Over Mount Fuji – Chapter 3 –

An Epic NovelFebruary 18 —

Books, books and more books—Wulfstein wondered how he came to own so many. Relieved he had cleaned his office and finalized a visiting professor to cover his classes, he checked off a list of things-to-do. He had everything covered, including someone to mind his cottage, XiaoLun inspected, vaccinated and given a microchip implant. Then he made onerous quarantine arrangements for his pet’s shipment to Tokyo. It seemed like everything was done. Yet, that evening, a feeling troubled him. Had he forgotten something?

He checked his Rolodex on the desk. Damn right he did.

Wulfstein raced to the Sport Center and found his student in a Shaolin martial art session. Clad in a black robe with a white sash, Byron Lambert leapt back and sideways, avoiding and blocking a man with a two-yard staff. His opponent took several paces in quick succession, but Byron darted with greater speed, sidestepped and leaped to avoid contact. The attacker cornered him, thrusting the staff at his chest. Byron shifted sideways, and the staff bounced off, allowing him to throw a back-fist at the attacker’s face.

“Tein!” the Master shouted.

All movements stopped. The Master gave further instructions, and more actions followed.

Wulfstein admired the agility of Byron’s sidekicks and frontal lunges, in pairs and then in groups. The six-footer’s shift movements looked impressive, reminding him of Bruce Lee.

At the end of the workout, Wulfstein waved, and Byron strode over to greet him.

Wulfstein stepped forward. “Would you like to join me for coffee?”
“SURE,” BYRON REPLIED. Flattered by the Professor’s interest, Byron rushed to his bag and put on a jacket, wondering why Wulfstein wanted to see him. Something crucial must have come up, for lately the Professor had been reclusive. Byron took the lead, gesturing to the doorway. “So, what’s on your mind?”

“Japan’s Earthquake Research Institute has offered me a one-year fellowship.”

“Congratulations,” Byron said, crunching through the snow toward the Bookends Café. “Why did you want to see me?”

“I need an assistant, and I’d like you to come along.”

Byron chuckled, then stopped when Wulfstein’s brow crinkled. “Are you serious, Professor?”

“Very much so, Byron.”

They sat at a corner table and ordered two Hawaiian Roasts. Although Byron knew Wulfstein would rise to any challenge, he hadn’t anticipated a twist of such magnitude. “Is it because of the Hornets’ disappearance?”

“Certainly, and what better place to study than the interlocking mysteries surrounding Japan?”

A waitress brought two mugs of aromatic coffee and plunked them on the table. When she left, Byron stared at Wulfstein’s tired face through the steam.

“Many consider me old, though I’m only fifty-six,” Wulfstein said, looking annoyed as a chilling breeze slammed through the swinging door. “They want to get rid of me, claiming there aren’t enough funds.”

Byron remained silent. He sipped his coffee, suspecting politics had more to do with Wulfstein’s decision.

“I hope you’ll consider it.” Wulfstein leaned forward and gripped Byron’s arm. “You need an educational adventure. A year overseas would be invaluable.”

Byron squirmed, thinking such an opportunity was sudden. To be uprooted from a familiar environment and forced to adapt to a new culture would be more than hitches. But the thought of Japan raised fascinating images in his head—the mysterious East, the exotic culture—and a land he only dreamed of. Being a graduate student, the time was right for a new adventure and an opportunity to study a chain of volcanic islands with the prospect of a challenging experience at the end was more than a bit exciting.

“To be honest, Byron, our critics will consider our intentions ridiculous. Blackmore has already called me a crank, and our assignment in Tokyo will make quake prediction even more controversial.”

The thought of Professor Blackmore made Byron sigh. As an established professor of an elite university, Blackmore had been criticizing research on earthquake prediction at conferences and in journal articles, calling for an end to this line of study. Earthquake prediction, he proclaimed, was doomed to fail. Japan’s wide-ranging programs had cost billions of yen and produced nothing of substance.

“Even if we can’t predict the exact time a fault will give way,” Byron said, “we can at least improve our hit rate with better sensors.”

“The Chinese had taken a synergy approach to quake prediction, but the west has ignored it,” Wulfstein said. “At the cutting edge of scientific discovery, we often see a mismatch between theory and data, just as there’s a mismatch between the arts and sciences.”

“No one can learn all the arts, or the whole of science. So who could possibly claim the mastery of both?”

“It’s time to take a step back. A scientist too specialized in his field is prone to poor judgment. Unless his knowledge encompasses other disciplines, he is like the blind man holding the wiggly trunk of an elephant. ‘This is it. I’ve got it. It’s a snake.’ It’s misleading to think that one segment of an autonomous knowledge represents a portion of the whole truth.”

Baffled by the unfamiliar territory of philosophy, Byron decided not to argue.

“I want to free myself from all critics so I can devote my full energies to research.” Wulfstein’s voice intensified. “There are certainly a series of factors and precursors that seismologists have ignored, seemingly unrelated, that suggest if you join the dots, they are linked. But first, we need to discard all blinkers and paradigms.”

Byron hesitated, knowing that the crisis of the lost Hornets had triggered a passionate interest in the geologist. Wulfstein’s frown, and his mood, which had been deep and intense, now turned anguished and soulful.

“Besides taking a new approach,” Wulfstein continued, “there’s evidence to suggest the Chinese approach is viable. Why not? The soundings of marine creatures, more so when they are strange ones, can tell us when an earthquake is imminent. In fact, warning signs abounded right before that fateful day in 1995 when the Kobe earthquake struck.”

Byron remembered the warning of the earthquake that struck Haicheng was issued thirteen hours before. Although wholesale evacuations were carried out that saved thousands, he knew Chinese methods were strictly empirical and came with the benefits of hindsight. “That prediction could’ve been a fluke.”

“Possibly,” Wulfstein said. “But the real test is if they can predict an earthquake and call for an evacuation before it hits the Three Gorges Dam.”

“Their engineers gave assurance that the dam had been built to withstand a major quake.”

“Not if it’s over 7.0 on the Richter scale, or if the epicenter is right beneath the dam.”

“Ak . . .” Byron straightened his back. “And the water would stream down like a monster.”

“Exactly,” Wulfstein said. “And then Shanghai might find itself washed out twenty miles into the Pacific Ocean.”

“That can’t be that bad, can it?”

“Shanghai is only sitting on a sheet of soft soil,” Wulfstein said. “The whole mudflat plain could easily slip into the sea when a sudden torrent of water come crushing down from the inland.”

“Is it that bad?” Byron shook his head.

“It is, as there isn’t any granite or solid foundation to hold the city. And sitting up river lies a reservoir of 400 miles in length waiting to be unleashed.”

Stunned, Byron remained silent for a while. After a long moment, he asked, “Won’t you present a paper on what you’d just said?”

“Maybe I should.” Wulfstein frowned, looking somewhat uncertain for a moment. After sighing, he squirmed, his eyes showed worrying lines that seemed to indicate that would be a Herculean task ahead. “But I’m already committed to the Tokyo assignment. This is more impending as schools of fish had been detected swimming uncharacteristically in the seas south of Japan. And now, many fishing vessels are reporting they lost their electronic signals for a few minutes every now and then.”

“Yes, but how does these swimming creatures tie in with the lost electronic signals?”

“That’s the missing piece in the puzzle, Byron. It sickens me to think that these electromagnetic interferences were not even collated until recently.”

“I can accept certain concepts of the naturalist theory, but it’s as unfounded as speculating on some mythical islands disappearing over the millenniums.”

“I’m mystified by the disappearance of Atlantis. Like the island of Santorini, its misfortune is similar, but only bigger. What if the sinking of Atlantis is rooted in truth?”

With a mention of mythical Atlantis, Byron shook his head, feeling an odd tingling sensation. One sensible possibility would be the diving tectonic plate theory—that the earth’s crust is capable of opening up in a major quake. Had Wulfstein fallen off the deep end?

Now that the Professor had shown such passion for mystery, it reminded Byron why everyone considered his mentor an outcast. “Reckless. We’ve modern sensors. Our state-of- the-art instruments are supreme. But where is the proof to substantiate all their speculations?”

“That’s where the challenge lies. Look, the Japanese have wired practically every island and all the surrounding seas. And I can access this data online. Now, combined with my new programming, I can analyze and interpret the data right from my laptop.” Wulfstein paused to take another sip. “Besides, something odd is happening.”

“What’s that?”

“Observation wells have not only detected significant movements in the earth’s crust, but the mysterious ‘blo-o-op’ sound has intensified around the seas south of Kyushu.” Wulfstein slammed his cup down, spilling some coffee on the tabletop.

Byron had heard of the strange unidentified blo-o-op picked up by undersea microphones from the depth of the Pacific. For years, NOAA had been stymied, called it ‘bloop’, though not knowing whether the auditory effect originated from undercurrents, volcanic activity, or even some mysterious beasts of the deep. “South of Kyushu Island? That’s where the Hornets disappeared.”

“Not quite. The sound’s origin is a couple of hundred miles further south.”

“But why can’t seismologists draw any conclusion from such findings?”

“Good question.” Wulfstein motioned a waitress for refills. “Since this data isn’t made available, the only way to substantiate it is to conduct a study at its source.”

Byron pondered, rattled by the tricky turn of situations.

Wulfstein sighed. “Everybody scoffs at me whenever I mention the certainties of more beasts under our oceans, but why limit our imagination?”

Ill at ease about Wulfstein’s remark, Byron gulped more coffee. It seemed strange that the presence of sea creatures could have any relevance in the field of quake theory. What if the Professor was mistaken? He’d already gained a reputation as an odd old quack! For a long moment, Byron remained silent, not knowing what to make of it.

“Look, Byron,” Wulfstein said. “Don’t you realize that the deep ends of our oceans haven’t been stirred by human imagination?”

Byron smiled, feeling bemused by Wulfstein’s tint of philosophy. It dawned on him that the deep end of the oceans—unstirred and untouched—hadn’t been much explored compared to our planetary system. And what if the Professor’s instigation of expedition there would lead to some discovery?

“I’d like you to come along, but such an adventure has its perils. We may well be in one of these expeditions where scientists fail to return.”

“Fail to return?”

“In the extreme, Byron, only in the extreme.”

Byron stiffened at the thought of such peril. For a moment, the image of Cindy flashed before him—his sweetheart who’d left him for a glittery city career. The last time he heard from her, she was dating a New York stockbroker. “You’re just not exciting enough, Byron,” were her parting words. To lessen the pain, he’d diverted his mind and energies into the world of martial arts. And now another opportunity arose—an exotic adventure in Japan.

“But just what do you mean by ‘in the extreme’?”

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

~ by Joel Huan on January 10, 2010.

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