The sun had begun its daily journey into obscurity behind the hills by the time the trio – confused and still shaken – hit the road for home.
The journey from the lake to the Ibuki home was not a particularly long one. A few winding country roads and a bridge or two was all that separated Goro, Rokuro, and Jinkawa from an earthquake-free remainder of the evening. But after what had just happened, the trip seemed to stretch for an intolerably long time.
None of the three had done much talking since taking their leave of the lake. Or, at least what had been a lake. The site they’d fled had been rendered bereft of water, drained like an immense bathtub in a sickeningly short amount of time. The thought of what might’ve happened to them – particularly to little Rokuro – weighed heavily in the air.
On a normal day, a joyride in Jinkawa’s car was an occasion worth celebrating. The dragster – shiny, sleek, and more than capable of quick bursts of speed – was the racer’s pride and joy. He’d acquired it years earlier from an American driver, and he’d won plenty of races while behind its wheel. The windows bore the proof of each victory in the form of stickers, each its own source of pride.
But on that day, there was little joy to be had. Despite the wind rushing over and around them as they drove, the air remained a paradoxical weight that threatened to crush them.
It was Jinkawa who broke the silence. A deft flip of his finger powered on the car’s radio, bringing the voice of the evening news to their ears. Perhaps there would be a report on the earthquake. Maybe there were answers to be found.
“We now bring you an update to the bizarre series of tremors that have plagued the mainland over the last few hours,” the voice on the radio intoned. “Authorities have identified a series of large cracks at the epicenters of each quake. Similar cracks in the ground were found along the North Pacific coast. The seismological institute has announced that the second underground nuclear detonation test on Aska Island was the cause. There could be further aftershocks. Stay tuned for…”
Jinkawa shut the radio off. His face twisted into a scowl.
“This truly is insane,” he said, speaking the first words of the drive. “If we keep up these nuclear tests, the whole world’s libel to explode one of these days.”
The ice finally broken, Goro spoke next. “Unfortunately, I agree. It could be the end of mankind as we know it. At the rate were going, we’ll find ourselves on the bottom of the ocean, like Lemuria or Mu.”
Jinkawa nodded in solemn agreement, his face still a mixture of anger and focus. In years past, the idea that humanity could literally sink itself into oblivion would’ve seemed far fetched in the extreme. Something that belonged squarely in the realm of science fiction.
“What are Lemuria and Mu?”
It was Rokuro’s turn to speak. The young boy, seated behind the two older men, had been quiet since the incident at the lake. However, his natural curiosity and energy suddenly seemed to be back in full force. Goro breathed a slight sigh of relief before answering.
“Just places from old stories,” he spoke with a wistful grin. “They were huge, mythical continents that supposedly existed three million years ago. Lemuria was said to rule over the Pacific Ocean, and Mu over the Atlantic. But a diastrophism spelled their doom. A major earthquake that caused them to suddenly sink into their respective oceans.”
“Sounds like what happened to Atlantis,” Rokuro retorted.
“Essentially, yes. It’s possible that a single sunken continent fueled the creation of all three of these myths. Or, it’s possible that no such places truly existed, and it was the imaginations of ancient man that dreamed them up. Either way, if we’re not careful, we might be staring down the barrel of a similar fate.”
Rokuro sunk back into his seat, his curiosity satisfied. But in its place rose a new emotion: fear. A different kind of fear than the type he’d felt at the lake. He’d been afraid, of course. Perhaps more afraid than he’d ever been in his young life. But even in the face of an earthquake and a draining body of water, he’d still had hope. He knew his brother would never let him drown. He knew he’d be saved.
But if the power he’d experienced at that lake could, in theory, send him, his brother, and the rest of humanity into the depths of the ocean…
Not even his brother – a genius, an inventor, and someone who would do anything to protect him – could save his life from something like that.
And that was truly frightening.
The sun set quickly in the countryside, and darkness had well and truly fallen by the time Jinkawa pulled off the main road on his way to Goro and Rokuro’s home. After a few minutes spent driving between the rows of tall grass that bordered the narrow dirt driveway, Jinkawa pulled one final turn, maneuvering between the two stone pillars that marked the entrance to the house before coming to a stop in front of the garage.
The Ibuki residence was a hard one to miss. The architecture was unusual, almost perfectly cubic in design and decidedly untraditional when compared to nearby homes. The square structure seemed to levitate over the hill it was built into; it featured no windows, no balconies, and no yard to speak of. What it did have, however, was a missing “cube” of space in one corner that allowed a tree to grow straight up and right into the righthand side of the home.
Out of context, the structure could’ve almost been sinister in its bizarreness. But while certainly curious, its presence inspired more awe than concern.
A perfectly eccentric place for an inventor to call home.
It was from this spot that Goro had lived and worked for years, and from its sub-floor garage that he’d first begin to establish himself as a tinkerer. From drag racers to his first experiments with recreational vehicles and robotics, his odd but perfectly suited home had seen it all. It housed a full lab and a machining shop, plus a surveillance center to ensure that no prying eyes got too close to his property.
On top of this, it was also a home. The place he ate, slept, and cared for his kid brother. It was, in many ways, the center of his universe. A precious place. A place where he hoped to invent things that would change the world for the better.
As Jinkawa powered off his car, Goro hopped over the passenger-side door and turned to lift Rokuro from the rear seat. Jinkawa smirked as he grabbed their picnic basket to bring inside. A reminder of their doomed visit to the lake.
“Hey, Senpai,” Jinkawa said in Goro’s direction as he handed over the basket. “Maybe the earthquake demolished your robot!”
Goro returned the smirk, resisting the urge to throw the basket back at Jinkawa in jest. “Don’t be such a pessimist.” He turned away, yelling “Catch!” to Rokuro before gently tossing his housekeys to the young boy.
A smile spread across his face. Of course Jinkawa would drag his robot into this.
The project was his pride and joy, after all. A dream he’d been striving to achieve for years. The culmination of a life spent inventing, innovating, and hoping. It was the project that he hoped would top all the others he ever worked on. The one that would change the world.
Robotics was a fascinating field. A field of endless possibilities, of limitless potential. A “robot” could be so many different things, from practical to fantastical. There were already many robots in the world, each built to be capable of its own unique tasks and functioning for its own purpose.
But there had never been a robot quite like the one Goro had dreamed up.
As Rokuro raced ahead of him, ascending the long flight of stairs that led from the driveway to the house’s side entrance, Goro found his mind wondering back to the lake once more. The quake had been a strong one. Not the strongest he’d ever experienced, but strong, nonetheless. What if it had somehow hit his lab? What if his robot…
No, it wasn’t possible. The quake had been far enough away. Surely there was nothing to worry about.
Damn that Jinkawa and his ridiculous jokes, he thought to himself, still smiling.
As Goro completed his own journey up the stairs, he noticed that Rokuro had not yet gone inside. Instead, he stood motionless at the top of the stairs, looking straight ahead.
As Goro looked on confusedly, the young boy suddenly shot his head toward him, a look of panic in his eyes.
Goro arrived at the top of the stairs. “What?”
“The door’s open. Strange…”
Goro turned to look. Sure enough, the door to his home hung wide open, the lock clearly unlatched.
The inventor’s heart skipped a beat. He’d locked the door before leaving. Something was wrong.
Goro quickly grabbed Rokuro by the shoulders, maneuvering him away from the door and far behind him. If anyone had entered, and if they were dangerous, his priority was keeping his brother safe. He then crept toward the entrance, and slowly walked inside.
A flip of the nearby light switch revealed that the house’s entryway – a plain room with two doors, a lit control panel, and a series of decorative racing-themed cubes hanging from the ceiling by chains – was empty. Nothing appeared to have been moved or altered. If anyone had gotten in, they were deeper inside the house. The entryway led to a further three rooms, with Rokuro and Goro’s bedrooms being unlikely destinations for burglars. That left only the lab. The place where…
The sound of an opening door snapped Goro’s attention to his left. Before he could react or lift an arm to defend himself, a well-placed punch to his neck sent him falling to the floor.
As the inventor slumped over unconscious, the shadow of his assailant passed over the room. The man who belonged to the shadow was most certainly not the burglar type; well dressed in a blue suit accented by bright red buttons, and crowned in a wild head of long black hair.
The man turned away from the fallen Goro, his attention now turned squarely on Rokuro. The boy wasted little time in charging his brother’s attacker, bravely launching himself at the man’s legs in a bid to trip him up. The intruder would have none of it. With a swift thrust, Rokuro had been dislodged from his legs, and a brutal kick to the child’s midsection rendered him unconscious next to his brother.
It had all happened in only a few seconds. As silence fell over the Ibuki house, a second door opened, revealing an additional intruder. Like the first, he was well dressed, this time in a gray jacket. His face – obscured by a large beard – turned uncaringly toward the passed-out bodies on the floor for only the merest of moments. The second man then stepped over the home’s unlucky residents before joining the long-haired man in his beeline for the door.
Their final obstacle was Jinkawa, who had finally made his way up the stairs. The racer was quicker to react than the other two had been, quickly dodging an attack from the long-haired man before charging, cursing as he went, at both assailants.
The move succeeded in pushing his opponents back slightly, but exposed his neck for the same beating Goro had suffered. One solid hit to his spine later, and Jinkawa folded, his body curling as he, too, fell to the ground. With no one left to oppose them, the trio’s unexpected visitors slunk out of the open door, descended the stairs to the driveway, and disappeared into the night.
Chapter 4 Coming Soon…