Over Mount Fuji – Chapter 12 –

Over Mount Fuji - a novelEarly the next morning, Eileen lay in her bunk, still awed by the forces of nature, and the insignificance of mankind. The rhythmic vibration of the turbines and the sound of the propellers soothed her. As memories rushed back, she wondered how Wulfstein had that energy to rescue Byron in the midst of storms and danger. Was it an instinctive virtue? A paternal responsibility? Or, did his student have some critical contribution to make?

The noise of approaching planes rose from a distance.

She rushed to the deck. The sea, still chilly, had calmed during the night. Now only small waves splashed against the ship. Despite the taste of salt in the air, the new day smelled fresh. The research planes disappeared over the horizon, but a faint whirring bothered her. She tried to catch the direction of the hum that sounded like the reverberation of airborne propellers. It came from everywhere. Could this be the same noise she’d heard in northern Honshu?

An hour later, Eileen stood with Wulfstein, Byron and other crewmembers on the portside of the ship, glancing at the horizon. As roiling mists shrouded the seascape, sunlight tried to break through a blanket of clouds.

“We believe in kami,” Nishihara said, pointing at the southwest.

“Is that a force of nature?” Eileen asked.

“Certainly, but we always look beyond the physical. We consider whatever demonstrates excellence or virtue to be kami. Look at the horizon. Can you separate the visible from the invisible?”

“I guess not,” she said.

“Can’t you see the spiritual beyond the physical?”

Eileen stared in awed, marveling at the roiling mist and the churning sea, a vibrant and changing scene. It inspired at the mysterious forces behind what could be seen, as if life circulated moved within nature the way blood moves through a human body.

Torn between excitement and nervousness, she stared at the waves until the fog cleared, and now across the horizon, a string of islets appeared like musical notes strewn across the sea. Sunlight broke through and glistened on the towering spires. Reefs sprawled ahead. Waves and white surf clawed and leaped at the base of the cliffs. Seabirds flew by, saluting the visitors as the vessel approached. Young and lofty, the islets jutted skyward like the soaring walls of a fjord from the ocean floor.

Eileen grabbed the railing when Satsuma Maru steamed toward the chain of rocks.

“Not too close,” Professor Yoshino yelled at Akira, pointing at the protrusions. “It’s dangerous.”

“This is the course we plotted.” The daredevil Captain pressed on. “Our instruments show a clear route.”

Eileen studied the scene at the railing. Fearful an impact might shatter the ship, she peered through her binoculars, her view frequently interrupted by the spray that flew over the bow. In the distance, surfbirds cruised near the surface, picking up fish, while albatross floated on the waves. New spires appeared and water broke over the shoals nearby.

How strange. Just ahead, new formidable islets had spiraled in their furious birth. Humbled, yet exhilarated by the magnificence of nature, Eileen’s elation vanished when she noticed Byron’s look of anxiety. “Are these the results of the earth’s crust being folded and pushed up?”

“Yes, we’re above a major faultline,” Byron said. “Any movement could cause havoc, and any gas released would be poisonous if these islets are volcanic.”

“Then these fish and birds would have a hard time surviving.”

“Maybe these gases are in low concentrations. Or they aren’t poisonous.”

Eileen squinted at the newly formed chain, curved like a protective wall a few miles wide. Some lay so low, scarcely visible above water, a tide of a few more inches could submerge them. “How are these islets formed? By explosion?”

“The oceanic plate dives under a continental plate,” Byron said. “This creates pressure, and in due time, the earth’s crust breaks, causing movements in jerks.”

That could be an answer, but Eileen felt dissatisfied. She took a closer look at the newly formed pinkish rocks, which resembled established isles. A sense of doom hit her from the color, though she couldn’t place it.

Silence fell for a moment as they considered the scene. But when she studied the shape, those skyward pointed cliffs looked menacing, more like the teeth of a T. Rex. than any newly formed-volcanic rock she’d seen.

Eileen turned to Wulfstein. “What’s this?”

“Nature has many mysteries,” Wulfstein replied, staring out with intensity. “But if you pump up your imagination, they could be inverted talons.”

“I’m not writing fiction, Wilhelm. We must find answers.”

“We will, Eileen, but for now, we can only speculate.” He pointed aft. “These have pierced the surface. Maybe they’re intergalactic monsters that have invaded our planet and are now peeking over the waves.”

Eileen laughed. Scientists had eccentricities and quirks of their own. An earthly or an unearthly monster? Certainly, the sea surrounding the archipelago had a life imbedded with an invincible system of its own, as if nature, indeed, was manifesting the theme of Shintoism before her.

“Sailors say these islets glow at night,” Yoshino added. “That may explain what Eastern mythologies say about a mystery illuminating the night sky.”

When darkness fell, Eileen marveled at the horizon loating in unmitigated radiance as if manifesting the inexpressible splendor of God’s throne. As she took more photos, a light breeze from the south continued to blow over the research vessel, bathed in the light of a full moon.

Soon, the crew drifted to their cabins, and Eileen shuffled to hers; the long day of observations had given way to weariness.

Minutes into bed, a sudden explosion rocked the vessel, then another. Footsteps clattered as crew dashed on deck. Eileen willed her legs to move faster, but when she reached the deck, a strong gust of wind pushed her back. She fought her way forward. Above the horizon, crackling fires lit up the southwest. They shot like missiles, accompanied by lightning.

“What’s happening?” Eileen asked.

Commotion drowned a burly sailor’s answer.

“Look!” Byron pointed. “An eruption.”

Eileen shuddered, stunned by the clouds of steam rising against the marvels of flying missiles. Flashes continued in the southwest, followed by more explosions. Columns of ash, smoke, and clouds blocked out the moon and stars.

The wind strengthened. A vague outline of an atoll appeared in the light. Mystified, she held onto the railing as the ship rolled like flotsam. She noted the time: ten P.M.

More explosions shook Satsuma Maru, followed by gusts and stronger rumbling. Every emission of light made Eileen shudder. In the distance, something crested, like frost above the waves.

The storm stopped, and a flickering light appeared to the southwest.

“Tsunamis! Tsunamis!” Captain Akira yelled. “The waves are coming.”

The skipper spun the wheel, turning Satsuma Maru into the waves to ride them out.

The ship pitched and the water rushed onto deck. Eileen clung to the railing, her hair and clothes soaked by mounting sea spray. She groaned in amazement, feeling privileged to watch the dawn of a new world, yet terrified, sensing birth and death coming with such a petrifying force.

On a tiny atoll to the east, a fiery cluster of fireworks blazed like an angry monster spouting flames. Shattering the air, the blasts sent missiles of cloud, steam, and lava into the sky. They rained down a moment later, sizzled and disappeared into the darkness. Another tiny volcano had erupted.

“Oh damn!” She looked up. Ash filled the sky. A foul odor in the rippling mist wafted her nostrils. “It stinks.”

“Sulfur,” Byron said.

Akira pushed the throttle and the ship sped away.

Eileen’s optimism grew when the flashes faded and noise from the rolling waves subsided. She peered into the distance, whispering to herself, “Has our planet turned into a boiling caldron?”

Boo-oo-oom! More flashes shot out from the southwest. The sky billowed with unraveling lights in a radius of blinding red and orange. These flashes accelerated with great speed, gobbling up the darkness and illuminating the entire sky.

Some missiles landed in the sea. Others picked up speed, racing toward the research vessel.

Thud! Thud! Lava landed on deck. For an instant, night became day. Blinded and terrified, the crew gave a collective gasp, shielding their eyes, crying out in unbridled fear. Specks of light sparkled and ignited life rafts with a burning, brimstone stench.

Amidst a frenzy of activity, the deck shook and the men stumbled forward with fire extinguishers. The reverberation circled around, followed by a sudden stream of smoky air. But, whenever they doused the fire, the wind came and blew the smoke away.

Once the worst of the fires had been extinguished and the storm seemed to be abating, the scientists advanced to the railing. “The Pacific plate is bulldozing its way into the Eurasian one,” Byron said.

“If this is the case,” Wulfstein said, “these new islets should parallel the edges of the Pacific plate.”

“Let’s check the seismograph relayed from the lab,” Yoshino said, directing the team to the data room below deck.

Charts relayed miniature seismograph readings of peaks and troughs. Beeps of varying intensity sounded on every quake movement. Yoshino tore off a reading. The seamounts rose to form two chains—northeast and southeast. Some loomed above the sea, many below the surface. The epicenters scattered over a large range, from three hundred to five hundred miles out in the Pacific Ocean, southeast of Tokyo.

“The seamounts must have come about from downward pressure on the edge of the Pacific plate,” the Sensei said, pointing to the charts. “If you follow this chain of rocks, you find a path to Shikoku Island, another all the way to Hokkaido Island.”

Eileen tottered back to the bow to observe. Standing at the railing, she peered toward the south. More half-submerged islets and rifts had appeared.

The wind had subsided and the sea calmed. Could this have anything to do with the Sinking Syndrome? Or a new era of climate change? Eileen shook her head. Too weary and exhausted for the day, she trudged to bed. Silence.

The next morning, the cries of seagulls awoke Eileen. After she dressed, she rushed on deck. Seeing nothing more than a great expanse of water, she knew Satsuma Maru had steadily sailed away from the islets.

At noon they arrived at the place where they would board the deep-sea submersible, Keiko. As if in the clutches of a giant insect, the diving sub hung suspended by a large crane at the stern of the mother ship, waiting for its mission. Hexagonal-shaped, it resembled a turtle, with the bow of the ship protruding from the main glass and titanium body. Designed to view underwater scenes, its sides consisted of ten-inch-thick portholes, underwater video cameras, and strobes at each corner. Its side-scan sonars enabled the sub to link communication with remote-sensing space satellites. A pink cube of pressure-resistant epoxy foam encased two linked pairs of vertical and horizontal thruster motors.

Kiichi, a brawny bald man in his middle years with a Ho-Chi-Min beard and triangular sideburns, would pilot the sub.

Eileen hesitated for a moment. “Is this sub named after the famous killer whale?”

“Keiko has nothing to do with Hollywood,” Kiichi said. “Otherwise it would be named Willy. This sub is named after the twelfth Emperor of Japan, Keikõ Tennõ.”

“Both uses are right,” Captain Akira said. “But I can assure you that this sub was named after Emperor Keikõ.”

Eileen raised her eyebrows at the involvement of Japan’s imperial heritage, but said nothing.

“We need to be a cohesive team,” the pilot said. “We have an important exploration ahead.”

“Let’s keep focused,” Yoshino said. “Searching for clues should be our common aim.”

“Hai! Hai!” The Japanese crew bowed to the Sensei. Wulfstein also bowed and Eileen followed.

With no further distraction in sight, Satsuma Maru was only a tiny speck in the great expanse of water. The coastal sea meeting the Pacific Ocean often created sankaku-nami waves. However, the sea was now calm enough to launch Keiko for a probe of the ocean floor. The crane lowered, allowing the crew to enter the sub.

The Captain ushered and helped Wulfstein on board, followed by Professor Yoshino, Eileen, Byron, Nishihara, and Kiichi. Once inside, the pilot sealed and locked the tiny door.

Eileen stiffened. Although an enormous sphere and space lay over the horizon, she felt constricted. And when she wondered about her mission under the waves, she shivered. Now, for the first time, she felt trepidation of being trapped into a journey of no return, as if she were a sheep, heading into an undersea abattoir.

©) Joel Huan, author of Over Mount Fuji (available from Amazon and Barnes&Noble)

~ by Joel Huan on December 31, 2009.

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