Miyuki’s eyes widened. Her skin lost a touch of its rich complexion. “Carrying a gun is against Japanese law. Where did you—”
“At times like this, a girl needs a little extra protection.” Karen crept to the alley’s entrance. She glanced down the street. “It’s all clear.”
Miyuki slid beside her, hiding in her shadow.
“C’mon.” Karen led the way, excited and anxious at the same time. She glanced to the skies. True dawn was still about an hour away. Time was running short. Curfew or not, she was determined not to miss the rendezvous. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Three years ago she had traveled all the way from British Columbia to study at Ryukyu University and complete her doctoral thesis on Micronesian cultures, searching for clues to the origins and migration patterns of the early Polynesians. While studying here, Karen heard tales of the Dragons of Okinawa, a pair of submerged pyramids discovered in 1991 off the island’s coast by a geology professor at Ryukyu, Kimura Masaaki. He had compared the pyramids to those found at ancient Mayan sites in Central America.
Karen had been skeptical—until she saw the photographs: two stepped pyramids with terraced tops rising twenty meters from the sandy sea floor. She was instantly captivated. Was there some ancient connection between the Mayans and the Polynesians? Throughout the last decade new, submerged structures continued to be discovered in the waters off neighboring islands, trailing as far south as Taiwan. Soon it became hard to separate fact from fiction, natural topography from man-made structure.
And now the newest rumor floating among the fisher folk of the Ryukyu island chain: the Dragons had risen from the sea!
Whether this was true or not, Karen could not pass up the opportunity to explore the pyramids firsthand. A local fisherman, scheduled to transport medical supplies and other aid to outlying islands, had offered to take her to see the structures. But he planned on sailing at dawn, with or without her. Hence, the early morning bike ride from the university to the outskirts of Naha, then the game of cat and mouse with police and patrols.
Karen continued along the street. It felt good to be moving again. The morning sea breeze tousled her loose blond hair as she walked swiftly. Using her fingers, she combed the stray locks from her face. If the two women were caught, both risked expulsion from the university. Well, maybe not Miyuki, Karen thought. Her friend was one of the most published and awarded professors on the campus. She had accolades from around the world, and was the first woman nominated for the Nobel Prize in computer science. So Karen had not argued against Miyuki coming along. If the pair were caught, Miyuki’s notoriety on the island might soften any legal repercussions for her as well.
Or so she hoped.
Karen checked her watch. It would be close. At least the roads through here were relatively clear. This section of the city had survived the quakes mostly unscathed: broken windows, cracked foundations, and a few scorched buildings. Meager damage when compared to other districts, which had been leveled to brick foundations and twisted metal.
“We’ll never make it in time,” Miyuki said, cinching her photo bag higher up her shoulder. Though Karen had pocketed a disposable Kodak camera in her jacket, Miyuki had insisted on bringing full gear: digital and Polaroid cameras, video equipment, even a Palm handheld computer. All stuffed into a promotional bag stenciled with the logo from Time magazine.
Karen took the bag from her friend and slung it over her own shoulder. “Yes, we will.” She increased the pace.
Miyuki, a head smaller, had to jog to keep up.
They hurried to the end of the street. Naha Bay was only a hundred yards down the next avenue. Karen peeked around the corner. The street lay empty. She continued with Miyuki trailing. The smell of the sea grew stronger: salt and algae. Soon she saw lights shining off the bay. Encouraged, Karen continued at a half run.
As she neared the end of the street a harsh command startled her. “Yobitomeru! Halt!” She froze as the bright beam of a flashlight blinded her.
A dark figure stepped forth from the shadows between two buildings. The light lowered enough for Karen to recognize the uniform of a United States sailor. He cast the beam briefly at Miyuki, then searched up and down the street. A second and third sailor stepped from their shelter in a building entryway. The group was clearly one of the American wandering patrols.
The first sailor stepped nearer. “Do you speak English?”
“Yes,” Karen answered.
He relaxed slightly, flashlight now pointing toward the street. “American?”
Karen frowned. She was used to this response. “Canadian.”
The sailor nodded. “Same thing,” he muttered, and gestured his companions to continue down the street. “I’m heading back to base,” he said to them. “I’ve got this covered.”
Rifles were returned to shoulders, and the other two strode past, but not before glancing up and down the two women’s figures. One of the men mumbled something, eliciting a laugh and a final salacious glance toward Miyuki.
Karen ground her teeth. Though not native to this soil, the Navy’s casual assumption of control here rankled.
“Ladies, don’t you know about the curfew?” the sailor asked them.
Karen feigned confusion. “What curfew?”
The sailor sighed. “It’s not safe for two women to be out here alone. I’ll walk you back. Where are you staying?”
Karen crinkled her brow, trying to think of an answer. Time to improvise. She unslung Miyuki’s camera bag and pointed to the large insignia for Time on its side. “We’re working freelance for the magazine,” she said. She pulled out her Ryukyu University identification card and flashed it at the man. It looked official, and the Japanese lettering was clearly unreadable. “Our press credentials have been approved by the local government.”
The sailor leaned closer, comparing Karen’s face to the card’s picture. He nodded as if satisfied, too macho to admit he could not read the Japanese script.
Karen pocketed her card, maintaining an officious attitude. She introduced Miyuki. “This is my local public relation’s liaison and photographer. We’re gathering pictures throughout the Japanese islands. Our ship leaves at dawn for the outer islands, on its way to Taiwan. We really must hurry.”
The sailor still wore a suspicious look. He was close to buying the story, but not completely convinced.
Before Karen could press on, Miyuki reached over and unzipped the bag. She pulled out the digital camera. “Actually, it’s somewhat fortunate we ran into you,” she said in crisp English. “Ms. Grace was just mentioning how she wanted to try and capture a few of the servicemen on film. Showing how the United States is helping to maintain order in this time of chaos.” Miyuki turned to Karen, nodding back at the sailor. “What do you think?”
Karen was shocked by the sudden brazenness of the tiny computer teacher. She cleared her throat, thinking fast. “Uh…yes, for the sidebar on the American peacekeepers.” Karen tilted her head at the man, her expression thoughtful. “He does have that all-American look we were searching for.”
Miyuki lifted the camera and pointed it at the sailor. “How would you like to have your picture in magazines across the country?”
By now the sailor’s eyes had grown large. “Really?”
Karen hid a smile. She did not know a single American who was not enthralled with the mystique of celebrity. And for the opportunity to join such ranks, common sense was often cast aside.
Miyuki stepped around the sailor, eyeing him from several angles. “I can’t make any guarantees. It’ll be up to the editors at Time.”
“We’ll take a few pictures,” Karen said. “One of them will surely pass muster.” She framed the man between her fingers, sizing up a shot. “ ‘American peacekeeper’…I think this really will work.”
Miyuki began to take a few pictures, ordering the sailor into several poses. Once done, she bagged up her camera and collected the serviceman’s name and number. “We’ll fax you a photo release form. But Harry, we’ll need it returned to New York before the end of the week.”
The man nodded vigorously. “Of course.”
Karen glanced to the brightening skies. “Miyuki, we really must be going. The press ship is scheduled to leave any minute.”
“I can take you to the marina. I’m heading toward the bay anyway.”
“Thank you, Harry,” Miyuki said. “If you can take us as far as Pier Four, that would be wonderful.” She smiled brightly at him, then turned to Karen, rolling her eyes. “Let’s go. We don’t want to be late.”
Led by the sailor, they hurried to the bay. The gray dawn cast the waters in dull silver. Gulls dove and screeched among the piers’ pilings and boats. Throughout the bay, wrecks dotted the water, ships and boats that had scuttled against the docks and reefs during the quakes. Already, cranes and heavy equipment had been moved into position. The bay was the lifeline of the island and had to be cleared as quickly as possible.
As the sun crested the eastern sky, they reached the entrance to the marina. Miyuki and Karen again thanked Harry and said their good-byes. Once the sailor left, the two hurried down the long planks.
Karen glanced over her shoulder to make sure the sailor had truly gone. There was no sign of him. She relaxed and turned to Miyuki, who was cinching the camera bag higher on her shoulder. “I can’t believe you.”
Miyuki smiled, her face flushed. “That was fun. It’s lucky I got that free tote bag with my subscription to Time.”
Both women started laughing, tears at the corners of their eyes.
Karen led the way to berth twelve. Ahead, she spotted a small fishing boat still docked at the berth. The twenty-meter wooden craft was piled high with boxes displaying prominent red crosses. A pair of men were already loosening ropes in preparation for leaving. Karen hurried forward, waving an arm. “Ueito!” Wait!
One of the workers glanced their way and yelled to another on the boat. A grizzled Japanese man left the wheel and met them near the ship’s stern. He was dressed in Levi’s and a green slicker. Offering his hand, he helped them on board.