From: Oregon, USA
November 26, 1944
Attached to: Disbanded in port
System Damage: 0
Float Damage: 0
Fog covers Sagami Bay. It shrouds the waters of the bay, flat and gray in the still, cool air. It veils Mount Fuji, which usually dominates the scene. And it renders Enoshima, only a few hundred feet from shore, almost invisible.
Through the murk grope three Japanese sailors, picking their way across the strand towards the unseen island. At low tide one can walk there from the mainland. On pleasant summer days this land bridge is often crowded with people heading towards the island, but as far as Riku, Shiro, and Oizuma can tell they have the crossing to themselves. But with the fog so thick it is hard to really tell.
The only sound they can hear other than their own footsteps scrunching through the sand is a bell, doubtless attached to some buoy, whose sound comes tolling occasionally across the water. The blanket of fog muffles the sound, though, and makes it impossible to tell from which direction the sound is actually coming.
Soon the three reach the island. They ascend a flight of worn stone steps and pass through a small village, then start up a steep path winding upwards. Trees overhang the path on either side, and fog condensing on the needles and bare branches forms drops that patter steadily down onto the loam to either side of the path. As they approach the top of the small island the three men can discern a new sound coming eerily through the fog. Though it seems a little uncanny in the thick fog it is unmistakably the sound of someone playing a lute.
The path emerges into a small plaza floored with gray stones, cracked with age. Ahead, dimly glimpsed, is the oddly angled roof of a small shrine. On a bench just beyond the orange archway in front of them sits a Shinto priestess, dressed in the traditional white blouse and red skirt of her office. She is the one playing the lute, and as the three men slowly approach she finishes what she is playing and looks up at them. The last notes of the music seem to hang for a moment in the heavy air.
The three men bow respectfully. The priestess, not a young woman but not an old one either, smiles at them.
“Three sailors,” she comments. “You are the first people I have seen here in several hours. It has been a quiet afternoon. What brings you to our little island this day?”
“I’m not really sure,” says Riku, at the same time Oizuma says “We are here to pray at the shrine of Benzaiten.” The priestess tilts her head to one side and looks at Shiro as if asking him to break the deadlock.
“Forgive us, we are a little confused,” says Shiro. “You see, it all started when we were in Borneo and Sn…um, Oizuma here bought this snake…” He ends up telling her about how Benzaiten the snake came on board and the ship’s uncanny luck ever since. Riku and Shiro chime in from time to time and they conclude with their strange encounter with the crone selling charms and the coincidence that sent them to this area the very next day.
“And so here we are,” concludes Shiro. The other two nod. The woman seems to consider things for a moment.
“Luck is a strange thing,” she says at last. “We may throw a pair of dice down onto a table, and call it good luck or bad depending on which way they fall. Yet the faces they show when they land are in fact determined the instant they leave the thrower’s hand. Simple physics tells us this. Yet the fact that no human can calculate all the forces involved that quickly does not mean that how they fall is guided by some unknown agency.”
“Or,” she continues, “take another example, one perhaps closer to the matter at hand. A torpedo strikes your ship, yet does not explode. Your crewmates might talk about how lucky you were. But if you knew the history of the failed weapon it is certain you would find a reason it failed. Perhaps there was some flaw in the design. Perhaps whoever assembled the warhead in some distant American city had a fight with his wife the previous day and was not paying sufficient attention to the work his hands were doing.”
“But,” says Oizuma, “would it not be good fortune that the defective torpedo is the one that struck us, and not one that would explode?”
“Again,” she says, “if one knew everything, one would see why things happened as they did. The chain of events that lead to that particular torpedo being the one that struck you would be long, but if you could follow it back every link in the chain would make perfect sense.”
“It is a little unusual,” comments Shiro, “to listen to a priestess speaking of a perfectly rational, deterministic universe.” The woman smiles.
“We may admit,” she says, “that the outcome of every event is determined by many, many factors. Men cannot see all these factors and so they talk about luck. But perhaps a god – or a goddess – might be able to perceive such a chain entire, not only the links that stretch into the past but those that stretch into the future. If so, then they could tell just what effect a slight push or tug on a certain point of the chain could produce.”
“It sounds like what you are saying,” says Riku slowly, “is that the gods know how to cheat.” Shiro raises an eyebrow and Oizuma looks scandalized.
The priestess laughs, decorously covering her mouth as she does so. It occurs to all three men that she is uncommonly attractive. “Oh, there is no doubt of that,” she says. “The trick, I think, is knowing when to cheat, and why.
“But forgive me. You wish to know why you are here. I am sorry that I cannot tell you. It may all truly be coincidence. Or perhaps your keeping the snake and naming it so has tickled her fancy and it amuses her to protect you. Or perhaps even she sees beyond the end of the war and wishes to preserve some of you for some greater purpose. I cannot say. But, since you are here, go into the shrine. Pray to her. It cannot hurt, and perhaps some wisdom might come to you.”
“Thank you,” says Oizuma. “We will do as you suggest.” The three men bow, then walk to the shrine and step inside. In a niche in the back wall is a small statue of the goddess, a very old one with eight arms, each holding some weapon or household implement. This image harkens back to the goddess’s roots as Sarasvati, a Hindu goddess, though the three men do not know this. Each of the three kneels to pray while outside the lute begins to play once again.
It is some while later when the three emerge. The fog has lifted somewhat but it is growing dark. An old man comes shuffling around the corner, lighting lanterns that hang here and there. Of the priestess there is no sign. All three men have a thoughtful look about them.
“Well,” says Oizuma, “I still do not know why we came here, but somehow I am glad we did.” Shiro nods.
“Pardon me,” Riku asks the caretaker, “but where did the priestess go? I would like to speak to her again before we leave.”
“Priestess?” says the old man. “Many pardons, young sir, but there is no priestess here today. Just me. A couple of miko come up here from the village each morning, but we have no priestess right now.”
“But she was here!” says Riku. “Seated on that bench, right there, playing a lute.” The old man looks at him oddly.
“I have been around all afternoon and seen no one but you three,” he says. The sailors look at each other.
“He is kind of old,” murmurs Oizuma. “And probably not all that observant.” Riku nods. Shiro says nothing. He notices something out of the corner of his eye, a slight movement. He turns his head just in time to catch a glimpse of a small white snake slithering away into the undergrowth. He says nothing to the other two, however.
The three men start off down the path and back towards the mainland.
Enoshima as depicted in a woodcut circa 1930: