Over Mount Fuji – Chapter 17 –

Over Mount Fuji - a novelEverything is crashing. The noise roars louder . . . and louder. Byron sees wreckage raining down, falling on him. Pinned and choking on dust, a storm of pain courses through him and he can’t feel his legs.

Two samurai appear, poised and ready to pounce. As they swing their katanas across his mid-section, he screams and closes his eyes. Then, silence.

When Byron opens his eyes, a beautiful maiden stands before him. He moves his hands toward her, but the slab above him cracks, a few pieces of debris fall. He hears muffled voices. ‘Anyone in there?’, ‘Can you hear me?’ The gulls woke Byron in the early morning. He cringed in a rictus from his legs’ cramp. Peering from the cabin’s window, he massaged his legs and squinted at the sun shimmering through the clouds.

Ships sounded their horns from afar while Byron thrust his arms into his jacket. He staggered onto Satsuma Maru’s deck to view the shore and jetty, delighted that he would soon have his feet on solid ground. A flurry of excitement exploded among the crew when the crowds gathered at the docks of Yokohama.

Carrying bouquets of flowers, little girls in colorful kimonos, white socks and slippers stood in front of the crowd. Tears streamed down the cheeks of mothers and wives, eager for their sons and husbands to appear on deck. Among the assembled press and cheering spectators, officials mingled with priests who offered prayers. A cannon fired a
military salute from the nearby hilltop.

Byron smiled when the research vessel anchored and the crew disembarked. Brightly-colored ribbons decorated the gangways. Sentinels, posted fore and aft, saluted the crew over rails and bulwarks. Professor Yoshino, Akira and Kiichi jostled from the ship to a press conference, where each gave his opinion of the wreck. Imperial recognition seemed assured.

Throughout the pomp and pageantry, Byron still felt himself reeling as if the ground shifted beneath him. He gladly went back to conduct more analyses of the data they had collected once they no longer required his public appearance. Except for the wreck, nothing appeared significant.

Over the next two weeks, while Byron took swimming with a new passion, Wulfstein had become more introverted. The Professor often sat alone for long hours and his response to questions monosyllabic. Byron guessed something must be weighing on his mentor’s mind. The Professor worked seven days straight at the lab since his arrival. Rarely did he go to bed before midnight, and often left for work before Byron rose.

But after another week, Wulfstein refused all interviews, often returning to Sakura early at around three P.M. to read and meditate. Then, during twilight, he took long walks south of the villa. When back in the lounge, he normally sat in his favorite armchair, with coffee on the side table, pencil in hand, doodling.

Whatever scientific debacle Wulfstein might try to avoid, controversy would remain. At his instigation, the crew had found a wreck, stirring up even more debate. Byron wondered if this finding would relate to the lost Hornets. If so, how?

Late one Friday afternoon, noting that the Professor was in a cheerful mood, Byron decided to ask him about his background.

“I graduated from the University of Munich,” Wulfstein said.

“And what did you study?”

“At first I specialized in Egyptian and Greek philology and paleography.” Wulfstein pointed to the scholarly books on the table. “I learned to read those texts in the Sumerian and Assyrian tablets. During my graduate program, I reviewed the history of cuneiform languages and read Chinese pictorial scripts.”

Byron grimaced. “But how did geology come into the picture?”

“I came to believe in the synergy of knowledge. So I went on to study science.”

“Then you don’t believe in specialization?”

“Not exactly, but other faculties of knowledge should have equal prominence in our search for truth.” A surge of emotion gripped the Professor as he continued. “Only the blind would take a part of an elephant and say: ‘This is it. This is all it is.”

Byron wanted to argue, but thought better of it. He had neither the knowledge nor confidence to dispute such philosophy. But it seemed the old man had been trying to analyze an impossible puzzle.

Wulfstein continued to speak with passion. With his magnifying glass, he referred to a map to make his point. Where the Philippine Sea plate subducted below the Japanese mainland, the solid bulk of Izu Peninsula acted as a stumbling block. It collided head-on with the continental crust, serving like a brake.

“If no quake relieves the stress caused by the blockage,” he said, “it will continue to accumulate—giving rise to a Big One stronger than 9.5 on the Richter scale.”

Byron shook his head. “That’s a mind blower. At least ten million would die if such a quake hit the Kansai region.”

Wulfstein never mentioned anything about his family, and despite having made a name for himself in the scientific community, he had few friends. Yet it would be erroneous to say he didn’t have social adeptness, for he often shook his head in sorrow and mentioned how sad the loss of lives would be if his prediction came true.

“Only in the extreme, Byron,” Wulfstein said on this occasion, his face crumbling with sadness.

The Professor’s ironclad obsession with solving the mystery surrounding the Izu Peninsula had overtaken the exciting finds in the western Pacific. How could they relate to each other? And was Wulfstein so morose and sorrowful because he thought the extreme would eventuate?

The mysteries remained. Wulfstein had been searching for other explanations, perhaps even in close touch with other fields of knowledge. For, in a manner befitting the crackpot many said he was, he had books on Atlantis scattered on the table.

“What are you investigating?” Byron asked, but the old man appeared as if he hadn’t heard him.

And in the last few days, the Professor maintained his silence. Whenever Byron drew him into discussion, he clammed up. It became increasingly plain that his nerves had been strained to breaking point. His tiredness told a story, and he even appeared teary-eyed; he might be racing against time to find the evidence to support a prediction of the Big One—and losing.

But on a Saturday, Byron discovered from the Japan Times that he had speculated on mythical beasts. Reading it, he shrugged, resenting Wulfstein’s refusal to admit him into his confidence. After all, Wulfstein had invited him to Japan, and expected them to work together. Instead, the Professor often wandered into another era, another world. Perhaps even into a new fantasy.  How could any beast, however huge or mythical, be relevant to earthquakes? With such extreme conjectures, surely he deserved a reputation as a quack.

Frustrated, Byron could only watch Wulfstein frowning in his armchair, seemingly unable to reconcile his thoughts. Although lightning flashed outside, he remained undistracted. Did he think a calamity would soon occur, and that innumerable lives couldn’t be saved?

“All the same,” Wulfstein said suddenly, “one war correspondent may not make a war. But when you see a vulture hovering, you’ll soon find a carcass.”

Byron became confused. Was Wulfstein comparing himself to a vulture? Or a carcass?

“I’m sorry the conclusion of my prediction has devastating consequences,” Wulfstein continued. “I simply have to investigate the issue to the end.”

The Professor paused, his eyes narrowed to slits. “The compelling thing to do would be to see the geological mechanisms at work and test the ideas that’ve been on the fringe of accepted scientific theory.”

Byron listened, and now he realized Wulfstein wanted action—back to the graveyard of the earth?

“We must put these ideas to the test,” Wulfstein continued. “Right now, you are my witness. I’m predicting a major eruption from Mt Fuji within the next six months.”

Outside, rain and hailstones splattered upon the roof, followed by lights flickering and rolls of thunder.

“Are you sure?” Byron asked. “Mt Fuji had erupted three months before, but nothing happened.”

“I’m definite. Its silence is only temporary, and this volcano will exhibit a major finale and crumple under its own spectacle.” Wulfstein slumped back into his seat.

Silent one moment, explosive the next, the Professor was acting like a volcano.

“Very few will want to hear this,” Wulfstein continued. “We must make a trip there to study its environment in more details. I don’t want to cast my mind to the erroneous predictions made by others. Mind you, a pack of wolves is already at my door.”

Byron wanted to ask, but the phone rang. He picked it up, answered it and handled it to Wulfstein. The call resulted in a long interchange between Wulfstein and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Byron suspected that the Academy  was about to pick the Professor as the winner in geosciences. He had already heard of the award, one with emphasis on ‘the dynamics of the deeper parts of the earth.’ And the recipient was obliged to give a Lecture at the laureate Crifford Prize award.

Once Wulfstein hung up, his eyes looked clouded.

“Congratulations,” Byron said.

Wulfstein looked edgy, his eyes flitting. “I’m expecting the Lecture will be scrutinized by a pack of vultures.”

“So the Lecture will be a bait?”

“Sure. That’s why I tried to stay away from these conferences and symposiums. I’m happy here, free from the shadow of the scientific community.”

“Have you considered this might be an opportunity to discredit your work as mythology?”

“My work is more than mythology, Byron. More than one hundred and twenty million lives are at stake. If the Lecture is a bait, they can have my neck, too.”

Byron didn’t know exactly what he meant. “Aren’t you concerned that they consider your work has been fouled by your earlier search for the lost city of Atlantis?”

“Don’t you realize our society has already been mythologically fouled? We need to reevaluate everything, including the numerous causes of lost civilizations. Are we an exception, Byron? But our most universal custom is gobbledygook.”

With the continual roll of thunder, Byron became even more uneasy. Had he overstepped his bounds? “Our society already fouled?”

“Do I need to tell you this, that the grandest festival in the west has its origin in a myth?”

Astounded, Byron responded with a puzzled look.

“Anyone can trace the festivities of the December 25th holiday back to the mythological birthday of Mithra, a Babylonian Sun deity that also demanded Sunday be kept sacred.”

Byron contemplated for a moment. To him, global acceptance shouldn’t be the deciding issue. Founded on a set of beliefs, modern religion was just a collage of man’s quest to understand truth.

“Science and theology will perish from a desire for conformity,” Wulfstein added. “And when I die, I’d like to be remembered as a fish that didn’t go with the flow.”

Byron thought it was this unpopular search Wulfstein had been indulging in since his youth that caused his alienation. An eclipsed aspect of his self-assured identity, created by a deep-seated conviction that had a subconscious effect on him. His mentor couldn’t stop now; he’d endured too much to have his work destroyed.

Head bent, Wulfstein fell deeper and deeper in thought, oblivious to everything else.

But Byron’s anxiety rose. Would the Crifford Lecture bring the issue to a climax?

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

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~ by Joel on December 26, 2009.

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