Over Mount Fuji (16)
After an hour of anticipation, an air of calmness pervaded. The crew lapsed in silence, lulled by the humming engines. Now that Wulfstein had thrown out the theory of a tsunami, a seaquake, or a torpedo, Eileen wondered how his idea of sea creatures could account for the sunken ships.
“Whoa! What’s that?” Eileen asked when a cloud of silt rose from the seafloor.
The light, both inside and out, flickered. “Brace yourself!” Kiichi said.
Reverberating shock waves pitched Eileen starboard the moment the lights went out. Heart pounding, she grabbed the back of Wulfstein’s seat. What’s out there?
Kiichi checked the settings with a flashlight as the sub swayed back and forth. Before the pilot managed to stabilize the sub, the interior lights returned, followed by the exterior beams.
Eileen staggered back to her seat and buckled up. “A seaquake?”
“More than that.” Wulfstein grimaced at the compass as it gyrated. “It’s sankaku-nami, a ‘triangle wave’.”
Eileen recognized the term from Jerry’s paper, but couldn’t recall its exact meaning. “Aren’t those surface waves?”
“No, it’s a deep-sea version,” Wulfstein said, pointing to his laptop. “Look, more dots to make a continuous blip—it’s sankaku-nami.”
But as the force swirled stronger, Eileen tensed. “Are we following the death path of Kaiiko?”
“It’s not a time to worry,” Kiichi said, turning the sub to where the force came from. “We’ll soon get out of this.”
After another minute, the pilot guided Keiko through the waters in a steady rhythm.
“We’re some 1200 miles east of Okinawa.” Wulfstein pointed at a map. “But this wave came from a further 600 miles south.”
“That’s a long way from here,” Eileen said.
“The sankaku-nami travels at great speed.”
Wulfstein highlighted the northeast of the archipelago on the map, showing a long stretch of trenches that separated the Pacific plate from its neighbors. The Kuril-Kamchatka Trench, followed by the Izu-Ogasawara Trench further south, both meandered along the Japanese coastline and ended finally at the Mariana Trench.
As the sonar pinged, the monitor displayed an unbroken floor of gray mud. Eileen unbuckled and rushed to the front porthole. Nothing seemed unusual, yet she sensed movements all around. Something must be lurking out there, closing in. A thud resounded, jarring her. What could that be?
She squinted into the darkness. A black creature, longer than fifteen meters, swam across the bow in writhing coils, moving swiftly like a waving rope. It turned and approached the porthole. Eileen backed away as the sub quivered. The fanged mouth thumped the glass continually, leaving a residue of bubbles in its wake.
“Eeek! What’s that?” Palms sweating, Eileen stared near the porthole. “Look at its flickering tongue.”
“It’s like a giant catfish,” Byron said. “But those bulging eyes look creepy.”
“How could it survive at such depth?” Eileen asked.
“Lots of creatures live deep near the seafloor,” Yoshino said. “But this is a snake.”
The bright red crest above the creature’s two protruding eyes contrasted sharply against the dark scales over its humps which came into view. Suddenly a strange sound echoed across the waters and the snake stopped knocking against the sub.
Eileen shuddered as the sub shook, followed by a faint sound. For a moment, her heart pounded in her ears. The snake lifted its head to scrutinize the surroundings. Its eyes sank back into its head and, in horizontal undulation, sped away in the direction from which it came.
Thud! A dull whack came from behind the sub. Breathing through her fingers, Eileen shivered at the sight of a huge brown object approaching Keiko. Another beast! Now a monster had moved so close and grabbed Keiko with its tentacles.
“Is this the leviathan you talked about?” she asked Wulfstein, pointing. “It has no eyes.”
“This couldn’t be a leviathan,” Wulfstein said. “It’s a strange creature without any eyes. Look, it has only four tentacles. Maybe it’s a giant cousin of the octopus.”
The tentacles moved, grabbing and blocking one porthole after another. Heart pounding, Eileen stared at the monitor and counted the tentacles, which were sucking around.
“It might be a member of the cephalopod species,” Yoshino said.
Eileen stared at the portholes, then at the monitor, recalling the last paper she had typed for Jerry. It must be a member of the octopus family. Maybe it’s one of the sea creatures that he’d speculated in such depths? “Are we one step closer to what the Norwegians had experienced?”
“Maybe it is,” Nishihara said. “But this has no eyes.”
“If it’s a kraken,” Wulfstein said, “then it must be from a mutation, since they live without any light so deep down here.”
“Why does the snake have such large eyes then,” Eileen asked.
“Creatures adapt different ways, Eileen,” Wulfstein said. “Either they develop their eyes further or, failing which, they discard them and develop other senses.”
Suddenly the porthole turned blank. Muscular suckers slammed around causing Keiko to vibrate. Huge dotted flesh plastered the glass. The sub trembled and creaked.
Heart beating against her ribcage, Eileen realized the predator had dragged the sub downward. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Please apply full power,” Yoshino said.
Kiichi stomped on the pedal, yet the sub remained stuck. Keiko’s hull groaned and creaked under the creature’s giant tentacles and maw.
More shouts echoed in the sub. Eileen began to shiver.
Kiichi pressed the throttle to full, and the hull groaned under the strain. Yoshino yelled out more instructions, but the sub remained stuck. Bubbles floated up when the tentacles pawed the sub, snapping off some external instruments as though they were rotten wood. Then the arms grasped the spotlights and started shaking the sub, rattling the gadgets inside.
Keiko’s bow angled downward. The crew shouted while being tossed about. This is it. Are we all going to die? A big boom slammed her into a wall, her head hitting the porthole. The sub plummeted, landing at the seafloor with a boom. With trembling legs, Eileen felt a shift of pressure when Keiko somersaulted and bounced around, toppling maps, charts, and other paraphernalia as she tumbled from wall to wall.
Eileen’s head throbbed. Was she dead? Shaken and disoriented, she realized her body had taken a hard hit. Everything around her was hazy. She stumbled a bit, caught her balance on a handrail and took a deep breath. Her vision began to clear and she took stock of what happened in the cabin. With stiff muscles, she struggled with the help of a handrail to stand up.
Her colleagues groaned and moaned as they slowly rose to their feet. Among the debris, numerous monitors had shattered around the floor.
EQ-Lun beeped. When Eileen rushed toward Wulfstein, the laptop flashed out a PINK message:
DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!
As Wulfstein pondered over the message, Eileen rushed to the porthole. Is the beast still around? She couldn’t understand why Keiko’s intrusion could have caused the creature’s violent reaction and EQ-Lun to beep. The beast had moved aside and appeared to be watching the sub’s robotic arms. Then it grabbed the antennae and yanked off two search-lamps with its suckers.
“Call Captain Akita for help,” Nishihara said.
“Switch off the lights,” Wulfstein said. “Our intrusion has annoyed the beast.”
Kiichi dimmed the exterior and Wulfstein closed his laptop.
“We should play possum,” the Sensei added, “so the monster will lose interest.”
All turned quiet. Slowly, the tentacles loosened their grip. Their colors changed from dark brown to maroon. Keeping at a short distance, it curled itself into a ball.
Kiichi held the sub motionless. “Keep calm.”
The maroon beast didn’t move.
Eileen stood still, straining to listen to a faint guttural grunting sound outside.
The kraken put out its tentacles and began to explore the seafloor, losing interest in its metallic prey.
Squinting, Eileen pressed against the porthole for a better view. Floating just above the seafloor, the monster resembled an uprooted tree that changed from maroon to dark purple shining in the semidarkness.
Kiichi drove the sub toward the kraken.
“Stop that,” Eileen ordered the skipper.
“Don’t be a chicken, Eileen,” Kiichi said, his face inscrutable. “You don’t show your weakness, you show your courage and aggression.”
It’s crazy. Her heart pounding in her throat, Eileen watched. Like a floating silken scarf, the creature swirled and swirled around, but finally settled on a rock.
As Keiko pressed forward, the beast changed its color from maroon to dark red, twirled and released some brown dust onto the ocean floor. It jumped before gliding away, a billow of bluish ink in its wake.
Eileen grimaced. Every odd noise made her heart jump as she imagined what could lie beyond the murky waters or behind the rocks. A hundred creatures might lurk there. Waiting. Watching.
The odd grunting sound kept resounding.
Kiichi fiddled with some switches. Nothing happened—there was no light.
Eileen looked through the semidarkness, but nothing else appeared.
Kiichi toyed with more switches. Within the next minute, four or more interior beams lit up. Then the electronics started to function.
“Belt up. Hold tight,” he said, turning on another switch, releasing a dead weight from the sub’s underbelly. “It’s a ride to the top.”
As the sound continued, Eileen wiped her sweat-streaked face.
Kiichi wired SOS messages to the mother ship. He pressed one button on the electronic console, then another. Managing to regain control, he guided the sub upward.
Eileen swallowed, her ears popped—a feeling of decompression and fatigue reminded her of the time she rose too quickly, years ago, while diving with Jerry. She shook her head in the rancid air. Thank heavens. At least we’ve managed to escape.
“Cheer up,” Kiichi said, putting on a smile. “We’re on the way to the surface.”
Eileen tried to gather her thoughts and senses as she gazed at the peaceful yet alien environment. The higher Keiko ascended, the calmer she became. Could there be much more that man hasn’t discovered?
Though the external instruments remained damaged, most of the interior electronics returned to normal function.
“We should arm our sub and kill off the beast,” Kiichi said.
Yoshino nodded. “That’s right. Then we can drag it to the surface for more research.”
Leaning forward, Wulfstein switched on his laptop and tapped in more commands. A flashing display emerged. He shook his head as if in shock.
Ferocious winds swept over the islands of Japan and whipped up waves along the coast. Pixels on the screen dissolved into a snowstorm of black and white. The outline of the northwest Pacific returned and became clearer. EQ-Lun beeped and flashed PINK all over central Honshu.
Bemused, Eileen struggled to think what the Professor had up his sleeve. The monitor blipped as his fingers threw more strokes in succession. His head snapped up; his eyes bloodshot.
Several bright strips flowed beneath the sacred archipelago!
“What’s going on?” Eileen asked.
“PINK! PINK!” Wulfstein said with rasping breath. “CALDERA! CALDERA! CALDERA!”