Over Mount Fuji (2)
Under a velvet canopy of glittering stars, icy winds roar in Wulfstein’s ears as he hurls on the beast’s back. Far below, a necklace of islands rears up from the indigo sea like a string of black pearls. A voice whispers to him, “You’ll be there soon.”
Near a snowcapped mountain, the beast dives through a blur of clouds, crooning soft words of encouragement. Pitching awkwardly, Wulfstein can’t ignore the fear swirling in his head: No, I can’t continue.
“Don’t be afraid,” the beast says. “Just hold tight.”
The moment they fly over the mountaintop, red streaks of light slash the night sky. A deafening explosion sends shock waves through the atmosphere, followed by rumbling. Bearing the searing heat, Wulfstein glimpses through the wisps of cloud—the mountains and valleys dissipate into rivers of flame and sink below a series of broiling waves. The beast accelerates through a white plume of smoke, dodging a barrage of meteors, and plunges into the dark depths of the ocean.
“I am King of the Deep,” the beast growls as he leads the way down the seabed, transforming himself into a bearded man with silvery hair.
Ahead, something stirs—sparkling jewels and gems lit the way. Then for a long moment, the King of the Deep shows Wulfstein diamonds and precious stones, some strewn on the floor, others embedded along the palace walls.
When Wulfstein tries to leave, the King stops him. “Stand here and wait for me.”
The King enters an onion-shaped cavern and returns with a jewel-studded sheath. Hand steady he draws a glittering sword and presses the tip against Wulfstein’s chest.
“Henceforth, you have a new mission. One edge of this sword is for you to cut truths from lies, the other to cut lies from truths.” The King pauses, nudging the sword. “If you fail, I will plunge this through your heart.”
Wulfstein awoke, startled, sweat dripping from his forehead. As dawn’s rays flooded the curtains, something cold brushed against his face. An agonizing spasm shot through his back; every muscle ached. These discomforts had crept into his body like nagging witnesses to his failure to understand. Last night, it had been close to three a.m. when he stumbled into bed.
The dream had haunted him for days, this morning’s being the worst. A sword? To cut lies from truths? And truths from lies?
In the shower, he shivered despite the water’s pounding heat. The recurring dream, the same troubling dream that had turned into a nightmare, kept creeping into his mind and intensified in severity—the bizarre admonition of the King that somehow hit him head on.
Finally dressed, he staggered to the kitchen and drummed his fingers on the coffeemaker. He made the coffee so potent it would have floored a weaker man, yet he was neither aware of the aroma nor the heat.
Forcing his mind back to reality, he reread the transcript. A flash of crimson across a blue sky—a missile? Was it feasible for one missile, or even several, could bring down seven jets?
And they disappeared without a trace?
Wulfstein stabbed a finger at the transcript. If his thought had been conventional, he would have cited the initial problem and written a conclusion based on a series of observations and hypotheses. But to mix anything up with his subconscious mind—especially his dreams—would be more than unconventional.
After placing his laptop on the table, he switched it on and pulled the antenna from its port. He put on his headphones and plugged in the wire to his computer, which he dubbed EQ-Lun. Connected to underwater hydrophones, the spectrogram danced on the screen.
The humming sound increased in volume, signaling a phenomenon had intensified across the Pacific Ocean. It couldn’t have been linked to earthquakes, since it had been continuous even in the absence of seismic activities. No it could be! He shook his head. Are they earthquake swamp? Are they precursors? He leaned forward, but another sound startled him. A blo-o-op sound, a babble like gurgling water, replaced the hum.
During the last recording before he slept, the blo-o-op—indicated by the thick cluster of red pixels—was most intense about a thousand miles south of Kyushu Island. He clicked until a map of the Pacific appeared in the background, then he superimposed the ambience over the map. Now, six hours later, the source of this sound had moved further south, its color changed from red to maroon, indicating the intensity of the sound had subsided. He listened with his headset. Yes, the sound had abated. But why?
Could a link with a sea creature be possible? Moving! Retreating! Could this be the same leviathan that had inspired fantasy since antiquity?
His shoulders slumped as he shoved the transcript into his briefcase.
When he strode toward the door, a Pekinese groaned beside him. Wulfstein bent to pat his golden brown XiaoLun, then rubbed his stomach and long ears.
“Be good, XiaoLun,” he said, giving his pet two pieces of bone and a bowl of grains. “I’ll be back soon.”
Wulfstein closed the door. As thoughts on the politics awaiting him, he proceeded to his Volkswagen.
The moment he reached his office, a summons from Devonport appeared on his desk, and he hurried to see him. Though his tenure was up for review, he’d conditioned his mind to accept any outcome; the worst scenario would be a discharge, but why should he be afraid?
The Dean’s office had often been the center of academic activities, its proclamation often had worldwide ramifications, but today Wulfstein trembled. The insipid décor and stale air reminded him of an ominous dungeon.
Hunched in his armchair, the normally immaculate Dean had his tie askew and his suit crumpled, looking as if he’d slept behind his mahogany desk. Unshaven, the astrophysicist wore a forlorn expression, making him look older than his seventies. He stared blankly toward the windows, hands fingering the beads of a rosary.
“I’m disappointed that you have sullied your reputation with this fantasy,” the Dean said without preamble, slipping the rosary into his suit pocket. “The grapevine is buzzing about your dragonology.”
“Knowledge is a field without boundaries,” Wulfstein said.
“Up to a point. We shouldn’t merge different fields that have too diverse foci.”
“Obviously there’s a limit.” Devonport stood up.
“A limit, yes.” Wulfstein paced toward the window, then turned back. “We’ve misled our students into thinking science develops without leaps of imagination.”
“Look, your research doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, and if I don’t stop this insanity, you’ll bring the whole scientific community into fairyland.”
“If we want to stretch the limits of our knowledge, it’s inappropriate to ignore the richness of all our human experience.” Wulfstein frowned at the fluffy flakes falling outside. Swirled by the wind, the snow brushed against the window and coated it before dripping away. It reminded him of his life’s work—falling apart, melting away.
“Despite all my efforts, endowments are disappearing,” the Dean said. “Reluctance by our Budget Committee for new funding means you’re the one to go.” He picked up a crumpled memo from his desk and waved it in front of Wulfstein. “You know what this means?”
“I can hardly believe I’m hearing this from you. You, of all people.”
The moment Devonport strode to a portrait of William B. Rogers, Wulfstein reminded himself the Dean was a man of contradictions, and his long suppressed paradox, albeit a mythical one, could rise again. So he waited.
“Our founding fathers debated and established their scientific reputation here,” Devonport said. “But your fanciful approach is destroying our name.”
Wulfstein stared at the Dean. “Our founding fathers had initiated only the beginning of sciences, but they had left us the legacy of opening up to all fields of investigations. So my holistic approach must be the next challenge.”
“We can’t. I’ve a dirty job to do, difficult people to answer to.” Devonport trudged back to his desk. “And I won’t tolerate our reputation going down the drain.”
A long pause followed as Wulfstein waited, reluctant to respond; he had said enough. Had the Dean already set something up?
“For any breakthrough,” Devonport said, “we need a man with Big Ideas who frequents his research in the untested field. You might be a Christopher Columbus, but Columbus didn’t discover anything by sitting on his butt.”
“Unless we free ourselves from our predispositions, the obstacle to any Big Idea is ourselves. Like Columbus, the first thing he needed was a mind shift, that he could discover a new route to India by turning west. For years now, my call for more funding into aquatic cryptozoology has fallen on dead brains.”
“Oh, well, a bubble in your mind. So typhoons are caused by dragons with infinite wingspans.”
Wulfstein shrugged. “You’ve made your point clear, but there’s no need to take that tone.”
“You can prove your theories in a more favorable environment on the other side of the Pacific. In a culture with a mindset more affiliated with yours, a people who believe in a mythology you’re interested in.”
Wulfstein held his breath as a tense silence fell between them.
“We all know your prediction concerning the IzuPeninsula,” Devonport continued. “And I’ve a request from our former associate for your expertise in Tokyo. You would be a consultant to Japan’s EarthquakePredictionCenter and its deep-sea operation.”
Wulfstein took a step back, feeling the Dean had already made up his mind.
“Please take a seat.” Devonport reached for his appointment book. “We will make the arrangements, and you are entitled to take an assistant.”
Wulfstein remained silent, not knowing what to expect. He knew he had to work with whatever resources he would be given.
“And by the way, we just have a report from NASA that there were a surge of alien activities just before the seven Hornets disappeared.”
“A surge of alien activities? The night before the jets disappeared?”
“That’s right, and over several hours after dawn. There were more than twenty spacecrafts spotted by NASA in this report. They couldn’t be there doing nothing, weren’t they?” The Dean took a copy from a pile of reports and handled it to Wulfstein. “And during that time period, there were similar reports of UFO activities in Mars.”
“In Mars? So what would you expect me to do?”
“Since you’re now well recognized for your holistic understanding, and for whatever information that you may gather in Japan, we expect you to report to us how such incidents fit into the larger scheme of things.”
“In the larger scheme of things?”
“That’s right, then we’ll truly believe that you have mastered the premise that knowledge is a field without boundaries.”
“I guess I have no choice, particularly if my absence will save your neck.”
“Your absences from staff functions have become too conspicuous,” the Dean shot back, then staring at Wulfstein several seconds longer, said. “Don’t you prefer I give you a far more dignified way to exit than by bringing your tenure into question?”