The Gift: The Return of Wonder

Chapter 1

BEEP. “Twenty-four hours of air remaining,   Dr. Hunter,” declared a synthesized voice resembling a Scottish Noble.

After a full day’s search over the Atlantic Ocean’s floor near the coast of Cadiz, Spain, for a presumably sunken city, the frustrated sixty-year-old marine archeologist had nothing to show. “What am I missing here? Signs of straight grooves would indicate some sort of city-like structure. Large circles would indicate the unique ring-like design Plato described.” Having found evidence of neither, Dr. Hunter challenged his studies.

“Had Atlantis ever existed? Who lived there? Who led its people? How could anyone let such a city sink? Could they have survived under water? Could the city still exist under water?” The panicked questions poured out of the doctor as he peered through the window of his one-man, car-sized submarine for any signs to validate his fixation.

“Are these rhetorical questions, sir?” asked Venator, the Scottish-sounding remote intelligence program the doctor uploaded into the ship’s operating system.

“They might be.” Theorizing that it made no sense for any human-like creature to live under the ocean, Dr. Hunter commanded, “Venator, relate the origin of the Atlantis story.”

“Aye, sir,” Venator replied. “The only historical record comes from an old blind man in tattered rags who washed up on the shores of Spain. The man rambled on and on about a stone city, a great gathering of god-like humans, several earthquakes, and a flood. His story remained at the core of myth until a resurgence of Atlantis seekers sprouted up in the late nineteenth century. Scientists and scholars around the world continue to obsess over this. Present company excluded, of course.”

“Obsess might be a bit strong, but I will find the truth. It will be the greatest treasure man has ever found.”

Now fighting encroaching fatigue and the cramped space, the lanky doctor turned to one of his few vices and unwrapped a ‘Jolt-Pop.’ He counted on the candied energy-providing sucker that kept him up for days during his research to do the same while he explored.

"How about some chess?" Dr. Hunter asked, instructing Venator to display a chess game on one of the monitors. The doctor’s gaze jumped from the windows to his monitors and back in a seamless cycle. He made sure not to miss a single detail as his hands expertly moved across his keyboards and guidance controls while at the same time strategizing his chess match.

“The rest of the story, if you please,” the doctor requested of Venator.

“The old blind man, who ventured to Atlantis to seek a cure for his ailing wife, claimed that the entire city met in a central coliseum, but he arrived late and could not enter. He banged on the shuttered archways to be let in to no avail. As he stood outside and listened to the cheers, the ground began to shake and he could hear screams from inside. That’s apparently when the ground started to disappear from beneath his feet. He said he fell onto the street over and over again until water started to rise up from his toes to his legs and eventually carried him away.”

“So, what if someone sunk the city intentionally?” Dr. Hunter thought out loud. “Maybe all of those god-like humans had entered the coliseum, got into some sort of struggle, and destroyed everything around them. So, maybe the city crumbled into pieces—

“Pieces!” The revelation exploded in                Dr. Hunter’s mind like fireworks.

He pulled up satellite and sonar imaged maps on his computer and scanned them for any odd shapes he may have overlooked. He skimmed them for large stone blocks, smooth arcs, and any shape that could not form naturally.

BEEP. “Twenty-two hours of air remaining,” Venator notified.

The doctor’s bloodshot eyes remained fixed on his computer screens, but he found nothing. “I’m better off looking for a needle in a haystack than a rock in an ocean.” He began postulating again. “Would it sink straight down? Where would the currents take it?”

“Valid questions sir, though the solution is near impossible. I can compute a wide range of estimates, but you’ll wind up with more options than a rooster in a hen house.”

“Just run the numbers. I don’t want to rely on chance.”

Reinvigorated by the possibility that his latest theory would finally lead him to the ever-evading evidence of the past, Dr. Hunter took Venator’s projections and spent the next several hours navigating his new course, venturing a great distance from where he had spent most of his time already. 

BEEP. “Fifteen hours of air remaining, doctor.”

Dr. Hunter had only completed scanning half of this new area when panic started to set in. He needed ninety minutes to climb back to the surface, which left him only thirteen-and-a-half hours to conquer what seemed an almost hopeless charade. 

Seven hours later, he had nearly completed his latest course when an odd reading popped up on his radar. His computers revealed an odd reading just beyond his plotted course. With the lack of activity his excursion had generated, Dr. Hunter did not hesitate to investigate. He piloted toward the object.

“Why didn’t I make a left turn when I started this confounded course? I would have found this hours ago.”

“Based on estimated probabilities deduced from intrinsic data, fluid dynamic efficiencies infer…” Venator began.

“It’s because I listened to you,” the doctor interrupted.

He approached the location and shone the lights of the submersible toward the targeted area, but only saw more sand. He checked his readings again.

“My sensors indicate a root like system, sir,” Venator indicated.

“This is an odd place for plants.” The doctor continued to peer through the window, but could not see what his machines had picked up. As he moved closer to the first location, more readings branched across his radar. “Maybe it’s under the sand.”

He reached for the controls to the dredges, two cylinders he attached to the underbelly of the vessel that protruded like arms on a toy robot. He dialed them to ‘suction mode’ on a low power setting, just enough to vacuum a little sand slowly off of the ocean floor, and then went to work. The dredges sipped the sand through their tubes and spit it out behind the submersible.

Gently and carefully he sifted through the glowing grains under the ship’s intensified lights. It only took moments for him to see what his computers found.

“Fulgurite?” A hardened collection of sand in the form of a multi-pronged lightening bolt began to reveal itself. “Only large amounts of electricity could create such a formation. But how could that happen this deep in the ocean?” He maneuvered the ship and the dredges to clear a bit more of the area, and found more remnants to his left versus any other direction, so he followed the path. “The electricity’s impact with the sand turns it into glass, but could it maintain its shape under this amount of pressure?”

“To date, no fulgurite has ever been discovered in the ocean. However, glass becomes stronger as more uniform pressure is applied to it,” answered Venator.

He continued to dredge, inching the vessel along. He eyed a few similarly shaped pieces of varying sizes. “Look at these formations. Only lightning strikes could create this. Which would not make sense under the water. If it happened elsewhere, above the surface of the ocean, or inside a building… then it must have sunk! I’m a genius! King me!”

"That reminds me, sir. Queen’s Knight to King’s four. Check," uttered Venator. Dr. Hunter navigated along until the snaking path of rigid glass suddenly ended. “The traces of fulgurite end here, doctor. I am now detecting traces of gold, diamond, onyx, silver and various volcanic elements.”

“These shouldn’t be here.” The doctor double-checked and confirmed the findings. “I guess if I don’t find Atlantis, at least I found some buried treasure.” He cranked up the dredges, putting to faster use of the sand-sucking tubes. He didn’t find any more fulgurite, but he did succeed in exposing jagged rock formations. He maxed out the power of the dredges and pushed the limits of his scanners for more of the elements nearby. They pinged with every duplicate trace dotting his radar, plotting out the form of what appeared as a massive cylindrical rock made up of precious minerals.

“This has to be it; at least part of it. This is hardly the remains of a city. Could this be what’s left of the arena?”

BEEP. “Eight hours of air remaining, sir.”

The exposed portion of the rock formation housed barnacles and a variety of crustaceous sea life. The dredges worked, but they worked slowly. After an hour of sucking away the debris, he spotted what looked like a diamond, embedded in stone. “Finally! Something to take a picture of.” He snapped a few dimensional-resolution images that would allow him to continue his work after the exploration, building 3-D replicas.

BEEP. “Seven hours of air remaining.”

“I’ve still got time. I need to see what else I can clear off. I feel like the rest of the city is under the sand.”

Energized by his discovery, Dr. Hunter cleared off as much as he could. Thoughts raced through his mind. “Will I have enough time to uncover the evidence I need? Is this really the first proof of Atlantis? What else could this be? This has to be it. I’ve got to get a sample. Maybe I can take that diamond. Excavating this would cost millions. I’m going to need funding. I can go to the museums. Oh, and magazines. My colleagues are going to love this. The world will finally take me seriously. This will be huge! I’m going to need more proof. More pictures.”

Another BEEP interrupted his thoughts.

“What? Only three hours left? How can that be? This is taking forever!”

“Did you not hear my last four notifications, sir?”

Dr. Hunter snapped a dozen more photos and backed up all of the information he collected on his computer, while he imagined himself at the top of the archeological world with the greatest discovery of all time. His censors could not give him a clear indication of the object’s thickness or how deeply embedded the giant block sat, but every precious stone he revealed fueled his eagerness even more. He repositioned the submersible, switched the dredges’ airflow, and set them to blow full blast. They created quite a cloud. He could only see the tips of the dredges where the air’s force blew everything away. He started moving a little faster over the areas his radar had mapped out. The slab’s shape had proven relatively consistent thus far, so he showed little concern as he worked with minimal visibility.

BEEP. “Two hours of air remaining, doctor. Thirty minutes until surface departure.”

The doctor continued dredging, until—crunch. Alarms sounded.

“What did you do?” Venator asked in a mocking tone.

“You tell me.”

“My sensors indicate that one of the dredges is no longer functioning properly.”

Dr. Hunter turned off the dredges and stopped the propellers.

“Great. I just ruined Atlantis. Idiot!” When the blown sand settled, he saw that close to five inches of the dredge had pushed through the rock. “It’s hollow?” The doctor’s curiosity shot up again. “I don’t have time to explore this anymore. I’ll have to wait until next time.”

With bit of a crunch and scraping, he slowly extracted the destroyed dredging tube from the slab. He took a moment to marvel at the hole, contemplating the best way to discover its contents as he watched a rush of bubbles emerge and float into the darkness above him.

“I’ll have to come back.” He calibrated his settings to conclude the expedition. As he flipped his last switch, he caught something out of the corner of his eye. He initially paid it no attention and continued repositioning the lights for his trip upward, but he eventually felt the need to investigate. He shone the lights into the newly created void, but saw nothing. His computers indicated nothing unusual.

He turned off his lights and peered into the darkness. The instantaneous darkness shrunk the expansive ocean into a blacked-out closet. An instant later, he noticed faint streams of red, orange, and yellow emanating like a peacock’s tail from the infinite recesses of the apparently hollow rock. Too curious to ignore this new development, Dr. Hunter switched the lights back on, grabbed the controls of the ship and drove the crumpled dredge back into the slab, expanding the cavity.

Red lights flashed inside the submersible. Alarms sounded. “Dr. Hunter! This is not a bulldozer,” Venator scolded. “By the way, you have ninety minutes of air remaining. We—well, you—must resurface immediately.”

“I’ve still got time.”

“No, you don’t.”

Dr. Hunter flipped a switch labeled ‘Mute.’ After a few more aggressive slams of the dredge into the slab, he pulled back, aimed the light into the opening, and waited for a miracle. He saw nothing. He turned off the lights and took another look. Darkness. His heart sank. He felt more anxious and frustrated over the diminishing amount of air and the growing curiosity of the slab’s contents, but set his course for his rushed return to the world of the walking. He flipped his switches dejectedly, ready to depart.

Then, as Venator began to rise, the colors beaconed once again from the blackness. Even with the submersible’s lights on, the brilliant shades of blue and purple mixed with the reds and yellows and shone like a spectrum of light through a perfect prism. Dr. Hunter took the controls in his hands, gripped them, rocked the ship back one more time, and rammed through the slab to enlarge the hole.

He waited for the dust to settle and, only moments later, like a train bellowing through a dark, smoke filled tunnel, the radiant light emerged, beaming through the cloudy debris, and came into full view. A magnificent floating sphere of colors stood suspended in front of Dr. Hunter. Never had he seen anything so beautiful. He felt helpless and in awe. 

The colors on the beach ball-sized bubble shifted and rolled over each other like a school of hungry koi. The light reflected off of the gemstones still embedded in the slab. Oblivious to the myriad of alarms blaring inside the ship, Dr. Hunter sat mesmerized as the bubble floated slowly skyward, away from him, until its light faded completely away. Once out of sight, Dr. Hunter remembered he should have left nearly an hour ago.

He flipped the ‘Mute’ switch off and immediately Venator chirped, “You have twenty-eight minutes of air remaining!”

“I’ll never make it,” he thought. He reached over to a knob on a tank that read ‘nitrous oxide’ and twisted, releasing the gas to induce his sleep. He then adjusted the cabin pressure to compensate for a faster resurfacing and extended decompression once he departed the ocean depths. He struggled to keep his eyes open as the gas took effect. He strained for one last look at his computers.

“With these settings, it will take approximately sixty minutes to reach the surface. You have twenty-five minutes of breathable air remaining,” indicated Venator.

With his eyes fluttering, Dr. Hunter activated his homing beacon and the ship raced skyward. It only took seconds for Dr. Hunter to catch up to the bright twisting globe and its luminous light.

"Queen to King’s Bishop 2. Check mate," said Dr. Hunter and then he saw no more.

Below a tranquil sky Venator exploded through the ocean’s serenity like a bullet through glass before belly flopping and bobbing on the surface of the ocean. Inside, Dr. Hunter lay motionless, incapable of hearing the homing beacon signaling for his rescue.

Less than an hour later, the mystical bubble hatched from its watery shell, rose out of the ocean and floated straight into the sky as if an angel upon a cloud fished it from the water. It exuded its magnificence in the setting sun until it disappeared behind a single cottony puff in the sky.

First, a whisper of thunder tumbled through the air. Suddenly, the single cloud that swallowed the splendid sphere rapidly multiplied. Within a matter of seconds, clouds rippled outward from the source and covered the sky in every direction, blocking out the sun and coating the ocean in darkness. Thunder echoed like a symphony of timpani drums. With a single strike of lightning and a mighty crack, extraordinary colors decorated the sky like a million finger paintings at play on the cloudy canvas across the horizon. The ocean reacted with wild ferocity, launching mountain-high waves into the air that fell back down with the power of a waterfall.

In the distance, Dr. Hunter’s crew braved the catastrophic weather as they finally tracked him down. They worked quickly to haul the submersible onto the deck before extracting the doctor. The crew had to resuscitate him. They strapped him down on the ship’s wooden stretcher and performed CPR. Over and over they blew into his mouth and pressed against his chest, but he showed no signs of life.

If the doctor’s eyes had opened, he would have seen that he lay directly below a group of clouds whose colors had begun to swirl. The clouds followed suit and formed into a funnel as the colors mixed together until they turned black with specs of bright light flashing amidst the darkness. The funnel descended on the crew and the Atlantic, but before it touched down, a single drop of rain, blacker than onyx, fell on the bridge of Dr. Hunter’s nose and rolled into his eye. If his eyes had opened, he would have seen the beginning of the end of life, as he and everyone in the world had known it.

The noise intensified. The howling winds blew louder and faster, increasing until the men aboard the ship were thrown into the turbulent waters. The ship spun like a top as waves crashed into it from all directions. Dr. Hunter’s stretcher, still on the deck, slid aimlessly until a wave consumed the ship and sent the stretcher crashing against a guardrail. Another wave came and lifted the stretcher overboard. Dr. Hunter, in mid-air, feet from crashing into the ocean, finally opened his eyes.

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