I haven’t been imprisoned, but I think any sane person would have to agree this counts as some manner of house arrest. Or quarantine. Maybe that’s a better word for it.
I’m sitting in the upper room of the Healing Center, waiting with Pincoy. The Center is comprised of this tear-shaped room in which I am confined with a constellation of operating rooms emerging from the tear. A hallway runs in two directions. There is an assortment of pools here, mostly shallow pools with increased algae content much like the pool into which Nessa was placed when we first crashed. These are the healer’s pools, “healer” being a special variety of gilly-priest.
I spend most of my time feeling like a human goldfish.
Pincoy and I were seated around a low table with the games to our backs through a large open balcony. The healing pools gave off a little more humidity in this enclosed space, and I was sweating. Pincoy, however, looked just fine.
“But I’m immune!” I protested. “I can’t hurt anybody. The infection won’t spread.”
Pincoy listened to me, sitting very still. I thought he wanted to interrupt or correct me, but he waited until I finished speaking before he replied. “As far as we know,” he said evenly. “But we do not know everything.”
“Look, Pink, I trust you.” He nodded. “But this is silly. I want to see the city. I want to stretch my legs. I want to know when Iara and Lin are coming.”
“I understand, David. But this is for your protection. You are valuable. Because of your value, others might try to use you.”
“What others?” I asked.
“There are always others, my friend.”
“But you are the ones I should trust?” I asked.
“Heqet is a good woman. She is a good leader who cares deeply for her people. Scyla and Schylla are the most capable healers we have ever had. For my part, I will never harm you. You have been given to me, and I do not take my responsibility lightly.”
“Yeah,” I said. “No one wants to waste a lab rat.”
Pincoy looked at me sadly and then excused himself, leaving me with the chief healers. I can never tell which one is Scyla and which one is Schylla, though I do think they are married. One of them has constantly bubbling drool in his teeth. The other’s fingers are always twitching. Bubble Teeth and Eager Fingers are very thorough. They come back several times each day, all nods and waves, and take more samples of my blood and run more tests on the water in my tank.
From time to time several of those red worms were released into the healing pool I was in, but they never hurt. Actually they kind of tickled, inching and gently pinching all over my skin, removing bits of blood without any pain. As they fed off of me, their color changed from that scab-red to a bright orange. I was allowed to hold one once, and it squeaked when I squeezed it, shocking me. Dribbles of my blood came out of its mouth, and the glowing worm changed color from orange back to rouge.
I was able to see the games from within the Healing Center, so I often watched them to pass the time. They were staged in the middle of a large stadium almost directly in front of the palace. As I mentioned, from the side it looked like a pearl necklace. But from our vantage up above it was like a surgical viewing room. We could look almost straight down into the water, and that way get a sense of depth during the events. The spectators on the ground, however, were able to look in those pearl windows and see things from the side.
It was quite a spectacle.
Back on the surface we have ice dancing, that famous sport in which Russian teenagers and Canadian fruitcakes prance around in superhero costumes. Older women think it’s beautiful, but the rest of us just wonder when the next beer commercial will come on. The Atlantean equivalent is something else entirely.
In some ways it is more like ballroom dancing. There are elaborate costumes that change in appearance, depending on whether the dancers are submerged in the water or above it. Under the water, the costumes look like headdresses and plumes, the billowy and flowing landscapes of fashion. But when the competitors jump or are hoisted out of the water, everything breath-taking becomes less serene and far spicier. Their costumes cling to their skin, taking the audience from underwater marvel to the raw sensuality of rock stars and supermodels. There are also different styles and genres of movement and music, the up-tempo ones sounding more tribal and primal, the slow ones more like ballet. The dancing is far more acrobatic. Dancing pairs slid in and out of the water without drawing much attention to themselves, so it all seemed like one long performance, even though I understood it to be a competition between five or six different sets of dancers, each performing several times in several different costumes. The underwater bits looked a little like synchronized swimming, but the lifts and throws and flips were a combination of platform diving and staring at centerfolds.
If this were on TV at home, I probably wouldn’t complain the first time Liz made me watch.
Of course, the water dancing only partially distracted me from all the tests and experiments. I have already undergone several procedures. Most of them seem primitive and spooky, more like witchcraft or leeching, but I wonder if Lin would agree. In our previous conversations about folk medicine, she had told me that much of that stuff concerns energy fields and vibrational manipulation.
I remember one such conversation. We were sitting in the Sea Monk, shortly after the crash, when Lin began puzzling through the Atlantean stream punk technology. “It begins with vibration,” she said.
“Pardon me?” I asked, rousing from near-slumber.
“It’s quantum theory, David,” Lin explained, her thoughts already a million miles ahead. “But it’s also a big part of the new sciences. The basic building blocks of the universe aren’t atoms, but vibrating strings of energy.”
I felt like playing Devil’s Advocate. “All matter?”
“Everything. You included. On a subatomic level, we’re all stringed instruments.”
“Every part of your body is in a constant state of vibration.” Lin was speaking slowly, trying to help my smaller mind understand what her larger mind had already taken for granted. “That vibration produces sound. Water acts as an excellent amplifier.”
“Yes, but we’re not water. We’re people.” I am so smart.
“Actually that’s not entirely accurate.” All right. Not that smart. “A human fetus is almost 99 percent water. A human corpse is just over fifty percent, and an adult is still almost two-thirds aqueous. Rather than differentiate between ‘water things’ and ‘people things,’ it would be better to say we are almost wholly aquatic mammals. Human beings are the only species above ground that has the capability of harmonizing with every other species on the planet. We’re unique.”
“Right.” I said, connecting the theological dots. “Imago dei.”
Since water takes on the frequencies of the substances placed within it, my guess is that they are trying to isolate my frequency and then match it to theirs. It’s all still a little beyond me, but right now I’m thinking this line of experimentation has more credibility than I had previously assumed.
While I am in the tanks, Schylla and Scyla use a variety of utensils that look something like tuning forks, making different noises at different pitches. Sometimes, though not often enough, this is accompanied by a wonderful ear massage. It may have a scientific purpose, but I don’t really care. There’s something superbly cool about mer-people rubbing your ear lobes while red worms tickle your elbows.
Is it weird to say that?
Anyway, the tuning forks work like mood rings. The vibrations cause them to heat up and glow, changing the color of the glow water into a visual representation of the frequency signature. Every time the fork is hit, my water slowly deepens to some shade of yellow, or brown, or–most often–orange. I think orange is my “normal” color. From their reactions, I would guess that things are not working out the way they had hoped.
Whenever they seem disappointed, I typically just avoid making eye contact, especially today, with the water dancing. It’s easier just to look over the doctors’ shoulders out onto the games and watch the pretty fishies make pretty splashies.
Because when I don’t, when I give my attention to what Dr. and Mrs. Frankenstein are doing, I get spectacularly angry. Water dancing doesn’t help when I’m angry, especially not when the water dancers in question begin to perform the fast-paced, frenetic, tribal numbers. When the drums pound and the percussion staccatos through the tear-shaped room, I feel myself losing my cool. It begins with my hands tapping frantically against my thigh, and then I find myself slapping the backs of my heels against the floor, and before I know it I’m out of my chair, pacing the room and looking to hunt the creature from the Black Lagoon with a torch and a pitchfork.
So, instead, while watching the games and feeling frustrated by my inability to be in control, I turn my mind towards theology. It’s a welcome distraction. I’ve often done this on my travels abroad. I like to play theological detective, sorting out which beliefs and spiritualities construct a culture beneath the surface. So here is what I’m tentatively calling biblical anthro-piscopology.
“Hey Bubble-Teeth!” I called out, knowing that neither one of the healers could understand a word I said. “Why don’t you and Eager Fingers come listen to a little Sunday School lesson I’ve prepared?” Scyla and Schylla began to coo back and forth to one another softly, looking over at me from time to time.
“ae?” Bubble Teeth asked her partner.
“…f” the other replied.
“That’s what I was just thinking.” They looked at me like I was crazy, which—given that I was sitting in about eight inches of glowing water in a magical underground kingdom—I probably was. “Sit tight, lovebirds, and let Uncle Davey regale you with stories from the Good Book.
“In Genesis 1 and 2,” I began, sitting ramrod straight and using my teacher-voice, “God made human beings in His image and likeness.” Like most of my audiences throughout my professional career, Scyla and Schylla looked like they were barely listening. But since they were captive as much as I was, I was going to press my advantage. “Yes, thank you for your query, Eager Fingers. You, too, were presumably made by God to be like God. We’re all like photocopies of him. We’re less-dimensional facsimiles, as they say.”
“aabdfb?” asked Eager Fingers, though I was fairly certain he wasn’t directing his question at me.
“There will be time for that later, young man. For now, try to focus.” Once again, my humor was wasted on my constituents. I continued to preach the good news to the heathen regardless. “Theologians refer to our god-like-ness as ‘biblical anthropology.’ The focus is dignity and humility, authority and responsibility. We’re like God. But we’re like God. Get it?” Sadly, I do not think they did. “We’ve got His authority backing us, but that authority must be used to care for creation. We’re the cosmic horticulturalists and the caretakers of the Earth.”
Scyla and Schylla were busy cleaning up some of the tuning forks. I thought they were getting ready to make their exit, so I hurried to get to the good bits. “You guys, you zany Zebulani, are in many ways more like God than we are up on the surface. You care for creation out of necessity. True, your theology may be screwed up, but we’re all wrong at least twenty percent of the time. We just don’t know which twenty percent that is.”
“Yes, Schylla!” I wanted to reward enthusiasm in kind. “Humility is part of what it means to be like God. Only God gets to be right one hundred percent of the time.” This time, actually, they looked pleased with my reactions. And, for all my horsing around with these med-school dropouts, there was some truth to my words.
Atlanteans do live much more like God intended. And, as to their existence, well…until the medieval period it was common knowledge that the Bible mentions mermaids and mermen. Leviticus 11.10, for example, mentions the nephesh ha-chayah, the living souls of the sea. The ancient inhabitants of the Gaza strip, the Philistines, even worshipped a creature described as having the torso of a man but the lower-extremities of a fish. He was their primary deity – Dagon. In 1 Samuel 5, the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant and when they brought it into the temple of their god, his stone statue was said to have bowed down before Yahweh in supplication. Rabbi Avraham ben Daveed (among noted others) was often involved in re-routing our surface-dwelling arrogance, cautioning us that God didn’t make just one version of human being. Ben Daveed was certain there were others, others who should be respected. Others who should be feared.
The biblical writers unilaterally agreed that human beings were not the only sentient powers on the earth. For instance, there were the nephilim, the sons of God who functioned as the men of renown and the heroes of old, the grigori - or watchers – those angels who descended to live among humanity – and then a great assortment of heavenly creatures, beasts, tetramorphs, angelic beings, false and foreign gods, as well as celestial spirits, departed souls, and manifestations of the divine counsel.
Looking over the shoulders of Eager Fingers and Bubble Teeth, watching those water-dancers, it wasn’t hard to convince myself of the inherent, almost divine, beauty of the Zebulani. They were aqueous angellos, swimming with the Spirit.
And yet, I wonder: in the mist of this incredible sub-aquatic migration, doesn’t it make sense that God would have some means of communicating his grace to Zebulon? He set his divine purposes to work in Egypt and Ethiopia according to the prophets. Amos even spoke about God working through the pagan nations of antiquity in the absence of any righteous Israelis. The pagans were God’s temporary, consolation people. And the First Testament contains plenty of non-Israelite heroes, among them Melchizadek, Abimilech, Job, Ruth and, ironically, Rahab (the prostitute, not the Zebulon deity). In the Second Testament Christ engaged Romans, Syro-Pheonicians, and Samaritans; and, of course, the gospel travelled well beyond the ancient Hebrew people after Pentecost. The good news is supposed to spread to every corner of the world. Paul even writes in Romans that all creation groans in anticipation of God’s rescue and divine redemption.
Yet, for all that, God hasn’t done anything with Atlantis.
And, furthermore, while we’re on the subject of God not helping people down here, why do I feel like I’ve been abandoned? If it’s true that God has a purpose for everyone and everything, why do I feel like his purpose is completely opaque? Why hasn’t he bothered to share his plans with me?
Maybe I’m the answer to my own questions. Maybe I’m the apostle to Atlantis, bringing the gospel here for the first time, and just as he has sent me, he will sustain me. Psalm 77 comes to mind: Your way is through the sea, your path is in great waters, and your footsteps are yet unknown.
But, if I’m honest, that feels crappy.
God, what do I possibly have to work with while I’m down here? How can you expect me to preach good news to people who don’t even know they are stuck with bad news? And, even more troublesome, do they really need you? They are not violent. They share everything. There is widespread harmony, political peace, and a mutual respect among all citizens of their kingdom.
What is the good news to them? That they don’t have to go to a hell none of them believe in? Do I have to convince them of damnation in order to sell them salvation?
In what world is hell good news?