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Japan and the Ring of Fire
Author's note: This piece was actually inspired by two things. First of all, an actual event that took place near and within Japan in the year 2011 that was the skeleton for this fictional short story. Second, my dad, who when my English teacher assigned this particular writing assignment mentioned to me the good idea of creating a fictional story based around this very real event in Japan.
Friday, March 11 2011
Off the Coast of Japan
Admiral Chatanowa Schuve stood from his post at the viewing pod of the Japanese submarine called the “Stitichan”. The Stitichan was a state of the art deep diving sub. Its main purpose was to monitor seismic readings under the earth’s crust for the Japanese government. Japan was located on the intersection of two of the earth’s tectonic plates. These plates were constantly in movement, grinding slowly against one another. The result was what is today called the “Pacific Ring of Fire” – a ring of volcanoes formed all the way around the Pacific Ocean. Japan was right on top of the ring, and it always posed a natural threat to Japanese society. Admiral Chatanowa was chosen to command the sub crew and facilitate a number of scientists for months at a time under the ocean. His objective was to gather information and keep the Japanese government up to date on what was going on underneath their doorstep.
A sudden geyser of hot air bubbles from the volcanoes far below the Stitichan shifted the submarine from side to side. It would have been difficult for the Admiral to keep his footing if it had not been for the hand rail he was holding onto. He watched unsurprised as the plume of hot bubbles passed over head, covering the viewing glass with steam for a fleeting moment, only to be swallowed up by the cold, dark waters once again as the hot gases fled away to the ocean’s surface. This was the norm for the passengers of the Stitichan. When you’ve spent almost a full month in a submarine like the Stitichan parked so close to the volcanic underlayings of Japan’s coastal oceans, you learn to grow accustomed to the unpredictable nature of the shifts from the steady and secure footing to the tumultuous.
Admiral Chatanowa waited for the sub to steady and then pressed a small blue button on a control panel centered just below the railing.
“Chatanowa here. Dr. Goro, are you there?” There was a small period of fuzzy silence as the connection established.
Finally, after a moment more of light static, the line opened from the other side, “Yes sir, admiral, sir. I read you loud and clear, sir. Over...”
A smile creased Admiral Chatanowa’s face. He was amused by his friend Dr. Goro’s use of what he had affectionately called ‘real army-talk’ in a conversation they had in the past over the com link. It consisted of way to many “sirs” and the occasional “over” at the end of a message. Quite amusing, indeed.
“Everything look alright down there?”
Dr. Goro was the chief seismologist aboard the Stitichan. He spent most of his time in a room in the lower end of the sub. The room was filled with various devices such as radar and sonar, as well as seismographic readers that can detect vibrations in the water around the sub coming from ground level, and thereby calculate, nearly exactly, what tectonic activity was taking place beneath the surface of the ocean floor. In short, if there were any questions about any possible dangers lurking beneath the earth’s crust under Japan at the moment, Dr. Goro would be the best person to ask. There was the click of a computer mouse over the com link, followed by the crackling movement of charts and other papers of a similar kind.
“Yes sir, nothing but a few hiccups on the seismographs from this side admiral. Nothing to report here.” Admiral Chatanowa was glad to hear the news, even though he had expected nothing less. It had been quite some time since an earthquake had hit the coasts of Japan, and even though scientists – even his friend Dr. Goro – predicted that another earthquake was soon on its way, he didn’t suspect it would happen in his lifetime. He suspected quite the opposite, in fact.
“Good, Dr. Goro. Glad to hear it. How are you doing?” Admiral Chatanowa knew how Dr. Goro, like himself, worked the night shift most of the time on the Stitichan. You would think it would be hard to do, but under the dark depths of the sea, most days and nights ran together anyways. All you had to do was get used to switching the hours you were awake with the hours you slept. Your adaptive mind would take care of the rest. Also, for some reason there was always more seismic activity during the night. Something to do with the gravitational pull of the moon, Dr. Goro had once told the admiral. Regardless, it was about two hours past dawn topside and near time for the admiral and the doctor’s alternates to come and take their places.
“Aah…yeah, I’m doing fine,” the doctor said through a yawn. “I am about ready to turn in, though.” The admiral listened as his friend attempted to stifle another yawn, and then fought the urge to let one overtake himself.
“So am I, my friend, so am I. Have a good one. You’ve earned it. And I’ll see you in eight hours.”
“Same to you, admiral.” The admiral could sense the warmth of a smile on the doctor’s face, even through the com. The line clicked off on the doctor’s side and then the admiral released his button. He looked at a waterproof watch on his wrist: 7:55 A.M. Five more minutes, and it’d be time for sweet sleep – for the both of them. To pass the last five minutes of the day, Admiral Chatanowa thought about what possible undersea adventures could find him in the next day, if any.
The electronic door behind him slid open, a bulky Japanese naval officer making his way into the room. The admiral’s idea had worked. He looked at his watch again: 8:00 A.M. His replacement had arrived.
Akio Namahishi cursed silently to himself as he rolled out of bed. He had slept through his alarm again. This was the third time this month. His boss, Mr. Hachiro, would surely dock his pay this time. Akio threw on a shirt, grabbed his pants, and made his way to the bathroom of his apartment. He quickly washed his face, brushed his teeth, wet down his hair, and snatched his keys and wallet off his bedroom Chester drawer. He completed these tasks all in one minute, slamming the apartment door closed on the way out of the suite.
Akio raced down to the bottom floor of the apartment complex located on the fourth floor and hailed a taxi. He paid the man in cash as he jumped out of the cab at the corner of Lexian and 25th Street. There, in all its dull, inspirational glory, stood the center building of the Inteneito Company – a Japanese software company, among other things.
Akio waved at the front desk clerk as he entered the building. It was her job to clock in the workers when they came by. She responded by shaking her head and tapping her golden wrist watch. Akio shrugged excusingly as the elevator doors slid closed and while clicking the button for the seventh floor wondered how the desk clerk could afford such an expensive watch on the low salary he suspected she received. He shrugged again to himself and satisfied his own question with the two possible answers that she was either born into money or had married into it. Yet the second answer brought up other questions. Was she married? He didn’t remember seeing a wedding band on her finger, although he really hadn’t looked for one.
The doors opened to the seventh floor. A sudden smile jumped across Akio’s face. Across from the elevator was this floor’s office break-room. From what he could tell, no one was in it. Perfect, he thought. This meant that everyone was in their cubicles, and he had a chance to sneak to his – the third down on the left, opposite the break-room – without any of his colleagues and especially his boss noticing him.
He ducked down below the nearest shoulder-high cubicle and made his way slowly, cautiously toward his own. He kept as silent as possible so as not to draw the attention of the people working within the five by five work spaces to his left and right, dodging the small openings where he could be seen from the people inside as best he could. One more and he would be home free… one more and…
Akio fell to the ground as one of his colleagues, Ai Seramo, strode out of her cubicle right on top of him. She crashed into his lowered form and tripped, falling face first. The folder that she had previously been carrying in her arms and all the paper work in it were now flying through the air in a shower of enormous confetti.
“You idiot!” Oh, he had done it this time. Ai’s voice was loud and indignant. “What were you doing down there?” Akio made no response except to try and help her by picking up the papers strewn about the floor. “No!” Ai proclaimed, her face still contorted in anger. “These files are confidential. I’ll take that.” She snatched some papers out of his hand that he was trying to give to her.
“Akio!” Akio looked up from his seated position to the elevator doors where the voice came from. It was his boss, Mr. Hachiro. He was motioning his finger towards himself, telling Akio to come to where he was.
Oh great, Akio thought. He got up and apologized to Ai as best he could.
She was entirely focused on the files on the ground and ignored him, speaking words to herself such as, “And they were in alphabetical order, too. This will take at least an hour to redo. Well, looks like you’re staying late tonight again,” she was talking to herself.
Akio felt bad as he turned from Ai and began to walk towards his boss. The man was plain scary looking. Even when he smiled he looked like he was mad. As he made his way closer he couldn’t help thinking, Out of the fire and into the frying pan.
Aboard the Stitichan
Admiral Chatanowa and Dr. Goro sat beside each other in a small mess hall located near the center of the Stitichan. For the past hour they had been eating their breakfast and enjoying each other’s company at what would generally be supper time to a person with a normal sleeping schedule. The admiral and the doctor were fairly experienced men, both over the age of fifty. Each had eyes filled with wisdom of years, though neither their superiors nor their subordinates considered them old.
They had many stories to share and much wise talk to converse in their four hours of down time each day. Dr. Goro was just recalling an earthquake he had researched during one of his first research trips in college. The quake was a 7.3 on the richter scale with enough power to level buildings and topple bridges. It occurred off the coast of eastern Australia. The quake caused severe damage to any Australian city within 30 miles and it took the people years to revive back to normal. The admiral listened intently while eating a bowl of steamed rice, Natto - or fermented soy beans - and a Tamagoyaki - a rolled omelet of sorts.
“And the earthquake wasn’t the worst of the damage. An hour and a half after the quake hit, a tsunami 30 feet high swept over the Australian coast driving its way inland and killing hundreds.”
The admiral took a bite of his Tamagoyaki and asked, “Why were the people not warned ahead of time that a tsunami was coming?”
The doctor drew his face closer to the admiral’s, glad he asked the question. “They were. You see, when the earthquake hit, it took out most land lines in the area. Only a few locations near the places farthest from the coast received the warning.”
“What about cell phones?” The admiral asked, interested.
“During 1983 they weren’t as prevalent as they are today, and most of the people at the time still relied on landline phones.”
“What an awful disaster,” the admiral declared shaking his gray head.
“I hear that.” The doctor agreed, a remorseful face replacing his previous expression.
The admiral thoughtfully chewed his last piece of Tomagoyaki and then disposed of his trash in a waste can beside the little table where they sat. The waste can, like the table, was fastened to the ground by bolts and screws. Not even three hefty navy men could tear the objects from their places. The thought passed the admiral’s mind just as everything in the mess hall suddenly changed.
The ground of the sub began to shake beneath their feet again with the passing of more volcanic gases from below. But this time it was different. Something was wrong – terribly wrong. It took all the strength the admiral and doctor had to hold on to the table. There were no seat belts on this makeshift roller coaster ride. The sub continued to shake tremendously for a full minute longer than the usual five to ten seconds. The vibrations then subsided enough to where the admiral and the doctor could release their grasp on the table.
“Are you okay?” The admiral asked the doctor, with concern.
“Better than you are old man.” The admiral smiled at his friends quip.
“Admiral…” A voice cut through their gayety over the com system. The admiral looked near the wall to his right. There was a small panel on the door with a speaker and a button to activate the com on his side. He pressed it in.
“Yes, I’m here corporal. What’s going on up there?”
“Not sure, sir, but you should probably make your way up as fast as possible.”
“On my way, corporal.”
“Oh and sir?”
“Please tell the doctor that his colleagues request his presence in the seismology room.”
“Yes, corporal, I will.”
“Thank you, sir.” The line clicked off into static. The admiral released his button. Silence. The doctor was already out of his seat. He went through the entry way to the mess hall and made his way right, to a door not too much farther down the sub corridor. The admiral made his way left, towards the command and viewing station. They were both uncertain of what had caused the prolonged gas fluctuations, but there was one thing they were both sure of; it couldn’t be good.
It was the end of the day at the Japanese software company, and Akio sure was ready for it. Earlier that morning, after the incident with Ai, Akio’s boss had called him over and scolded him for being late for the fourth time this month. Akio could’ve sworn it was only the third time, but he thought it best not to argue with his boss at that moment. Mr. Hachiro warned him that this was his last chance and that if he was late again in the next three weeks of this month he would fire him. It was a powerful threat to Akio, indeed.
Akio’s normal time off work was around 4:00, but Mr. Hachiro told him if he stayed an extra two hours tonight he would “reconsider” docking his pay for the morning. To Akio, Mr. Hachiro was more serious about tardiness than a school teacher. Nevertheless, he understood his boss’s position and knew he’d be mad if someone he hired continually showed up late.
Akio sat in his cubicle contemplating these things, watching as each minute on his computer screen clicked by. 34 minutes and he’d be free. Occasionally he glanced from his computer screen to the right. He had a slanted view of Ai’s cubicle. He couldn’t see her face though he could see her right ear and hair up in a pony tail. Her hair was black and the complexion of her skin was tan almond. He remembered the color of her eyes to be light blue. She was an average sized girl. Not big, not small, and not tall or short. Average. She was just shy of Akio’s height, actually – maybe 5’7. She was beautiful, Akio found himself thinking, a full woman.
Akio glanced back to his computer clock. 5:29 it read, unchanging. The time seemed to be moving by so slow. There was a knock at Akio’s cubicle. He had been so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he hadn’t even registered it consciously that Ai had gotten up from her cubicle and walked over to his. She had been standing there a couple of seconds, watching him.
Her hands held the folder containing the files from that morning. So she had stayed to work on them, Akio thought to himself – guilt clawing at him.
“I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for calling you an idiot this morning. I didn’t mean it. I lost my temper and I apologize.” She smelled of lavender perfume.
“It’s okay. It’s my fault truly,” Akio began, “I was being an idiot thinking I could sneak by without being caught by the Rottweiler.” Ai laughed at Akio’s reference to what some of the other employees had nicknamed Mr. Hachiro. Mr. Hachiro was given the nickname some time ago for his uncanny ability to “sniff” out anything the employees were doing wrong. They would often use it as a code name and a warning to alarm each other when he was coming around. Mr. Hachiro didn’t have a clue.
Ai’s smile was wide and inviting, friendly, like her personality. Akio had been thinking about asking her out on a date for months. He had passed up multiple opportunities before when they were both working late because it just didn’t seem like the right timing. Yet, he had felt something different about it today. Whether it was him or her, or their little incident this morning he did not know, but something about the moment just felt right.
He could tell she was about to dismiss herself when he decided to go for it. What’s the worst that could happen? He thought. Awkwardness for the rest of my life in this office, maybe? He didn’t care – he needed to try.
“Hey, Ai?” His words stopped her right before she turned to leave.
“Yes, Akio?” She turned her full focus to him, waiting with her eyes.
“Would you like to…” Before Akio could finish the thought the ground began to shake like nothing he’d ever felt before. Ai immediately fell into his arms where he sat, losing balance as the ground rumbled. The lights on the ceiling began to flicker with the vibrations. Glass windows four cubicles down burst open with the mounting pressure. The building began to feel as though it were swaying this way and that, the rafters and beams groaning against the movements.
Ai and Akio were the last people working on their floor. They were alone. Akio tried to take in all that was happening and push the fear out of his mind. A realization of absolute horror surfaced in his thoughts. WE'RE EXPERIENCING AN EARTHQUAKE! Akio hugged the fear-stricken Ai closer in his arms.
What was the worst place you could be in an earthquake? Akio answered the question with another, cold fear draining his strength and warmth: maybe the seventh floor of a building of 25? Akio closed his eyes and hoped, prayed for the madness to end.
His only recurring thought was, would they make it out of this alive?