Over Mount Fuji (3)
Books, books and more books—Wulfstein wondered how he came to own so many.
Relieved he had cleaned his office, he checked off a list of things-to-do. He had everything covered, including someone to mind his cottage, XiaoLun inspected, vaccinated and given a microchip implant. Then he made onerous quarantine arrangements for the pet’s shipment to Tokyo. It seemed like everything was done. Yet, that evening, a feeling troubled him. Had he forgotten something?
He checked his Rolodex. Damn right he did.
Wulfstein raced to the SportCenter and found his student in a Shaolin martial art session.
Clad in a black robe with a white sash, Byron Lambert leapt back and forth, avoiding and blocking a man with a six-foot staff. His opponent took several paces in succession. Byron darted, sidestepped and leaped to avoid contact. The attacker cornered him, thrusting the staff at his chest. Byron shifted sideways. The staff bounced off. He threw a back-fist, punching the attacker’s face.
“Tein,” the Master shouted.
All movements stopped. The Master gave further instructions, and more actions followed.
Wulfstein admired the agility of Byron’s sidekicks and frontal lunges. The six-footer’s shift movements looked impressive, reminding him of Bruce Lee.
At the end of the workout, Wulfstein waved, and Byron strode over to greet him.
Wulfstein stepped forward. “Would you like to join me for coffee?”
“SURE,” BYRON REPLIED. Flattered by the Professor’s interest, Byron rushed to his bag for a quick change and put on a jacket, wondering why Wulfstein wanted to see him. Something crucial must have come up; lately the Professor had been reclusive. Byron took the lead, gesturing to the doorway. “So, what’s on your mind?”
“Japan’s Earthquake Research Institute has offered me a one-year fellowship.”
“Congratulations,” Byron said, crunching through the snow toward the Pompey Roasts Café. “Why did you want to see me?”
“I need an assistant, and I’d like you to come along.”
Byron chuckled, then stopped when Wulfstein’s brow crinkled. “Are you serious, Professor?”
“Very much so, Byron. We’re in the worst of times.”
They sat at a corner table and ordered two cappuccinos. Although Byron knew Wulfstein would rise to any challenge, he hadn’t anticipated a twist of such magnitude. “Is it because of the Hornets’ disappearance?”
“Certainly, and what better place to study than the interlocking mysteries surrounding Japan?”
A waitress brought two mugs of aromatic coffees and plunked them on the table. When she left, Byron stared at Wulfstein’s tired face through the steam.
“Many consider me old, though I’m only fifty-six,” Wulfstein said, looking annoyed as a chilling breeze slammed through the swinging door. “They want to get rid of me, claiming there aren’t enough funds, claiming there were a surge of alien activities during the disappearance of the seven Hornets that would interest me.”
Byron remained silent, sipping his coffee, already suspecting politics had more to do with such hasty decision.
“I hope you’ll consider it.” Wulfstein leaned forward and gripped Byron’s arm. “You need an adventure. A year overseas would be invaluable.”
Byron squirmed, thinking such an opportunity was sudden. To be uprooted from a familiar environment and forced to adapt to a new culture would be more than a hitch in his life. But the thought of Japan raised fascinating images in his head—the mysterious East, the exotic culture—and a land he only dreamed of. Being a graduate student, the time was right for a new challenge and an opportunity to study a chain of volcanic islands with the prospect of gaining an invaluable experience at the end of it.
“To be honest, Byron, our critics will consider our intentions ridiculous. Blackmore has already called me a crank, and our assignment in Tokyo will make quake prediction even more controversial.”
The thought of Blackmore made Byron sigh. As an established professor of an elite university, Professor Blackmore had been criticizing research on earthquake prediction at conferences and in journal articles, calling for an end to this line of study. Earthquake prediction, he proclaimed, was doomed to fail. Japan’s wide-ranging programs had cost billions of yen and produced nothing of substance.
“Even if we can’t predict the exact time a fault will give way,” Byron said, “we can at least improve our hit rate with better sensors.”
“The Chinese had taken a synergetic approach to quake prediction, but the west has ignored it,” Wulfstein said. “At the cutting edge of discovery, we often see a mismatch between theory and data, just as there’s a mismatch between the arts and sciences.”
“No one can learn all the arts or the whole of science. So who could possibly claim the mastery of both?”
“It’s time to take a step back. A scientist too specialized in his field is prone to poor judgment. Unless his knowledge encompasses other disciplines, he is like the blind man holding the wiggly trunk of an elephant. ‘This is it. I’ve got it. It’s a snake.’ It’s misleading to think that one segment of an autonomous knowledge represents a portion of the whole truth.”
Baffled by the unfamiliar territory of philosophy, Byron decided not to argue.
“I want to free myself from all critics so I can devote my full energies to research.” Wulfstein’s voice intensified. “There’re certainly a series of factors and precursors that seismologists have ignored, seemingly unrelated, that suggest if you join the dots, they are all linked. But first, we need to discard all blinkers and paradigms.”
Byron hesitated, knowing that the crisis of the lost Hornets had triggered a passionate interest in the geologist. Wulfstein’s frown and his mood, which had been deep and intense, now turned anguished and soulful.
“Besides taking a new approach,” Wulfstein continued, “there’s evidence to suggest the Chinese approach is viable. Why not? The soundings of marine creatures, more so when they are strange ones, can tell us when an earthquake is imminent. In fact, warning signs abounded right before that fateful day in 1995 when the Kobe earthquake struck.”
Byron remembered the warning of the earthquake that struck Haicheng was issued thirteen hours before. Although wholesale evacuations were carried out that saved thousands, he knew Chinese methods were strictly empirical and came with the benefits of hindsight. “That prediction could have been a fluke.”
“Possibly,” Wulfstein said. “But the real test is if they can predict an earthquake and call for an evacuation before it hits the Three Gorges Dam.”
“Their engineers gave assurance that the dam had been built to withstand a major quake.”
“Not if it’s over 7.0 on the Richter scale, or even a tiny jolt if the epicenter is right beneath the dam.”
“Ackk . . .” Byron straightened his back. “And the monster would rampage down like a fuming dragon.”
“Exactly,” Wulfstein said. “And then Shanghai might find itself washed out into the Pacific.”
“That can’t be that bad, can it?”
“Shanghai sits on a sheet of soft soil,” Wulfstein said. “The whole mudflat plain could easily slip into the raging sea when the heavenly gate breaks loose and a torrent of monsters comes crushing down from the upland.”
“That would be more than apocalyptic?”
“There isn’t any granite or solid foundation to hold the city. And sitting up river lies a monstrous reservoir 400 miles in length waiting to be unleashed.”
Stunned, Byron remained silent. After a long moment, he asked, “Won’t you present a paper on what you’d just said?”
“Maybe I should.” Wulfstein frowned, looking somewhat uncertain for a moment. He sighed and squirmed, worrying line around his eyes indicated it would be a Herculean task ahead. “But once the Chinese make up their mind, they’ll be just as stiff-necked; besides, I’m already committed to an assignment in Tokyo, which is impending as schools of fish have been detected swimming uncharacteristically in the seas south of Japan. And many ships in the area are reporting lost signals for a few minutes every now and then.”
“Yes, but how do these fishes tie in with the lost electronic signals?”
“That’s the missing piece in the puzzle, Byron. Many in the academics are already speculating about the buzz of alien activities before imminent quake. It sickens me to think that these electromagnetic interferences were not even collated until recently.”
“I can accept certain concepts of the naturalist theory, but it’s as unfounded as speculating about alien activities or on some mythical islands disappearing over the millenniums.”
“I’m mystified by the disappearance of Atlantis and Lemuria, Byron. Like the island of Santorini, what if the dissipation of Atlantis and Lemuria is rooted in truth?”
At the mention of such mythical disappearances, Byron shook his head, feeling an odd tingling sensation. One sensible possibility would be the diving tectonic plate—that the earth’s crust is capable of opening up in a major quake, but it is a stretch. And now the buzz of alien activities. Had Wulfstein fallen off the deep end?
Now that the Professor had shown such passion for primeval mystery, it reminded Byron why others had considered his mentor an outcast. “Reckless. We’ve modern sensors. But where is the proof to substantiate all their speculations?”
“That’s where the challenge lies. Look, the Japanese have wired practically every island and all the surrounding seas. Now, combined with my programming, I can analyze and interpret the data right from my laptop.” Wulfstein paused to take another sip. “Besides, something odd is happening.”
“Observation wells have not only detected significant movements in the earth’s crust, but the mysterious ‘blo-o-op’ sound has moved around the seas south of Kyushu.” Wulfstein slammed his cup down, spilling some coffee on the tabletop.
Byron knew the strange unidentified blo-o-op had stymied NOAA. They called it ‘bloop’, though not knowing whether the auditory effect originated from undercurrents, volcanic activity, ice cracking, or some mysterious beasts of the deep. “South of KyushuIsland? That’s where the Hornets disappeared.”
“Not quite. The sound’s origin is a couple of hundred miles further south.”
“But why can’t seismologists draw a conclusion from such findings?”
“Good question.” Wulfstein motioned a waitress for refills. “Since such data isn’t made available, the only way to substantiate it is to conduct a study at its source.”
Byron pondered, rattled by the tricky turn of situations.
Wulfstein sighed. “Everybody scoffs at me whenever I mention the certainties of more beasts under our oceans, but why limit our imagination?”
Ill at ease about Wulfstein’s remark, Byron gulped more coffee. It seemed strange that the presence of sea creatures could have any relevance in the field of quake theory. What if the Professor was mistaken? He’d already gained a reputation as an odd old quack! For a moment, Byron remained silent, not knowing what to make of it.
“Look, Byron,” Wulfstein said. “Don’t you realize the deep ends of our oceans haven’t been stirred by human imagination?”
Byron smiled, feeling bemused by Wulfstein’s tint of philosophy. It dawned on him that the deep end of the oceans—untouched and unstirred—hadn’t been much explored. But what if the Professor’s instigation of an expedition would lead to some discovery?
“I’d like you to come along, but such an adventure has its perils. We may well be in one of these expeditions where scientists fail to return.”
“Fail to return?”
“In the extreme, Byron, only in the extreme.”
Byron stiffened at the thought of such peril. For a moment, the image of Cindy flashed before him—his sweetheart who’d left him for a glittery New York career. The last time he heard from her, she was dating a stockbroker. “You’re just not exciting enough, Byron,” were her parting words. To lessen the pain, he’d diverted his mind and energies into the world of martial arts. And now another opportunity arose—an exotic adventure to Japan.
“But just what do you mean by ‘in the extreme’?”