400-level Medicine & Surgery
University of Ibadan
Éloïse Dubois stood tall at six feet, with a softness around her eyes. A bearer of the coveted Combatant’s Cross, it didn’t come as a surprise to many when she was named the Capitaine de vaisseau (Captain) of Le Téméraire, one of the finer French subs. At 32, she had become one of the youngest naval captains and the first female in fifty years…
I had begun scribbling a third-person bio for a reporter who wanted to run a story on the female French Captain that had made history. I remember so clearly because that was the day my life went off on a trajectory I neither wanted nor could control.
I was working a six-month stint at the naval desk of the French Intelligence, and writing on that day, April the 16th, when a wire came through, of a flurry of activity within the American, British and Russian navies. I reached out to my contacts, many of whom were frustratingly tight-lipped. It took calling in a favour before I got a lead, just a name: Atlantis. That didn’t seem like much to go on and I was confused at first. My confusion would turn to bewilderment after some light reading.
Now, in this island of Atlantis, there existed a confederation of kings of great and marvellous power, which held sway over all the island, and over many other islands also and parts of the continent… But afterwards, there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune, all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.
I was reading an excerpt of Plato’s Timaeus, written around 360 B. C, in amusement. It wasn’t until I confronted a friend in the CIA working at the embassy in Paris, whose silence spoke volumes, that I took it to my commanding officer. Acknowledging the relevance of the information that would motivate three world powers to go in search of a fabled empire, the navy was put on alert, and I was given a fortnight to get a team ready for underwater travel. I was beside myself with the ridiculousness of what was happening, but the crew I got and out to sea I went. In search of unimaginable treasure.
It’s been two months since we pulled away from shore. We were cruising at a depth of 21,875 feet with nothing to show for it but frayed nerves. I had taken off from Île Longue with exactly twenty-one men and women sailors, some of the finest I knew. But it was one thing to have a goal, a target I could guide them to; it was another to aimlessly wander and hope to stumble on something.
“Captain on deck!”, Gaël, the Chief of the Watch bellowed as I stepped into the control room.
“How are we doing, Gaël?”
“Steady at 25 knots, Cap.”
“Good. Anything, Juliette?” She worked the sonar.
“Nothing yet”. I sighed audibly and stood, pensive.
“We are now reapproaching the Straits, ma Capitaine”. Étienne. He read the ocean navigational charts.
The straits of Gibraltar or, according to Plato, the pillars of Hercules. For in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, ‘the pillars of Heracles,’ there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together (Plato, Timaeus). It had seemed like the logical first stop, but now?
“Remind me why we are coming here again, Quartermaster?” He looked at me blankly.
“I thought I had caught a glimpse of something our first time around and now that we are, well, merely cruising, I thought we could check it out”.
Of course, I had okayed the order, but for some reason, I was doubting I made the right call. Beep.
“There!” Étienne cried. It was a tiny red dot that disappeared as soon as it came.
“Take us deeper, closer”. We were already at 30,850 feet.
It appeared for a longer period and disappeared again, but we were soon right on top of where whatever our sonar picked up should be. There was nothing. Until the dot reappeared and Gaël gasped. We looked sharply at him.
With sudden excitement, “Mon Dieu! I saw it! It…it appeared and…and disappeared!”
In the silence of incredulity that followed, I swear I could hear so many loud and fast heartbeats. Was this it? I snatched the periscope from him and looked just as the beep sounded again. This time it didn’t go off, and for the next few seconds, I quite forgot how to breathe. I wasn’t religious, but if heaven was real, I thought I had just discovered its portal.
It seemingly popped out of nowhere and was bathed in such otherworldly splendour—like…magic. It had the semblance of a city and stretched out as far and as wide as I could see. Some kind of force field enshrouded it, shimmering splendidly as though it were woven with many tiny diamonds. The walls of the buildings therein were made in the substance of something velvety and billowed so hypnotically. It was studded with corals, tons of corals of different sizes and various hues of colours I had no names for.
Several structures stood out among the rest. Disks floating atop one another, symmetrically constructed to form curves and spirals of unbelievable exquisiteness and stability. Those closer to the ocean floor were enormous, and others tapered off towards the top. The light coming off every inch had a sublimity about it; it washed over me and left gooseflesh in its wake.
There were very many ‘floating’ things, and I took a closer look. Creatures with skin that seemed like a cross between maroon and turquoise, toes that fanned out into webs and a…face. Human faces. I felt another chill run down my spine. They had markings on the sides of their faces—gills, I surmised. It would explain how they were able to breathe underwater.
I had stood so still and speechless for several minutes, but I couldn’t look away, didn’t want to. I was afraid it would disappear again.
“Take us closer”.
“Move. Slowly. Straight ahead until I tell you to stop”.
We had barely inched forward when a jolt rippled through the sub. The jarring swept everyone off their feet and I landed hard on my back—we had hit something. Hard. The force field! I scrambled up and reached for the periscope to see what was happening outside the sub. Nothing. Where there was once magnificence, there was only a dismal emptiness. It was all just…gone, and so was the beep.
Days turned into weeks, and they all found us rooted in that spot, waiting, hoping, feverishly searching for heaven, but there was nothing. At long last and running out of supplies, an awe-struck and supremely-dissatisfied crew made their way back home in time for Bastille Day, with an incredible story and a vow to return.
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