The last place Christopher Sanderson expected to wake up was in a comfortable bed in a richly furnished and adorned room, though he was surprised to be waking up at all. Bright sunlight from the large open window on his right momentarily blinded him, but he welcomed the warm breeze, the rustling of tree branches, and what sounded like friendly bird cries which were so different from the cries of dying men.
Then it all came back to him and his beating heart began to race.
He heard two quick knocks on the door which then immediately opened. A very large Japanese man entered carrying a tray. Christopher sat up in bed and noticed for the first time he had been dressed in silk pajamas. Last he recalled, he had been draped in rags soaked in sea water and blood.
“Do I have you to thank for my rescue?”
Without replying, the fearsome looking man set the tray down on a side table, stepped back, and then bowed.
Not knowing what to do, Christopher nodded back. “If this is a Japanese prison camp, the accommodations are certainly a great deal better than I would have expected.
The large man finished his bow and though the gesture seemed polite and genteel, his facial expression was one of hostility and even malevolence. Without a word, he then turned and left closing the door behind him. Christopher was directing his attention to the tray when he distinctly heard the sound of a lock being engaged. Perhaps he was a prisoner after all.
Christopher Michael Sanderson was a well-known war correspondent for the London Herald on assignment in the South Pacific, reporting on Axis naval activity in the general area of New Zealand. That he was also an operative of British Military Intelligence was much less well-known but ultimately far more important, or it was until two torpedoes from a German U-boat sank the Merchant ship he had been aboard.
He started to swing his legs out of bed and felt a twinge from his right side. Christopher lifted his pajama top and saw an impeccably neat row of stitches beneath a clean gauze dressing. When the second torpedo exploded, jagged debris struck his right side. His memory was sporadic after that. He recalled a lifeboat and three other men. The U-boat surfaced. Machine gun fire. What happened to Lieutenant Parks and the two others with him?
Then he was in the water desperately grasping a piece of the lifeboat. It was large enough for him to climb onto. He was bleeding. He feared it would attract sharks. Where was the U-boat?
No. That didn’t happen all at the same time. Christopher kept losing consciousness. How long had he been floating? It was bright and hot. It was dark and cold. It was bright again and he thought he heard sea birds. It was still bright and there was the sound of waves crashing.
Then he was here.
“Sashimi.” He had traveled before the war, particularly in the far east. He’d been in Japan twice and became familiar with the language and customs. One of the reasons he’d been given this mission.
He found himself suddenly ravenous and attacked his meal with chopsticks and gusto.
After his rather excellent breakfast (for he assumed based on the temperature that it must be morning), he discovered the lavatory facilities, as civilized as any to be found in the finest homes in Britain, and he was very grateful, not only because his experiences after the sinking had been so savage, but also because he was still locked in.
Looking out the window revealed a panoramic jungle scene that could have been the illustration for a tale of idyllic pleasure or more likely one of mysterious intrigue. His silent waiter who most likely was or had been a professional Sumo wrestler, would make an unlikely surgeon, so someone on this island (he had to assume he was on an island) was an expert physician.
Another knock and then the turning of a key. It was not the same person he had entertained before.
“Good morning to you, Sir.” He looked like he could have been Japanese as well, but with some European ancestry. Well dressed in a white cotton suit and carrying what was most likely a medical kit. Behind him was a young woman in the traditional wear of a nurse, also Asian but perhaps Chinese or Korean.
The man bowed and with a smile that reminded Sanderson of a predator toying with a trapped animal soon to become a meal said, “With whom do I have the honor of speaking?”
Christopher had been sitting up in bed but stood to address the person he believed was his host. “Mr. Christopher Sanderson. I’m a reporter for the London Herald.” He returned the bow.
“Ah, an Englishman as I surmised. I am Dr. Edgar Takeshi Ashida. You are a guest here in my humble island abode. Please be seated. I know you must be fatigued after your ordeal and Jae Eun and I must examine your wound.”
Sanderson returned to bed. “You are the surgeon who tended to my injuries?”
“Yes, quite, Mr. Sanderson.” He turned to the nurse and spoke to her in Korean which Christopher recognized but knew only in passing. She responded by deftly unbuttoning his top and removing the dressing. Ashida ministered to him and then presumably ordered Jae Eun to clean his wound and apply fresh gauze.
“If you don’t mind my asking Sir, what are you and this palatial residence doing apparently in the middle of nowhere, especially given that there’s a war going on right on your proverbial doorstep?”
“I am a scientist, Mr. Sanderson. My work has not always been well received by the formal medicinal community and academia, so thanks to my family’s wealth, I was able to retire here some fifteen years ago and perform my experiments in privacy. Fortunately, most of the time, the war remains far enough distant that I do not experience it except over the wireless.”
“You have the means of communication with the outside?”
“Yes, but rarely is it necessary. Occasionally I have to replace some of my staff, but everything I need is grown and produced right here.”
“As I have informed you, I am a journalist and very much would like to contact my editor, Dr. Ashida.”
“All in good time, Mr. Sanderson. You will require several days more rest. Afterward, I will have Ikioi escort you around the grounds.”
“Sir I am exceedingly grateful for your rescue and your medical attention, but it is very important to me to be able to use your wireless at the earliest opportunity.”
“I must consider that for a time, Mr. Sanderson. You see the location of my sanctuary is not commonly known and I do not welcome visitors as my work is not yet ready to be released publicly. I would prefer to attract no premature attention. I do assure you that you will be provided every courtesy as a fellow gentleman. You will find Ikioi an excellent guide, although his social skills are rather lacking as you no doubt noticed.”
“The rather large fellow who visited me earlier?”
Christopher heard a floorboard creak and looked past Ashida and his nurse to see Ikioi standing in the doorway.
“He has come to take your tray.”
“Yes, of course.” Christopher didn’t take his eyes off of the Sumo and Ikioi continued to gaze with menace at Sanderson. Then he returned his attention to the Doctor. “Is there a reason my door is locked?”
“For your protection. I didn’t want you to wander out of your room and go outside until you were sufficiently healed. My island is lovely but some of the animals are dangerous. This is one reason Ikioi will attend to you whenever you are out of your room.”
Ikioi bowed to Ashida and Sanderson, took the tray and left.
“It is time I leave you as well, Mr. Sanderson. I have other business to attend to, but I look forward to having dinner with you this evening. Ikioi sets an excellent table and I would enjoy having a conversation with an intelligent individual such as yourself.”
“Most people don’t qualify journalists as particularly intelligent, so you flatter me, Dr. Ashida.”
“Not at all, Mr. Sanderson. I am simply recognizing what to me is obvious.” He bowed again. “Rest well, Mr. Sanderson.” He and the nurse walked out of the room. The door closed and the lock turned emphasizing what the reporter knew was the beginning of his strange captivity.
“I trust you enjoyed your meal, Mr. Sanderson.”
Only Christopher and Ashida sat at the elegant dining table, both wearing formal dress (both men were about the same size so Sanderson’s wardrobe was on loan) and contemplating their after dinner brandy.
“It was excellent, Dr. Ashida. You say Ikioi is your chef?”
“Is that so remarkable? An injury retired him from Sumo and as I was a fan of his career, I arranged for his education in the culinary arts, something he already had some experience with through his family. Out of gratitude, he agreed to accompany me to this retreat. He also makes an excellent bodyguard should the need arise.”
“Or just a guard as in my case, Doctor. Your brandy is as exquisite as the Beef Wellington. You say everything tonight was produced here?”
“I confess that the brandy is imported. I had a variety of spirits brought here. I use them rarely but this is a special occasion.”
“Are you saying you have cattle on the island?”
“A small number, Mr. Sanderson. My appetite is eclectic. The consequence of a dual heritage.”
“Were you raised primarily in England or Japan, Dr. Ashida?”
“My father insisted on a traditional Japanese education for his only child, however he did make certain concessions to my mother given that her inheritance is the source of our family’s wealth.”
“I’m interested in your work here, Doctor. You’ve obviously devoted a great deal of funds and effort in creating a luxurious lifestyle. What sort of scientific endeavor are you pursuing?”
“Ever the correspondent, eh Mr. Sanderson? Looking for a good story I’ll wager.”
“It is what I do, Dr. Ashida.”
“This is one of the reasons I am reluctant to allow you access to my transmitter. I do not believe the world is ready to know about my experiments yet.”
“Not even a hint, Doctor?”
“Are you familiar with the term Eugenics and the theory of evolution, Mr. Sanderson?”
“Somewhat. A good journalist has to be familiar with a wide variety of topics, though my particular area at present is the war here in the South Pacific.”
“I have been investigating methods of improving what you might call the human condition.”
“Are you talking about advancing human evolution artificially?” Sanderson finished his glass and set it down. Ashida lifted the decanter as an offer but the reporter shook his head. He wanted to think clearly should Ashida’s ego outweigh his caution.
“In a manner of speaking.” The Doctor refilled his own glass but less than halfway. “I foresaw the necessity of this war for quite some time. I know that soldiers are trained for the battle. In my country, the Samurai is a matter of lineage unlike in England and America. However, neither lineage nor training of the common man necessarily produces the most efficient warrior.”
“Your intention is to breed warriors?” Sanderson was only half kidding but often the way to gain the most accurate disclosure is to exaggerate what the other person is saying so that they will correct you.”
“More a matter of growing, Mr. Sanderson. It is how I produced the most excellent beef you consumed this evening. My techniques could feed the starving of the world but first I must protect what I have built.”
“From whom, Sir?”
“The rest of the world, from those who would use my work for their own ends.”
“You have created these warriors then?”
“I assure you they are under the most stringent control and respond only to my will.”
“How does this benefit the world, Dr. Ashida? If you intend on feeding the hungry, you must eventually make yourself and your work known.”
“Yes, of course. I have labored in anonymity for the better part of two decades but you are quite correct. My genius will one day be revealed and revered. I intend to benefit my father’s homeland by providing Nippon with both the wealth and the security it so desperately requires in these difficult times.”
“Yes, the war is going badly for the Axis powers.”
“What happens to the Germans I care little about, but my father’s homeland is of great importance. I will benefit Nippon and they will finally accept me, paying me the honor which is my due.”
“Your work wasn’t recognized because of your mother.”
“Ignorant, bigoted fools. They cannot imagine what they nearly denied themselves by rejecting me over the matter of my mother.”
“And then there’s the controversial nature of your work, manipulating human evolution, creating a race of…”
Ashida smiled and finished his drink. “Indeed. I wish I could show you. I’m sure a person of your intelligence would appreciate it, however as a civilized Englishman, you would also recoil in horror. What you would report to your superiors would not benefit me nor Japan.”
“You can’t hold me here indefinitely, Doctor.”
“Can’t I, Mr. Sanderson? I control everything that happens on my island, Sir. As I said, I will afford you every possible courtesy short of communicating with the outside world. You shall remain my guest until my plans have reached fruition. After that, you may have the exclusive privilege of reporting my discoveries to the world.”
“Since you have no intention of allowing me to leave, can I not see your creations?”
Ashida’s jovial mood evaporated. “That decision is mine to make, Sir. You have only just arrived here. Do not presume too much.”
“Very well, Dr. Ashida. You are right. As your guest, I have overstepped my bounds.”
Ashida clapped his hands twice and Ikioi immediately entered. “Please take Mr. Sanderson back to his room. I believe he has had enough Brandy for one night.”
The servant bowed and then walked over to Christopher. The reporter stood and bowed to the Doctor. “Thank you for a most interesting and informative evening. I hope to see you again soon.”
The doctor stood and bowed. “You are a clever dinner companion, Mr. Sanderson. I look forward to our next encounter.”
Sanderson awoke startled and saw Ikioi standing over him in his darkened bedroom.
“Get dressed, Mr. Sanderson. I want to show you something.”
He rubbed his eyes and looked up. “I didn’t think you could talk.”
“The Doctor prefers it that way. Get up and get dressed. You cannot stay here.”
Christopher got up and started to light the lamp on the night stand.
“Keep it dark, Mr. Sanderson. Others may be watching.”
“Very well.” Christopher took his hand away from the lamp. There was enough light coming through the curtains for him to see, at least well enough to find the closet and some serviceable clothing, likely provided for anticipated forays in the surrounding jungle with the Sumo.
He followed the Japanese man outside the residence, then down a trail and finally into a cave. Sanderson could hear the sound of water but it seemed muffled. Then Ikioi unlocked a barred metal door and opened it. It was only now that he produced a lantern with which he illuminated their way down steps. The sound of water grew louder.
“We will be protected from them. The final barrier between their habitat and the outside world is a specialized glass that allows them to be observed. I call it an aquarium, but I’m sure Dr. Ashida would disapprove.”
“Why are you doing this, Ikioi?”
“Edgar is quite mad. I’ve suspected it for some time, especially after he introduced me to them, but his plans to use them as the basis for an army to protect Imperial Japan from the Allies…he cannot hope to control such a violent and deadly species. He could very well doom us all.”
“You are quite a bit more intelligent than I gave you credit for.”
“A common mistake, Mr. Sanderson. People often think that large men, fighters, especially those who speak little are only dumb animals. Even Ashida treats me that way, although he knows me as well as any man. I should also tell you that he knows you are a British Intelligence Agent. You were delirious when I found you washed up on shore. You revealed quite a bit to the both of us. I think that’s why Ashida was willing to entertain you, but he also believes you are too dangerous to continue living.”
“Were you supposed to kill me tonight?”
“In the morning, actually. I was supposed to feed you to them.”
They had reached the foretold glass barrier and were looking down into an artificially lit lagoon deep underground. There were things moving in the water.
When one surfaced and stared at them with coldly evil eyes, Sanderson gasped. Ashida had used the word “horror” but that barely described how the Englishman felt at seeing something that came so close to being human and yet missed the mark by so great a distance.
If man were amphibious, he would look like this. It was intelligent the way a murderer or a fiend was intelligent. It was cunning, it lived to hunt, it saw Ikioi and Sanderson not as merely enemies but as food.
“He thinks he controls them but that’s only because he feeds them. They would turn on him in an instant if they were freed. That is why I must destroy them. I have no true hope of saving the man who was once my closest friend, but I can save the world from what he has become.”
“How? How can you kill…that?”
One by one, the primordial creations of Dr. Ashida rose just far enough out of the water to watch the two men. The artificial environment was vast and Sanderson could not see the other shore of what he first imagined was a lagoon.
“Poison. I am in charge of the water recycling system for their habitat. Having access the all of the Doctor’s laboratories, I selected something highly toxic. They will be dead in minutes of it entering the water.”
Ikioi then led Sanderson back out and extinguishing his lantern escorted him to a cove he didn’t suspect existed. In the cove was a motor boat with room enough for two men and supplies. It was already loaded.
“You have food, water, and petrol for three weeks at sea, but yesterday I picked up radio traffic from a Merchant ship that will be passing just to the south. I put charts in your boat. You should be able to rendezvous with them in two or three days.”
“Come with me, Ikioi. Once Ashida finds out what you’ve done…”
“I have no place to go. My family was killed in the American bombing. My country is in ruins. Besides, I may have betrayed the Doctor but I still owe it to him to face the consequences of his actions and mine.”
“You are a courageous man.”
“If I were courageous, I would be the one to tell the world about the horrors my friend Edgar created, not you. Your boat has a small battery-powered transmitter, so you can have a message relayed to whoever you choose to contact before you are picked up. I recommend having the American bombers locate this island and destroy it without mercy.”
“What about all of Ashida’s servants? They are innocent in all of this. It would be murder.”
“The fortunes of war, Mr. Sanderson. Besides, do you really believe Dr. Ashida was planning on letting anyone leave this island alive?”
“Are you sure you won’t come with me?”
In response Ikioi took several steps backward. “I suggest you leave now, Mr. Sanderson. The poison will be delivered momentarily and soon after that Ashida will go to feed his creations and discover them dead. His outrage will be magnificent and you do not want to be near this island when those events occur.
Sanderson entered the boat and after taking some moments to familiarize himself with it, turned on the engine. “Thank you, Ikioi.”
Ikioi bowed. “My name is Ikioi Yutaka. I am not long for this world so I would appreciate it if someone remembered me.”
“I doubt I shall ever forget you or my short sojourn on Ashida’s island.”
“Good-bye, Mr. Sanderson.” He turned and started walking toward the island’s interior as Sanderson steered his craft out of the cove and into the open sea.
Once underway, he made a more thorough inventory of his supplies. Included among the charts was a large folder containing all of Dr. Edgar Takeshi Ashida’s research. Sanderson had been placed in the horrible position of deciding whether to turn the information over to his government or dropping Ashida’s instructions for creating primordial monsters into the ocean depths. That also meant sacrificing the means to end world hunger.
He imagined an artificial body of water underground with its surface littered with the floating corpses of a hundred abominations. He could see a brilliant madman jabbering hate and vengeance upon Christopher Sanderson, but even above him, upon Ikioi Yutaka who would be the first to die as a consequence of Dr. Ashida’s demonic vision but certainly not the last.
The first thing I thought of when I saw the image was an oil spill in the ocean, which typically has devastating effects on marine life, but then a lot of people write about that. Then I saw the name of the image file was “primordial soup.” Next, I thought about aliens seeding our ocean billions of years ago so it would produce life only so they could come back and harvest us in the present as a food supply…literally primordial soup.
However, I decided to take a different tack.
I looked up the H.G. Wells novel (which I’ve never read) The Island of Doctor Moreau. I realized that the 1964 episode of the animated series Jonny Quest called “Dragons of Ashida” must have taken much of its story line from that novel (and yes, I named my antagonist after the villain in that cartoon). I also looked up the Marvel comic books character The High Evolutionary as well as a little blurb about problems with the Primordial Soup theory (and I was surprised to find a “tripod” website that was still online).
Originally, I was going to have a Japanese submarine sink the Merchant vessel in the story’s beginning but then I found out that German U-boats were active near New Zealand in January of 1945 and so made the sub a U-boat just for giggles.
I didn’t want to make the story so long, but I found it necessary to build the suspense. I was also going to have Dr. Ashida’s creations escape and kill him, proving he had control of nothing, but then I realized if even some of them escaped and made their way to the ocean, the world would have a whole new problem to deal with near the end of the war, and I didn’t want to write that story. Hope it wasn’t too anti-climatic.