“S-Samo sent us,” Karen said in broken Japanese.
“I know,” the old man answered in English. “The American.”
“Actually, I’m Canadian,” she corrected him.
“Same thing. I must get the ship going. I wait too long already.”
Karen nodded and unslung her bag. She and Miyuki were guided to a stained wooden bench beside a folded mat of net. The reek of fish entrails and blood from the wooden planks of the boat almost overpowered her.
Around her, the two-man crew had freed the ropes from the dock and jumped on board. At the wheelhouse, the ship’s captain barked orders. The motor roared. Water began to churn, and the boat slowly edged forward. The crewmen took up posts near the bow, one on the starboard, one on the port side, watching the waters ahead. Sunken debris made the bay treacherous.
It was clear why the captain insisted on leaving with the dawn. As the morning tide receded, these waters would become even more treacherous.
Past the pier’s end, they sailed toward the center channel of the bay and slowly edged by a pole sticking crookedly up from the water, a flag flapping at its tip. Karen glanced over the rail and realized it was the mast tip from a submerged sailboat. The fishing boat with its shallow draft cut around and over the debris.
Across the bay, the United States military base lay burning. Fires still glowed from the refinery blaze, set off during the quakes as underground tanks had been ripped open. A smudge of oily smoke climbed high into the morning sky. Helicopters circled the area, hauling dredges of seawater and sand in an attempt to stanch the fires. So far with little luck.
A thick-bellied transport plane, military gray, passed low over them, its engine roaring. The fishing boat’s captain shook a fist at it. The United States presence here, especially this base, still rankled the locals. Back in 1974 it had been agreed that the land would be returned to the islanders, but that transition had yet to be realized.
Finally, the fishing boat sailed free of the bay and headed toward open water. Clear of the smoke, the breeze freshened. With the open sea all around them, the captain nodded for his first mate to take the wheel, then sauntered over to them. “My name is Oshi,” he said. “I take you to Dragons. Then we come back before sun go down.”
Karen nodded. “Perfect.”
He held out his hand, awaiting payment.
Karen stood and pulled a wad of bills from her jacket’s inside pocket. She noticed the fisherman eye her holstered gun. Good. Just so things were clear. She counted out the appropriate number of bills, half the prearranged fee, then returned the rest to her pocket. “The other half when we return to Naha.”
The man’s face remained hard for a heartbeat, then flashed a quick scowl. He mumbled something in Japanese and shoved the bills into his jeans.
Karen sat back down as he left. “What did he say?”
Miyuki wore a grin. “He says you Americans are all alike. Never stick to your own agreements, so you don’t trust anyone else.”
“I’m not American,” she said in an exasperated voice.
Miyuki patted her knee. “If you speak English, have blond hair, and carelessly throw that much cash around, you’re American to him.”
Karen tried her best to sulk, but she was too excited. “C’mon. If this American is paying for this excursion, I want better seats.”
She stood and led Miyuki toward the bow. They crossed to the forward rail as the boat rounded the southern tip of Okinawa and passed the tiny island of Tokashiki Shima. The Ryukyu chain of islands spread south in an arc almost stretching to Taiwan. The Dragons were located near the island of Yonaguni, an hour’s journey but still within Okinawa’s prefecture.
One of the sailors bowed his way into their presence. He placed two small porcelain glasses of green tea and a small plate of cakes on a nearby bench.
“Domo arigato,” Karen said. She took the tea and let the hot cup warm her hands. Miyuki joined her, nibbling on the edge of a cake. They stared in silence as green islands drifted slowly past. The coral reefs colored the nearby shoals in shades of aquamarine, rose, and emerald.
After a time Miyuki spoke, “What do you really hope to find out there?”
“Answers.” Karen leaned on the rail. “You read Professor Masaaki’s thesis.”
Miyuki nodded. “That once these islands were part of some lost continent, now sunk under the waves. Pretty wild conjecture.”
“Not necessarily. During the Holocene era, some ten thousand years ago, the ocean levels were three hundred feet shallower.” Karen waved an arm. “If so, many of these separate islands would have been joined.”
“Still, you know from your own research that the islands of the South Pacific were populated only a couple thousand years ago. Not ten thousand.”
“I know. I’m not saying you’re wrong, Miyuki. I just want to see these pyramids for myself.” Karen gripped the ship’s rail tighter. “But what if I can find proof to support Professor Masaaki’s claim? Could you imagine what this revelation would mean? It would change the entire historical paradigm for this region. It would unite so many disparate theories—” She hesitated, then continued. “—even explain the mystery of the lost continent of Mu.”
Miyuki crinkled her nose. “Mu?”
Karen nodded. “Back in the early 1900s Colonel James Churchward claimed he had stumbled upon a set of Mayan tablets that spoke of a lost continent, similar to Atlantis, but in the central Pacific. He named this sunken continent Mu. He wrote a whole series of books and essays about the place…until he was discredited.”
Karen shrugged. “No one believed my great-grandfather.”
Miyuki’s brows rose, her voice shocked. “Your great-grandfather!”
Karen felt a blush blooming. She had never explained this to anyone. She spoke softly, embarrassed. “Colonel Churchward was my great-grandfather on my mother’s side. When I was a child, my mother used to tell me stories of our infamous ancestor…even read sections from his diaries to me at bedtime. His stories first drew me to the South Pacific.”
“And you think the Dragons might prove your relative’s wild claim?”
Karen shrugged. “Who knows?”
“I still say this is all a wild goose chase.”
Karen shrugged. Wild goose chases? They ran in her family, she thought sourly. Twenty years ago her father had left his wife and baby girls to chase the dream of oil and wealth in Alaska, never to be heard from again—except for a sheaf of divorce papers arriving in the mail a year later. After his disappearance, hardships drained the life from the remaining household. Her mother, abandoned with her two young daughters, had no more time for dreams and worked herself into a dull job at a secretarial pool and an even duller second marriage. Karen’s older sister, Emily, had moved to the small town of Moose Jaw after graduating from high school, her belly full of twin boys.
Karen, however, had inherited too much of her father’s wanderlust to settle down. Between tips as a waitress at the Flying Trout Grill and a few small scholarships, she was able to put herself through an undergraduate program at the University of Toronto, followed by graduate work in British Columbia. So it was no particular surprise to those who knew her that Karen Grace had ended up on the far side of the Pacific. Still, she had learned from her father’s abandonment—each month she mailed a chunk of her paycheck back home to her mother. Though she may have inherited her father’s blood, she didn’t have to accept his cold heart.
A call from the wheelhouse drew her attention. “Yonaguni!” the captain yelled above the motor’s roar. He pointed off the port side to a large island. The fishing boat made a wide turn around the isle’s southern coast.
“This is the place,” Karen said, shading her eyes with a hand. “The island of Yonaguni.”
“I don’t see anything. Are you—”
Then from around the high cliffs of the island, they appeared, no more than a hundred meters off the coastline, shrouded in morning sea mists: two pyramids, towering above the waves, their terraced sides damp with algae. As the boat drew closer, details emerged. Among the pyramids’ steps, white cranes clambered, picking stranded urchins and crabs from the debris.
“They’re real,” Karen said.
“That’s not all,” Miyuki said, her voice full of awe.
As the small boat continued to circle around the island, the deeper mists parted and the view opened wider. Past the pyramids, rows of coral-encrusted columns and roofless buildings rode above the waves. In the distance a basalt statue of a robed woman stood waist-deep in the sea, draped in seaweed, a stone arm raised as if calling for their aid. Farther yet, piles of tumbled bricks and cracked stone obelisks marched deep into the Pacific.
“My God,” Karen exclaimed in shock.
Along with the Dragons, an entire ancient city had risen from the sea.
July 25, 12:15 P.M.
82 nautical miles northwest of Enewak Atoll, Central Pacific
On the bridge of the Deep Fathom, Jack lounged in the pilot’s chair, sprawled out, his bare feet propped up on a neighboring seat. He wore a white cotton robe over a pair of red Nike swim trunks. The morning had started warm and had only grown warmer. Though the pilothouse was equipped with air-conditioning, Jack hadn’t bothered. He enjoyed the moist heat.
As he sat, one hand rested on the wheel of the ship. The Fathom had been on autopilot since it left the site of the sunken Kochi Maru yesterday, but Jack felt a certain comfort with his hand on the wheel. A twinge of mistrust for automated equipment. He liked to keep things in his immediate control.
As he sat, he chewed on the end of the cigar hanging from his lips. A Cuban El Presidente. The smoke trailed in a lazy circle toward the open window nearby. Behind him, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major wafted gently from a Sony CD player. This was all he wanted: the open sea and a handsome ship to travel her.
But that was not to be. Not today.