fix this junk up and get it into working order. You won’t be alone. The rest of the crew will be arriving soon,” Captain Meshida ordered. “There are four more of these Type 96 trucks, a power generator truck, an ammo truck, and a radar system truck. All of it needs to be working before we’re operational. Get started on removing rust. The motorpool mechanics will be along to look at the engine, and the hydraulics overhaul is scheduled in a week. It needs to be able to work with the upgraded command system,” Meshida ordered.

I sighed. “Yessir, Captain.” He handed me a clipboard with a list of items to check over. There were columns for: operational, damaged, needs replacement, or missing. Several items already marked one or the other. The list was depressingly long. And everything needed to work to have any chance of survival in the coming war. The Chinese were in desperate need to distract their population from the loss of most of their fleet to the US-backed Phillippines navy which had sunk the Spratly Islands using some explosives and engineering principles that the Chinese clearly did not understand about landfill. The islands sank. Their bases were useless, and a number of torpedos had put 300 “coast guard ships” on the bottom, along with their crews of belligerents, many of whom now know intimately what it is like to get eaten by sharks. The civil war brewing in China will be suffered through by the rapidly aging population, which best estimates dropping the Chinese population from around a billion to less than half that. Cumulative effects and the madness of their leaders suggested that they would lose many people to starvation and deliberate mismanagement, because that’s the kind of people the Chinese are. It was both depressing and motivating, because the Chinese were bellowing to invade Taiwan, then Okinawa, then start landing murderhoboes on Japanese beaches, to rape and pillage their way through the islands, all as a distraction from the half billion deaths due in China. It certainly motivated me to work really hard to fix this piece of junk. It might save a lot of lives, and feed a lot of sharks. These trucks carried anti-ship and antiaircraft missiles. The soft of missiles you used to sink landing craft.

I found the vehicle manual in the cab of the truck, but it was heavily mildewed and needed replacement. That went on the list. Just about every part of the truck I could see, and everything underneath made of steel was orange with rust. Most of the body panels were rusting out, which meant the doors would need serious repair, along with the floor panels, which when you lifted up the rubber mats someone had dropped in from an Isuzu box truck, you could see the ground beneath. The floors were more of a suggestion, a lacework if you will. I don’t know how to weld, but I suspect I’m going to be learning how very soon.

“Oi! Any of you shitbirds here?” called a voice I would have to describe as the stereotype master sergeant. I poked my head up and looked towards the sound.

“Over here, sarge,” I called out. He stomped over. A huge fat guy with a love affair with soba, probably, and beer. You could tell by the gut which resembled a late-term pregnancy. On a woman it would merely be a pregnant woman and not worth paying much attention to. On a man, it was a warning. I made a note to buy beer for him to make my time here easier. I also noted he was from motorpool. So possibly a mechanic as well. He looked me up and down, turned his head and spat.

“They get younger every year. Why aren’t you in college, boy?” asked the sergeant of me.

“There was a love triangle, and I was the loser,” I answered simply.

“She go for the other guy?” he asked with suspicion.

“Worse. She went for the other girl,” I answered deadpan. He winced.

“Tough luck. Any kids or child support payments or alimony?” he asked.

“A son. She's got him.”

“Tough luck, but you're in good company. Lots of new soldiers just like you,” he grinned.

“Yeah. Lucky me. Any chance you know about these trucks? This one is a rustbucket. Check out the floor,” I said, pointing in the door. He leaned over and looked, then whistled.

“Nice. You found a good one. There’s MIG welders in the garage and I think I saw an English Wheel and a break press. Ever use a cutting torch?” he asked me. I shook my head no.

“Good time to learn, then,” he ordered. I sighed, then followed him. We spent the next hour with him training me and two others on how to use a MIG welder, how to safely operate an acetylene cutting torch, how a plasma cutter works and why only the Master Sergeant was fit to use it because the parts were inherently fragile. It worked well on sheet metal and thin plate, even on stainless steel. The break press has dies for adding indents on sheet metal, so the floor could be patterned, which would make it stronger once the replacement sheet metal was cut and shaped to the space. Also, I learned how to use a grinder, which is necessary.

“You have to remove the paint and then get through the rust to bare metal. Then I need to paint on this Sodium Hydroxide, don’t breathe it, and that will stop the rust pitting properly. Once that’s cleaned off and the metal is ready I will have you cut and prep the metal plate, then spot weld it into place here, here, and here.” He pointed to several spots around the perimeter. “Then weld the bottom too, so it won’t tear off. Then we get to grind it smooth, seal any gaps, and then prime it and paint it so no new rust will form,” the Master Sergeant explained. “May as well fix up the cabin first, right?”

“Right,” I answered as I only could. I’m in the JSDF. They like low level soldiers to support decisions of those in charge. It isn’t like GATE where you can mouth off and get extra training with the American special forces Ranger School and Green Berets. Nope, in the JSDF you’re lucky to get a job with an engine. It means you aren’t trapped in some remote location staring at the same stretch of ocean and watch ships go by, or babysit some radar, or ship-to-shore radio relay station. All jobs in the JSDF, but boring as hell. Why join the JSDF if you’re going to be more bored than a convenience store clerk? At least the clerk has customers to break up the monotony. The Radar guys are just bored, when they aren’t running fire control drills on passenger ferry boats 20 km out to sea.

If I’d been better at gaming I might have gone for one of the new Drone Operator jobs. There are multiple classifications for those, including combat drone wings the Americans sold the Japanese government. Fly four or five drones in automatic formation, fully armed and able to switch pilot view from drone to drone. They can fly high Gee turns better than any human pilot can survive, and pull off some amazing maneuvers while targeting enemy aircraft, ships, or ground targets. Considering the many threats made by the Chinese as their communist empire falls apart, actual defense of the islands is genuinely important.

I measure out the hole and trimmed a piece of cardboard to the shape, then traced it onto a piece of sheet metal I’d found in the junk pile. It was good distracting work. If only I wasn’t getting horny messages and naked photos to my phone from my ex’s older sister. Haruno is still a stunning woman, and her promise to chase me down after Yukino ditched me last year has been a bit nerve-wracking. I did save the pictures though. I have rarely met a woman more alive than Haruno.

A truck arrived, delivering more men. They reported to the Captain and I eyed them critically. There was a guy with a scar on his left cheek, in the shape of an x. There was a guy who radiated cynicism. There was a nerdy guy with glasses, the milspec black rimmed ones. No, there were two of those guys. One approached the guy with the scar and talked to him like old friends. The other guy looked kind of lost.

“Hey, what’s your name?” I asked him. His tag said Hachiouji.

“Hachiouji Naoto, what’s yours?” the timid guy asked. He blinked with large wet eyes.

“Hikigaya Hachiman,” I answered. “What are you in for?”

“I needed the money. I’ve got eight kids. My wife can’t work with raising them all. I’m a painter, and artists don’t make much in our country.”

“So let me get this straight. You’re still married?” I confirmed. He nodded.

“The JSDF offers food and housing supplements to families of servicemen. How about you? You married?”

“Not anymore,” I answered, not elaborating. “You a radar operator?” I asked him.

“Signals, actually. I handle comms. Kazama over there is the radar operator and gunner. He says he really loves blowing stuff up. Looks like he and Sagara are buddies from high school,” he said.

“Well, unit cohesion is fine. The bad news is most of our trucks have to be repaired before we can use them. I’m working on this one here. I repaired the floor panels first, so I can get in without falling through to the ground. I’ve been at this for three days. Your comms truck is probably going to need work, so talk to the staff sergeant.” I pointed out the NCO and he headed that way his rucksack slung over his shoulder. The bunks here weren’t anything fancy. There was a TV running all the time, and the guys kept switching the PA from different radio stations, which I didn’t mind. It kept things from getting stale. It was fine until I heard a particular song come on and had to stop and steady myself until it was over. Of course she sang it to me while I was solving a problem somewhere else. Of course it was her confession, and I missed it. Our complicated love affair, our son, Yui’s many failures in the kitchen, and now it was all…

I sighed.

“Hey, if you’re tired, take a break,” ordered Meshida. His eyes said he knew full well what was up. I nodded assent and entered the mess, washing my hands of most of the black grease. I grabbed a tray and got a bowl of soup and another of rice. I settled down and ate them, washing them down with barley tea. Sweat dripped, being summer of course, and this building having no A/C but plenty of flies. The strips near the doors and window caught plenty, but more still circled.

“Eh, Hachiman, you okay there?” asked Hachiouji.

“Just memories. That song on the radio, she’s my ex.”

“Which one? The radio has been on for hours,” he pointed out.

“Doesn’t matter. So what’s it like having eight kids?” I asked him. He smiled in joy, describing each of his children, their ages, quirks, relationships with each other and what books they read or sports they played. Several of his elder kids played soccer, and the oldest was studying judo, which apparently his wife was a regional champion. And a gyaru, apparently. He showed me her pictures, including a semi-demented grin with one eye wide open and the other half shut.

“That’s her intimidation look. Hayase does not like it when other women approached me. She is very… territorial. Considering how fertile a couple we’ve been she got special dispensation from the government to help cover housing costs and some of the food. It isn’t quite enough, so I’m here, but even so we’ve got another one on the way since my last visit home.” He looked really embarrassed.

The only couple I’ve heard of quite that prolific was a judo expert and his oppai loli wife in Tokyo. What was the name again? Sakurai? They’d been in the local news and her seven kids and semi-dazed expression and heavily pregnant belly and cheerful energy got her a medal from the district council.

“Thanks, Hachiouji. I feel better now. I’m going to get back to work. I will see you later,” I offered, returning my tray to the kitchen drop-off and headed out into the mid-day heat. The cicadas were buzzing loudly, and various jets flew overhead, including JSDF fighters on patrol.

The truck was getting into shape. The cab worked, including the positive pressure gas filtration system, the rubber seals and filters working properly. The louvers were repaired, the rust removed and all of them turned open and shut reliably. If I had to fire a rocket, the windshield wouldn’t be blown in or melted.

I considered next steps. The seals on the hydraulics all needed to be replaced, which is a big job and would be handled by experts rather than me. The new seat covers would be a good step. The original seats were held together with steel springs, various wires, twine, jute padding, and a vinyl perforated cover common to work trucks so you wouldn’t get covered in sweat sitting there. There was also a fan tube that blew through the assembly, which had contributed to the rust inside. The ordinary solution in Japan is to put in a requisition form to a new or refurbished chair, then wait a year for it to show up and kill time doing other repairs in the meantime. This being a genuine emergency, with the Chinese landing craft and light bombers flying missions past our coastline, trying to provoke a strike to justify full invasion… well, my real options were to repair this myself or try and find a chair in the junkyard I could jerry-rig into place. Oddly, I’ve read any number of English books where the author wrongly thought it was spelled jury rig, which is the act of bribing a jury to not convict someone who was actually guilty. Jerry rig is a reference by American troops in WW2 fighting in Europe trying to overcome (often successfully) supply issues and keep fighting. The Americans were ridiculously good at this back then, a skillset they’d developed after 12 years of Great Depression shortages. So could I do that? I pulled off the old cover, finding the hidden ties beneath the seat, and unbolted it, then started pulling off rotten detritus to reach the metalwork. I found one of the black painted support struts had failed, bent. It was welded to a few adjoining pieces, so I ended up cutting that loose on advice of our NCO, then the two of us forged it back into shape, welded it back in with the MIG, and then repainted. Several springs got replaced with ones that were “close enough” and I managed to find an adequate seat cover and padding in the wrecking yard. This ended up being four days of work, but it was a working chair again, with a bit of hammering and levering it back into place.

Sagara, it turned out, was repairing the missile loading vehicle. It was probably the most dangerous job, because it carried an armory worth of missiles inside its fire-resistant and lightly armored box. It would reload via robot the truck’s tubes for additional shots against an enemy, and they would treat it as a high value target, since it would probably explode, and without it we were just trucks rather than missile trucks. He was super brave, utterly calm, and frequently blew things up because he was also the squad demolitions and disposal NCO, a sergeant. The rumor he had a wife and a side chick that knew about each other meant he and I might have something in common, but since he outranked me I left him alone.

It was three more weeks before we were repaired enough to actually start engines and move around. The engines were repaired enough to run, and the coolant was checked for oil traces, leaks, and replaced with fresh in most cases. Eventually we were able to start doing training maneuvers, with each of us required to be able to drive each of the vehicle types. I got lots of practice. You know how sometimes you feel like you’ve witness true genius? Every one of us had to be that good driving these trucks, because we were expected to creep into prepared positions, ambush landing craft, ships, or passing enemy aircraft, then run for it before they could return fire on our positions. That is the part where we were famously weak, and that often came down to driver. A wheel off one our crappy unmaintained dirt roads in our many mountains meant the convoy of heavy trucks would be stopped, sitting ducks for air to ground missiles like you find on drones. Our drones could do that easily, though the quality of Chinese knock-offs is more up in the air.

“Do you want to risk all our lives on the hope that Chinese weapons are as bad as everything else they make?”

“How did the Spratly islands turn out again, sir?” I asked. Captain Meshida laughed, as a comedian should.

“And we can hope it will be that way again, if they actually try. But it’s all our lives if we’re wrong, and training to be the best possible drivers can get us all into cover behind a mountain, which is much more reliable than hope.” I shrugged in general agreement. It was a point.

Training maneuvers in a bunch of trucks running close to each other, and nightvision goggles to see in the dark, the open scout buggy run by a sergeant checking the road for hazards. We don’t use mines, though the enemy probably would if we let them get ashore. He wore the next generation four camera optics, so he had some peripheral vision, and wider spectrum with alerts for targeting lasers, directional RF detector, and several other tricks he explained to us. We would not be getting this cool gear developed after the Ukraine debacle. There was no time for back-liners like us to get cool stuff. We were lucky to have good running vehicles, even if we had to spent a month fixing them as the saber rattling between the USA and China kept increasing. Funny how weaponizing and deploying a bioweapon would result in a war, right?

“Higashida, move forward 4 meters if you can. I want to deploy to your left,” I radioed over to the truck ahead of me. We had directional radios with very low power, barely better than Bluetooth, but they were both encrypted and frequency hopping like cellular, so they avoided many of the weapons homing issues that comms suffered. I dreaded the idea that some civvy with a cellphone in their pocket might end up attracting an AA missile when this war goes hot. They broadcast so they might be mistaken for an AA position by the increasingly terrible Chinese weapons. The so-called hypersonic missiles had nearly all broken apart on launch, spreading debris over Chinese rice paddies. That launch was an attempted first-strike, which the UN condemned… then did nothing.

Three days after the failed attack, China’s missile silos were burning. It wasn’t clear how that had happened, because the Americans weren’t taking credit for it, but simply refused to discuss ongoing operations. Later that day the Three Gorges Dam, which has been famously crooked and unstable since it was first built, failed, dropped forty cubic kilometers of water down into the Yangtze, along with churning sediment and sixty million people who did not get out of the way in time, since the Communist party refused to warn them because it was shameful that their dam could possibly fail and was clearly a Western plot to discredit Chairman Pooh. Flooding China was estimated to kill an additional hundred million people, though exact responsibility was a lot of finger pointing by enemy nations, any one of which could have cracked the dam since it really was unstable, experts explained over the civilian radio.

“Captain, are we still going to get invaded?” Lt. Higashida asked in his usual blank and expressionless way. He never laughed at jokes. And it was driving the captain up the wall. He took it as a challenge. Higashida hated puns the most. His ex-wife back in Sapporo was collecting child support and was in deep denial over the state of their relationship, specifically that it had ended at her whim. She pretended, apparently, to assume he would come back when he got over their divorce. Like getting over a cold. He’d not just joined the JSDF, he’d gone to OCS and gotten promoted from 2nd Lt. Not having a sense of humor is probably a benefit to any good soldier in Japan. Might get them killed, but it was a benefit until then.

“My orders are to continue our maneuvers as planned,” Meshida answered, a wry smile telling us what he thought about that.  

So we setup our equipment, ran a drill, then scooted, leaving behind our power cables temporarily. An hour later the power truck returned and collected up the cables. Ideally, every dug in position would have a set of cables to use, but copper is expensive and enterprising citizens had discovered the valuable salvage if they were brave enough to walk into JSDF positions, which often had cameras setup to detect this very issue.

Four days after the Three Gorges collapse and the vehement communist party denials over a coup and the reports of Chairman Pooh suffering head-canoe by means of assassin bullet to his smirking noggin, China rejected all claims to the Spratly islands and fell into civil war, which was mostly detected by military satellites and their former weather satellites, taken over by various parties with better hackers. They seemed to change hands because the encryption wasn’t truly upgradeable. China built to a contract, not to last. The clouds of smoke and the missing bridges and fallen buildings told a tale I just didn’t care to pursue.

Eventually we ended maneuvers and returned to our base in Chiba. I rotated out on leave and went to visit my little sister, now married and heavily pregnant. Her husband Taishi was working at the steelworks in the port of Chiba. I found Haruno and went out for Mister Donut, wearing my uniform as required by law. We spent some time laughing, then went to a love hotel.