Over Mount Fuji – Chapter 28 –

An Epic NovelOctober 22 —

For the next expedition, Eileen arrived at Yokohama before the sun reached its zenith. Stepping out of her Honda Civic at the pier, she found Wulfstein and Byron waiting. A minute later, Yoshino and Nobuko arrived, both with grim faces.

“What’s wrong?” Eileen asked.

“Koichiro has been murdered,” Nobuko said.

“Fishermen found his body off Fujisawa Bay late yesterday,” Yoshino said.

“But why would someone do such a thing?” Eileen asked, feeling a cold shiver going down her spine.

Yoshino’s voice became tight. “The yakuza didn’t like his involvement with foreigners.”

“I’m sorry,” Wulfstein said. “All he wanted was to save lives.”

“This is a warning from the Yamaguchi-gumi gang,” the Sensei said over the gusting wind.

Looking at Yoshino, then at Wulfstein, Eileen knew their fates were entwined. Both had lost weight and their faces more wrinkled. As one who brought the MIT geologist to Japan, the Sensei must have deemed himself responsible. And Wulfstein’s record didn’t impress the yakuza; the collapse of the Izu Peninsula went unpredicted. The Oshima Island had collapsed.

After following Wulfstein into the research vessel, Eileen stood by a porthole, watching and reflecting upon the descent. As schools of fish sped past by in succession, she could imagine how they were trying to escape a predator, perhaps even from a legendary beast. But she frowned; the thought of the fate of more millions of lives that could perish under the waves overwhelmed her. She shuddered, realizing such similarity were becoming more real. The media had heard what they wanted from Wulfstein’s lecture, leaving him no means to escape, “In just three months,” they wrote, “the monster of science will be revealed.”

Leading hothead critics had charged Wulfstein with lacking specifics, but he had become specific. Scientists with new ideas like Wegener and Einstein were always met with a stuffy and rigid society. Other men were condemned to death for their radical thinking: Copernicus, Galileo. And now Wulfstein’s probes into the ancient could be suicidal, or it could prove a major turning point in human thinking.

Moreover, he had grown more obstinate since the lecture, and worse, he lost his temper more easily when confronted.

Did some of these creatures still roam the oceans like the old folks believed? There might be some truth in plate crashing that could cause monstrous havoc in the archipelago. Or, that these islands were, indeed, a series of supervolcanos that would explode.

And within three months?

By then, seismologists would prove what the real monsters were. But for the present, who could say where hell lay?

It was time to turn the pressure away from the scientific community and the media. Following the Sensei’s lead into the Mariana Trench was thus a welcome relief.

IT APPEARED LIKE Byron had been in the cramped space for ages. He squirmed. The monotonous ping of the sonar made him feel bored and queasy, and that the dive would never end. He checked his watch and sighed. “It’s claustrophobic, and our trip seems like forever.”

“We’d been here for just over three hours,” Nobuko said.

The dive continued. No fish, no movement, no silhouette of anything.

Silence.

Eileen showed Bryon the latest copy of the monthly Raging Planet magazine, where her name appeared beside the lead article, ‘The Turbulent Planet.’

“The Pacific Ocean evokes images of untamed beauty. Myriad islands with exotic names suggest adventure and mystery, a tropical climate with peaceful and romantic lagoons. Yet, beneath the real Pacific, lies a more profound mystery than what is existing beyond the stars and the galaxies . . .

“Guardian of shorelines and regulator of temperatures, this vast reservoir of nature is baffling. Master of life and death, under its waves, ever ready to leap off natural forces to create tsunami from the ocean floor. It could also make the planet wobble . . . ”

“The Earth wobbles?” Byron asked.

“Yes,” Yoshino said. “When a quake strikes, our instruments record abnormalities at other parts of the planet.”

Byron sat close to Nobuko and held her hand tightly as Keiko descended into the extreme deep. His colleagues would continue their search for the source and significance of the strange ‘blo-o-op blo-o-op’ sound, but his interest was the diving plates.

“Twelve thousand feet,” announced Kiichi, the pilot. “We’re on schedule and more than one-third of the way to the bottom.”

“The needle is swinging,” Yoshino said when the sub quivered.

“That’s natural during a seaquake.” Wulfstein held his laptop tightly. “It’s continuous—it’s a sankaku-nami, a ‘triangle wave’. Under water we have a waterspout.”

THE PILOT STEADIED Keiko as its propellers churned in a regular rhythm through the waters. Eileen studied Wulfstein punching more keys, updating his data. She grimaced at the screen, certain that the sankaku-nami was in progress. Would they be sharing the fate of previous explorers? “How far are we from where Kaiiko disappeared?” she asked. “And how far are we from the sankaku-nami?”

“We’re now 650 miles northeast of Luzon, near where the sub had disappeared,” Wulfstein said. “And we’re roughly 380 miles from the sankaku-nami.”

Seamounts and gorges appeared. From the charts, Eileen knew these gorges averaged twenty miles wide at the top and hundreds of miles long. “Already seven miles down?”

“We’re progressing well into the Mariana Trench,” Wulfstein said, pointing to a strip in the screen.

She sighed. Soon, they would reach the Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the 1,600 miles long, 40 miles wide trench. Surely, they were on to something: the source of the blooping sound, the search for Ito Maru, or the diving plate and, if possible, any of the Super Hornets. Perhaps the mysteries from the graveyard of the earth.

One more hour into the descent and Eileen swallowed. “It’s getting harder to breathe.”

Wulfstein took her hand and gave her a sympathetic look. “Take it easy, Eileen. We’re descending at a steady rate. It must be the change in air pressure that’s causing the sensation.”

As the sub groaned, screeched and popped, Eileen squirmed. The reading had reached almost 800 atmospheres, more than four tons per square inch.

“Our lives are in your hands,” Eileen said nervously to Kiichi.

“There’s no need for alarm.”

Down the sub dove. Yoshino pointed to the chart. “A series of volcanoes lie along the Mariana Ridge.”

The first hint of a seabed contour appeared on the echo as Wulfstein’s finger traced a line of volcanoes—the Faralion de Pajaros, Maug, Asuncion, Agrihan, Pagan, Alamagan, Guguan, Sarigan and Anatahan and then right down to Guam.

“These volcanoes form an island arc,” Wulfstein said. “They formed a curved line of stratovolcanoes.”

Eileen leaned over the chart. It looked very much like the arc of Japan’s archipelago.

Ahead, an extreme, rugged landscape appeared. As marine snow continued drifting down from the surface, Keiko lurched slightly across the seafloor to port. After a thousand feet, the sub spiraled upward, skewed to the starboard and slid down. When they reached the base of the trench, three different canyons opened before them, wide enough for five trains to pass through.

By now, Eileen had lost track of all the twists and turns. Compounded by the tension, she grimaced at the thought of the Greek mythology where the Minotaur waited. “This seems like a Labyrinth.”

“Wait and see.” Wulfstein scrutinized his computer and consulted his charts. He tracked all directions and entered them in a ‘black box’. Eileen studied him for any change of expression, but the Professor’s face remained impassive.

The hum from the sub’s motors echoed eerily, disturbing the silence in the cabin. When the gully widened and deepened, Kiichi switched on the remaining floodlights. The pressure gauge showed depth beyond 32,000 feet, and the compass indicated a southern course.

Eileen gasped at the ominous sound made by Keiko. So cram and tensed inside, the atmosphere squeezing pressure made her eardrums feel as though they might burst. “This is killing me.”

“Keep calm, we’re on the final leg,” Wulfstein said. “It can’t be much deeper.”

Kiichi guided the sub along one side of the canyon, then in and out of several narrow but even deeper caverns. In many parts, walls merged with canyons like fortresses protecting their entrances.

Eileen gazed out of a porthole. Wide pillars of curved curtain-like surfaces spread on either side like wings of stone, complete with folds. The roofs of columns rested precariously in places. So fragile, it seemed any small waterspout could shake them loose, yet they remained intact.

“What causes these waterspouts?” she asked.

“Currents must be seeping out of the cracks,” Byron said. “This waterspout could well be a side effect of heat generated from the diving plates. The blo-o-op seems like the sound of air escaping from high pressure.”

“If this is the result of diving plates,” she said, “then we’re at the center of a dangerous zone.”

“No need to worry.” Kiichi ran his fingers through his beard. “Keiko is much sturdier than Kaiiko. It was designed to tackle any danger.”

Through the semidarkness, Eileen peered at the frigid ocean floor beyond.

A desert!

From the Mariana Trench to a depth of about sixty miles, the plate sloped at a gentle angle. But from eighty to around four hundred and fifty miles, it angled almost vertically. The subducted Pacific Plate beneath the Mariana Islands had been known to spawn plate movements.

Only a few yards from the bottom, Keiko rode on. Inky blackness enveloped the surrounding. Floodlights from the sub gleamed on low mounds of new, sediment-free lava. The temperature probe pinged like an oven timer, signaling warmer waters. Eileen felt sweat bead on her brow as the uneasy crew shuffled around.

A jarring thump shook the sub, then followed by a loud cracking noise came from the bow, different from anything she’d ever heard. It jolted and heaved, rocking the sub from side to side, and seemed to run through the very spine of Keiko.

“Captain Akira, what is it?” Kiichi spoke into the mike. “A seaquake?”

“Our detectors have found no trace of large movement,” Akira replied from Satsuma Maru. “No tremors around.”

“Check your seismograph regularly.” Kiichi replaced his mike; his face furrowed with worried lines.

Something weird must be going on, Eileen thought. A gush of spring water might have displaced some of the rocks. The sonar registered unusual images. What could it be? A black object appeared near the portside, something of mammoth size and moving.

“Look at that!” Byron pointed.

“At this depth?” Eileen asked, her pulse quickening. “But how could anything survive here?”

“Nothing could live at such depth,” Nishihara said. “It could be an object riding a current.”

Keiko shuddered and gave an ear-splitting squeal. Eileen gasped as the sub plunged into darkness. When the engine stopped, Kiichi sprang to his feet and manipulated a pair of polished-chrome throttle handles.

Silence gripped the tiny submarine. The crew held
their breath.

A growl came from beneath the sub. It echoed and re-echoed. Sensing it in her feet and ears, Eileen jumped. Her throat tightened. A moment later, a harsh, grating sound thundered.

Gr-u-k. Gr-u-k.

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

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~ by Joel on December 15, 2009.

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