Over Mount Fuji – Chapter 33 –

An Epic NovelEileen pressed her face against the porthole. As Keiko eased its way into an incredible find, changing scenes of glittering gems embedded along rocky columns appeared on the video monitors.

A moment of euphoria gripped her. “We’re in a dream.”

Keiko inched forward, and she stepped aside to allow Wulfstein a closer look.

“Wunderbar!” he whispered.

“What a palace!” Eileen said as a thrill rippled down her spine. Had her mind played tricks on her? For a moment,  she thought she’d stumbled into the lost kingdom of Atlantis, but that would be on the other side of the planet. Or, the lost city of R’lyeh, even that would be further south in the Pacific. Like a dream world, everything seemed fantastical; only the familiar surroundings inside the sub were real. “It’s like we’ve founded the lost treasures of Ali Baba.”

“An Open Sesame to ancient riches!” Wulfstein added.

The sight was awe-inspiring, yet her chest tightened. Being some thirty-thousand feet below sea level, she knew the pressure outside was tremendous.

She squinted at the walls emerging from the shadows, formed in little round blisters. Crystals of opaque quartz, studded with limpid tears of glass, in shades of blues, green and orange hung from the ceiling like chandeliers. It looked as though the genii of the abyss were illuminating the way, welcoming guests from above.

“This can’t be an illusion,” Eileen said, pointing at the columns that exceeded all splendors. Specimens of brilliant marble lined the walls, some of agate-gray randomly veined with white, others of crimson, and many more of a yellow splashed with red. Magnificent! What better word could one use to describe such a panorama? Dark grottos, relieved by lighter hues of limestone, dominated the scene.

Kiichi groaned, surprising Eileen. She resumed tending him. A good patient; he soon became quiet. But as his face flowed with beads of sweat, Eileen touched his forehead. His temperature had risen, yet he shivered. She gave him another dose of paracetamol.

MOVING SLOWLY, THE SUB edged into an enormous cavern abounding in fantastic stone decorations. Nobuko gasped as the beam lit up several artistic chains of crystals hanging around with occasional drops of silvery gems. Standing beside Byron, she leaned closer to the starboard.

“This is it!” Byron said as flurry of excitement exploded, and the new pilot swung the robot arm for a closer
look.

“Oh goodness!” Nobuko whispered as a school of fish passed by. Soon they disappeared, and the view cleared. A moment later, behind some pillars, an assortment of precious stones appeared. Bright amethysts shone with tinges of purple and blue. Columnar clusters of green and yellow chrysoprase crystals with splintery fractures followed. Pink and red-pink rhodonite, interrupted by dark green serpentine and spinel, ranged from delicate violet to deep purple, and angular lumps of topaz emerged while Keiko probed along.

In front of a column, sight of a glimmer loomed in the distance. Aware of her racing pulse, Nobuko stared ahead. Her heart pounded fast when glittering diamonds appeared all along the walls of a chamber. Lying ahead, they looked huge in the beam, many the size of a large Ritz; some uncut, looking pretty rough, like clumps of glass; some more refined and faceted; and some in polished symmetry.

“Go slow, Byron,” Nobuko said. Blood drummed in her ears; her mind struggled with the strange sight. Her gaze unwavering, she stiffened as though struck by a blow, unable to believe what was before her. A girl’s best friend. An everlasting investment. A symbol of eternal love.

“Let’s celebrate this moment,” she cried, jumping around for joy. Throwing her hands in the air, she and her father, as if they’d drunk too much sake, danced around the cockpit like two butterflies around a blossom.

EILEEN RETURNED AS KEIKO moved toward the bright light and entered another chamber. Her eyes widened while she studied the gems.

Startled out of his reverie, Wulfstein gasped before turning to Eileen. “You know it’s a breakthrough. What’s before us, is more than what we all have dreamed.”

Yoshino pointed to the porthole. “If we could take some of these jewels back to Tokyo, it would show our people the ocean’s splendor and back up the digital recording.”

“This wouldn’t be a wise thing to do,” Wulfstein said. “Just make sure the recording is still on.”

“Digital recording isn’t sufficient these days,” Byron said once he’d checked the equipment. “Technicians can manipulate them.”

Silence fell while Keiko glided through patches of seaweeds. Soon, the water cleared, and a ceiling decorated with small arabesques appeared, like paintings illuminated by a soft, clear light from the wall.

When Byron lowered the sub, it disturbed a school of fish. Once they disappeared, Eileen could see the floor paved in gold.

After another turn, Eileen squinted at a bright light coming from the vault. The closer Keiko approached, the brighter it became. The lights appeared red, some pale blue, pink and green. She raised her finger to the porthole.

Like something out of legends, she thought. Nothing could match the splendor of a starry world, bathed in limpid ether. The light from Keiko produced magical effects when it bounced off rugged natural arches and sharp formations that hung and flickered like flames.

BYRON GLANCED AT THE GEMS before him. Taking in little by little, he realized the trip had borne unexpected encounter. Finding such treasures at last—double pyramid-shaped diamonds—but he also knew those find wasn’t his. Despite a twinge of guilt, the temptation to take some samples had become unbearable.

He sighed, knowing he would never have such a chance again. And as a strong compulsion stirred within, a glimmer of optimism of taking a sample arose.

Consider this as a scientific discovery!

Succumbing to the enticement to collect hard evidence at last, Byron pushed a button, and released Keiko’s robotic arm. Equipped with cameras and powerful strobes, Miiko could operate with the precision and delicacy of a hummingbird. Byron guided the robotic arm in a narrow arc and scanned the distance, with Yoshino assisting him. When he manipulated the miniature drill to within inches from the outcrop, the Sensei leaned over in search for an appropriate fissure where Byron could anchor and start the drill.

“You must stop,” Wulfstein said, grabbing Byron by his arm. “You’re taking us to great risk.”

“C’mon, Professor.” Byron shook him off. “Take it easy for a minute.”

“We may never have a second chance,” Yoshino said.

“Yes, Sensei.” Byron gazed at the pyramid-shaped diamond, so taken with the endeavor that he was oblivious to any danger.

Wulfstein frowned. Shaking his head, he grudgingly gave way to the new skipper with the Sensei assisting him. For the next twenty minutes, Yoshino wrestled to retrieve the gem by using Miiko’s tight claws. The crowbar shifted while he applied maximum force to the whirring drill, slamming Miiko against the rock with a crunch of fiberglass and a twang of metal.

But the drill halted. Byron applied more power, but the drill cracked. The diamond foundation had withstood the incredible force. The skipper tried to free Miiko, but it remained stuck in the wall. He tried again; nothing happened. He felt paralyzed, pinned between nausea and fear.

Worse, Keiko couldn’t move. He turned to see Miiko stuck under the floodlights, something he never suspected would happen. The rugged titanium cage protecting the delicate cameras and instruments had also crumpled.

Yoshino pushed a button and activated the emergency cutter. A thud sounded; the cable cut, separating Miiko from the sub. Great clouds of bubbles rose.

“Let’s move on,” Wulfstein said.

“Damn! Now we’ve lost our evidence,” Byron said. As the fiber-optic cable drifted off, he pressed the pedal and Keiko surged ahead, leaving its robotic arm behind. “Are we heading in the right direction?” Eileen asked.

“Who knows,” Byron replied. “Guess we just have to take our chance.” All his impressions converged in a bolt of frustration. He gazed in anxious silence, sensing his own helplessness, scarcely able to breathe. Would such video images be able to convince the outside world?

EILEEN GAZED OUT the porthole again. Far ahead, at the end of the cavern, amidst ruins, several irregular shapes appeared, larger than the trunks of full-grown oak trees. The objects resembled fallen deer antlers. “It’s a junkyard,” she said.

“It’s really odd,” Wulfstein said. He tapped a few strokes onto his laptop. “It’s as if an undersea wave had ravaged through moments ago. When alarmed, these beasts shed their horns.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Byron said.

“Look here, Byron, this could provide us with a clue to the next earthq—”

“Why are you making this up? What evidence is there to link these beasts to earthquakes?”

“Dogs, dolphins or whales can detect and understand signals that instruments can’t. So why is this different?”

A long hush ensued.

Eileen recalled traveling in northern Honshu. An image flooded back in grisly detail, of a deluge that destroyed countless farms. Heaps of debris from shipwrecks and inundated villages littered the shore. She grew edgier as the sub progressed. Her eyes darted, looking for signs of danger. There might be some basis for etho-geological prediction, which forecasts earthquakes by observing concerted animal activity. She grimaced at Wulfstein in silence, not sure what he had up his sleeve.

“If water temperature rises quickly,” Wulfstein said, “it will agitate these monsters and cause them to exhibit unusual behavior.” He groaned when the light from his laptop flickered. Then it beeped. He paused to focus on the screen, but it went black. He seemed to have kept any speculation close to heart. Finally his hands shook as a white message popped up.

THIS IS A DANGEROUS ZONE – PLEASE LEAVE

Deep lines of fear marred his face. The message on EQ-Lun displayed static, then snowflakes, before the screen turned blank. He read the temperature. “One hundred degrees Centigrade.”

“There must be a leakage nearby,” Eileen said. “The high temperature agitated these sea creatures.” She frowned, knowing the computer had interpreted the data and established its verdict. The Pacific shoreline had rumbled with seismic activity lately, but why? Had such a phenomenon been linked to the abnormal behavior of nearby fish before the Kobe earthquake? “Why have we neglected these animal factors?” she finally asked.

“It’s not just my conjecture,” Wulfstein said, “It’s part of an ancient truth.”

A convenient but an unusual conjuncture, Eileen thought.

A pressure wave hit Keiko, tilting it.

“Another tremor and the cave could collapse,” Wulfstein said.

Snared in the whirl and force of gaseous bubbles, Keiko spun so fast that the centrifugal force pressed the crew against the walls.

“Then we would all be buried inside,” Eileen added, looking down out of a porthole into the eye of the vortex as though staring down the funnel of a tornado. The motion tossed her to the floor. She struggled, but her feet scrabbled, her breath labored. Wulfstein, after steadying himself, pulled her up. He hugged her and looked her into her eyes. When his face brushed her cheek, she felt titillated and comforted.

Byron struggled back to the helm. A maze of shock, disbelief, and horror crossed his face. “Oh no, we’re on top of an exploding volcano.”

Despite her fading strength, Eileen rushed back to the porthole: brilliant streaks, straight furrows of fire created by eruptions, giving off gases. Her gut heaved; the roar of an explosion filled her ears. Hell. She had to keep her cool. Behind this journey, it had given her an extraordinary epic of dreams and imagination, of excitement and horror. But as the sub ascended, the sound subsided, and the bubbling of water faded. She sighed, feeling the relief of back to safety. Now, she could breathe more easily.

Yet, Wulfstein looked alert, needle-eyed, like a wolf scenting prey. His heavy pallid face indicated ominous events were yet to come. Her body tensed again. But what could they be?

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

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~ by Joel on December 10, 2009.

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