If we break the mirror barrier, we would have even greater control over the transformations between matter and energy than ever before. For this knowledge, we humbly ask our new friends from beyond the known stars.
The only worthy god is a fallen god. Because a fallen god must walk the mortal path. Only a fallen god can be stung by nettles, or lashed by biting winds, or blistered by fire, or embraced by the love of a stranger.
I have a particular interest in these specific passages. But we have found many striving and scientific, mythic and poetic passages written in the records we are recovering and translating every day. Only one year in and two large warehouses are already full of records and artifacts. In one, everything has been catalogued. In the other, precious finds lie in careful piles, unlabeled, awaiting further study.
Objective observations, personal accounts, poetry, alchemy, data, essays, myth. So much knowledge. It’s a treasure. Just as we thought it would be if we ever found it.
Well, maybe. Maybe it’s one of the other invisible islands or lost continents that are scattered through the myths and legends of humankind.
But as each day passes, we believe more and more that we have actually found Atlantis. That would, in and of itself, be an astounding discovery. But in the annals of Atlantean knowledge, we have found something we did not really expect to find in the past; perhaps we would find it in the future, perhaps never, but not in the past.
We have found evidence of contact with alien life.
When the island sank, when one of the greatest civilizations of humanity vanished in the infamous “single day and night” of calamity, not all was lost.
Perhaps there were survivors that found a friendly shore. Perhaps the Atlanteans had some lines of trade with the primitive cultures that then roamed and settled the other land masses on the planet.
Vague myths about the gods of Atlantis found their way into dozens of different cultures, but they were often adapted or folded into the myths and stories of that culture. It was a challenge to tease them out. At least, until we found a primary source, Atlantis itself.
There were tales about the Atlantean pantheon: the god of metals, the god of songs, the god over birds, and so on.
We’re fairly certain those “gods” were actually an advanced race of aliens who arrived in our solar system when Atlantis was in full bloom. Their physical forms were malleable, and they changed them to appear pleasing to the human eye. Their ship remained in orbit, and most of them resided aboard it, save those who embarked to study Earth through its most advanced civilization. That ship, no doubt, gave rise to the stories about the heavenly abode of the gods.
The Atlanteans didn’t call them gods. They knew that the beings they encountered were an advanced race, not native to this planet, this star, or even this galaxy.
We started making correlations between the myths—which were mostly complete—and more objective records, such as first-hand accounts and scientific and mathematical data—which were mostly incomplete. Myths, it would appear, are more robust than direct objective knowledge. I could be wrong, but I don’t know of any oral tradition of passing on mathematical principles.
The “gods” were officials aboard the ship, explorers who agreed to teach the Atlanteans and share a limited amount of their knowledge. The god of metals was the aliens’ expert in textiles and manufacturing. He taught the Altanteans how to forge new alloys that were stronger and lighter than any they had known before. The god over birds was most probably an alien ornithologist. It was said that the aliens were most fond of and fascinated by birds. There were some indications that this might have been because the aliens were unfamiliar with such creatures, having no analogs in their native world.
This was all well and good when it came to the gods that presided over knowledge and technology we have since discovered and forged on our own, the elemental gods. But there were some gods, the ethereal gods, who seemed to preside over technologies and knowledge even more advanced than that of modern humans. The god of the cosmos was said to be the sovereign leader of the gods. The god walked often among the Atlanteans, and yet they never found out what her powers were. The myths had all the answers figured out. The god of the cosmos held the world together, of course.
Then there was the god of mirrors. An interesting figure. We may have uncovered a new scientific concept because of that one. But we may also have come across the real reason that Atlantis was lost.
Physics was never my strongest subject in school. I never thought I’d encounter advanced—dare I say, next-level—physics while searching through mythical stories of a people who died millennia ago.
Someone put it in simple terms for me once, how something called dark energy pushed everything apart, opposing gravity, which pulled everything together. Opposites. That was something I could understand. Dark and Light. Hot and Cold. Asleep and Awake.
But between many of the opposites in the world, there lies a spectrum. Between dark and light, there is dawn and twilight. Between hot and cold, there is warm, tepid, cool. Between being asleep and being wake, there is…well, there is something.
So did anything lie between gravity and dark energy?
Apparently, according to Atlantean science, something did. Something called glass energy, or mirror energy. Mirror energy could attract like gravity and repel like dark energy, but it did so in specific ways. Gravity attracted matter. Mirror energy on the other hand attracted both matter and anti-matter, and repelled both matter and anti-matter. When brought into balance, the force could mold, shape, destroying and creating. When imbalanced, it could be disastrous. The energy could quickly lose its “grip” until matter and anti-matter collided.
The Atlanteans called the aliens a name that translated to “astronaut.” We’re still trying to figure out where in our star charts, the alien home planet lies. The stars looked different in that time. We understood how to translate what the Atlanteans saw to the modern-day sky. But the records were too fragmented to be sure of anything.
The aliens claimed to be explorers. The Atlanteans welcomed them cautiously, knowing that if the aliens had some sinister motives, it would be futile to resist directly. To that end, the Altanteans hid some of their knowledge and powers from the aliens, hoping that if conflict ever came, the aliens would underestimate them. And perhaps with superior numbers and surprise on their side, the Atlanteans might stand a chance.
But that day of conflict never came. At least not between the Atlanteans and the aliens. But among the aliens, there came a crisis.
And at its core seemed to be the god of mirrors.
He was a chief officer on the alien ship. He answered to the god of the cosmos. They all did. At first, I thought the god of the cosmos was the ship’s captain. But the ship’s captain, by comparison of all known accounts, was the god of metals. The god of the cosmos was a diplomat, a major leader among the alien people, an intergalactic ambassador.
The “mirrors” over which the officer presided, which he and those under his command guarded, were not glass mirrors. They were frames in which portals were built. The surface, the event horizon, I suppose, of these portals did appear reflective, plasma-like. They were cold, too cold for human touch. Only the aliens were allowed to use them. If a human tried, it would probably be the last thing that person ever did.
The Atlanteans asked about the portals. But the god of mirrors would not reveal their secrets.
The parallels between the myth known as the “Fall of the Mirror-god,” and the account of the chief portal guardian’s fate seemed clear to me when I put them side by side.
In ancient times, people thought of mirrors the same way they thought of doors and windows. Mirrors were openings and if they weren’t locked or watched over, anything could come through, whether welcome or unwelcome.
The god of mirrors and his many invisible helpers were set to guard all the mirrors of the world. Rumor had it that he’d fallen in love with the god of sunrise, and one day, he found he was unable to tear himself away from her when he should have been guarding a powerful mirror that only he was strong enough to guard. It was a mirror in the chamber of a great thinker among the Atlanteans. And because it lay unguarded, enemies were able to use enchantment and cunning to cross through the barrier of glass and steal into the scholar’s chamber. They killed the scholar and her husband, and all their heirs, save but one who was away on a trip. It was a great loss for the Atlanteans.
For his great failure, the god of mirrors was cast out of the heavens.
(For his great failure, the chief portal guardian was banished to Earth.)
As he fell, he was stripped of his immortality and his divinity.
(As he fell, he was stripped of his rank and position, and forced to take on human form.)
He tried to return. He prayed to the other gods for mercy. Day and night, night and day. And though he felt the ache of hunger and the pain of thirst, he continued, until the gods saw that he might die if they did not intervene. They granted him a boon, sending the god of sunrise to grant it.
(He went through official channels, bureaucracy and protocol, and was finally granted an audience with an officer.)
When he received the boon, he asked to return to his rightful place in the heaven. But the god of sunrise, through tears of molten gold, said that she could not grant him that boon, for a new god of mirrors had been appointed. So the fallen god had no rightful place in the heavens.
(Someone had been promoted to the position of chief portal guardian. There was no position unworthy enough for a banished former officer to hold.)
So the fallen god ate and drank and rested for a while, to regain his strength. Then he tried again, praying for months upon months. The god of metals appeared this time, to grant the fallen god another boon. This time, the fallen god was determined not to waste his boon. He just asked to return to the heavens as the god of mirrors. This time, he was granted his boon, but with a condition. He had neglected to add any details in his request about how long it would last, so his request was only granted for one day. After that day was done, the fallen god was once again cast out of the heavens.
(The former chief officer jumped through enough hoops and cut through enough red tape to be given the honor of a visit from the ship’s captain and a visit to his ship, his home, for one day only.)
When first he had been cast out, he had not known what it would feel like. The agony of his divinity being ripped from his very self. The wearying hollowness in every speck of his body as his immortality faded. To suffer wounds for the first time as he struggled through a forest, scratched by thorn and thistle. To have his godly gifts restored and then taken again was almost unbearable.
(The chief officer wasn’t just stripped of his rank and position. His people changed his physiology. His self–his spirit—had become physically anchored to his body. For humans, this was a natural state. But it was not so for the aliens. Being granted the privilege of seeing his ship for just one day was almost unbearable.)
The fallen god was worn and weary, but he tried again, and again he received a boon. This time from one of the ethereal gods, the god of clouds. This time, the fallen god was careful about his choice of words. He was specific with his request. He was told that his boon would be granted, but that he would need to prove himself worthy of returning to his place. The god of clouds reminded and admonished. The gods must each do what they were appointed to do at the appointed times and places, for if they did not, those who relied upon them would suffer. The fallen god promised that he would thereafter do as he was appointed to when he was restored to his rightful place in the pantheon.
And he was restored as the god of mirrors. As he returned to the heavens, he realized that he had spent over seven hundred years on Earth. Though his immortality had been lost, he was long-lived, and he had lived long enough to see his divinity restored.
As the hollow spaces of his being were filled with divinity, he felt himself wake.
He swore to himself that he would never again wander from his appointed path.
(The alien called the god of clouds was another diplomat, one who served the god of the cosmos. It was a high honor for the amorphous ambassador to visit Earth just to speak with the former chief portal guardian. Former no longer. After all his entreaties, formal and informal, he received back his rank and position. He was freed of the chains and anchors that held him to his material form. But he would soon learn that his trial was not yet over.)
Elemental gods could be replaced, but ethereal gods could not. The god of mirrors stood between the ethereal and the elemental. He had not been restored because he had completed penance, but only because he could not be replaced, especially after the changes in the heavens that the god of mirrors found when he returned home. In all his time on Earth, the god of mirrors had not learned much after all. He had spent all his time and attention praying to the gods, not for wisdom, not out of selflessness, but for his own gain. He had not learned the consequences of his neglect on that fateful day.
When enemies poured through the mirror that the mirror-god left unguarded, when they killed the scholar and her family, the balance of power shifted. Those who once ruled were usurped and replaced by those who dared to seize power in the midst of the people’s grief.
The balance of heavenly power too was disturbed, for it was now ruled by an elemental god instead of an ethereal one. Those who once prayed to the god of the cosmos, now prayed to the god of metals. They coveted metals, built machines of metal, homes of metal. They hammered metals so fine and thin, they could be cut and sewn like fabric. The more they prayed, the more powerful the god of metals became.
The god of the cosmos lost power and was cast down not to the earthly realm, but past it, to the realm of the dead. There she suffered the task of eternally swimming away from the mouth of a great vortex that threatened to swallow her into oblivion.
The god of the cosmos had not lost her immortality or her divinity, for none other god was powerful enough to strip her of those. But her rule of the heavens was sustained by the faith of the mortals who prayed to her. As they lessened, so lessened her authority. She now swirled around and around that vortex. So long as she lived, all would be well, but if she tired of swimming and fell into the vortex, it might shatter all of existence. The god of metals had appointed another to take her place, but the ethereal gods could not be replaced in the way the elemental gods could be.
The restored god of mirrors confronted the god of metals, expecting to find a greedy traitor. Instead, he was embraced by the god of metals, who had been searching for him for hundreds of years. The god of mirrors did not realize that he had been hidden inside a cloud which no divine eye could pierce save one, the god of the cosmos. She could have found the god of mirrors.
It was not the god of metals who cast the god of the cosmos out of the heavens. It was the god of clouds, but he was not what he seemed. He had stolen a disguise. He was in truth a god of disorder and confusion. He was in truth the god of chaos.
(The plot to have the chief portal guardian dismissed, to consolidate power on Atlantis, to weaken the intergalactic ambassador’s position, until she lost the favor of both humans and aliens, and could be cast out, it was all devised by a saboteur disguised as another diplomat. Clouds betraying cosmos. He wanted to see the mission fail, for some reason we have not yet divined.)
The god of mirrors had been led astray, but not by the one he loved, and not by himself. He had dilly-dallied some with the god of sunrise. But he had left her in time to reach his post. His path had been shrouded by an ethereal god who had disguised himself as a weaker elemental.
He was meant to be away from his post so that invaders could come and overthrow the old lineage. He was meant to be cast out of the heavens. He was meant to be stripped of his divinity and kept from aiding the gods as chaos overtook them.
All the times he had prayed and received an answer from the gods, it was chaos all along, disguised as metals, clouds, and sunrise.
The god of mirrors and his fellow gods were betrayed. And it was done because of one god who truly and purposefully sought to destroy all paths, whether appointed or unappointed.
But chaos was an ethereal god. There was only one who could defeat him. The god of the cosmos.
The god of mirrors had not truly earned his way back to heaven. And though he had not truly earned his punishment either, he knew that he must be the one to find and restore the god of the cosmos. The vortex in which she was thrown could not be survived by the spirit of an elemental being, like a human, or even an elemental god.
But the god of mirrors was more powerful than an elemental god. He had aspects of the elemental, for mirrors were like stone and water. He had aspects of the ethereal, for mirrors were mysteries. They could be touched but never breached.
(In the objective records, the chief portal guardian discovered that the saboteur had thrown the intergalactic ambassador into a prison built somewhere in the seas around Atlantis, under terrible, writhing, churning seas. The prison was no longer used. It had been built in earlier, more brutal times in a shameful past that the Atlanteans had wanted to drown, but could not. The Atlanteans were skilled sailors. Their ancestors had managed to build a prison under the most tumultuous and treacherous seas. The chief portal guardian mounted a rescue of the ambassador. She was a great leader among their people, beloved and respected. Her loss would be unbearable.)
The god of mirrors could find no other who would join him, save for some brave elemental gods, among them, the god of metals, his brother. The god of mirrors refused the aid of those whom he knew would not survive the vortex. He was not sure he would survive it himself.
From the heavens to which he’d been restored, he dove, down to the earthen realm, past it, to the realm of death, straight into the vortex.
The vortex swallowed the god of the mirrors, and it swallowed the god of the cosmos, and it swallowed the earthen island that lay just above it. The island of Atlantis.
And it would have swallowed everything else, the whole world, the heavens, everything.
But something disturbed the vortex, something it devoured began to devour it. The destruction went no further than Atlantis.
Mirror energy. It shatters and it binds.
There may have been an accident. An experiment with a new type of energy that the Atlanteans had been gifted by a desperate alien who just wanted to save a beloved leader. The myth has the heroic lone god diving into a vortex. The chief portal guardian might have done the same. He made the decision to share technology that he was not authorized to share so the Atlanteans would tell him where that terrible prison was located.
We found mention of a device that the Atlanteans built to somehow harness or use mirror energy. There seemed to be at least a generation of discovery after the alien chief portal guardian shared the technology, and before Atlantis disappeared.
There’s been an unspoken competition among my team about who can find the device first. It’s not among the catalogued items. The warehouse is so heavily guarded that for most it’s a pain to go through the security procedures, but I’ve gotten used to it. I have enough material from just rummaging through the uncatalogued stuff (professional, careful rummaging, of course) to write half a dozen papers. But I don’t care about papers. It’s strange. No one is talking about papers. The discovery is too big. It’s too…profound.
I’ve found something that looks promising. But I can’t remove it unless I go through the painstaking process of cataloguing it. I do this. It takes several weeks. I’ve done this seven times, and as great and important as those seven artifacts were, none of them were the device. Maybe the eighth time will be the charm.
It couldn’t possibly be anything. As I’ve mentioned, I’m no physicist. But I know that devices meant to measure or generate particles or energies massive enough to bring down an island are typically orders of magnitude larger than the giant stone donut that I found in the warehouse of the uncatalogued.
We had all agreed, and I actually believe all of us mean it, that when we found it, we would isolate it. Maybe even hide it. We wouldn’t let anyone try to use it or harness its powers or anything. If the Atlanteans weren’t ready for it, we certainly aren’t. Not yet. Maybe it’s not for me to judge, but I’m the one who is assigned to catalogue and study the ruins of an epic civilization.
It’s shaped like a flattened donut the size of my head. Veins of golden and silvery metal thread through polished stone that’s the color of pale blue ash. There’s no writing or inscription. There are no dials or buttons. There’s a slight crust of lichen wrapping around the inner edge. I wonder now if it could have just been a knocker on a giant door in some Atlantean palace.
I see myself. In front of me. Beside me. My face is a prism, splitting all the colors.
I see streaks, lines of force, green and brown, moving past my face, my skull. Straight lines and bars with crisp edges that turn jagged, then quiver, then straighten again.
Some force is pushing me.
I’m pushing it.
If I let it push me back, I will shatter.
But I can’t take the strain of pushing forward.
I think my eyes are bleeding. I hope they’re just sweating. They are… splitting. Budding out and pinching in, again and again, compounding.
I’m an insect.
I’m a man.
I’m human. Only human.
I’m so weak. Why do I have to be?
My eyes are fusing again, human again. Bloodshot and bulging. The whites of my eyes are purple.
I grit my green teeth.
My blue and orange skin is taut.
I take a gasping breath. My muscles feel like jelly. They’re shivering with exhaustion. But I can’t seem to sit. I swallow. My throat is throbbing. My head is throbbing. It’s not pain. The pain is gone. But my whole body is pulsing. I see it coming off me, like hot air radiating off of baking concrete.
I’m not alone. People are just beginning to leave work, but I’m still surrounded by other researchers at identical tables. Heads hunkered over an artifact or scraps of ancient sea-soaked paper. A trio of lab-coated archivists discussing an x-ray that one of them is holding up. Someone staring through a microscope.
I glance around to see if anyone noticed my…episode. No one is looking at me.
The pulsing is fading. It’s as if I was charged with some energy that’s seeping away with every vibration.
I look at the stone artifact on the table.
Have I just found the device that destroyed Atlantis? Did I just break the mirror energy barrier?
My heart begins to hammer. I wanted so desperately to find it. I had already decided on a noble course of action for the good of humanity. I had already asked myself all the big questions. What lies between gravity and dark energy? What lies between the divine and the earthly? What lies between humility and pride?
But the more the pulsing in my body fades, the more my muscles calm, the more anxious I grow. And the question I thought I’d answered plays in my mind, again and again.
What should I do?
Copyright © 2017. Story by Nila L. Patel. Artwork: “Mirror Energy” by Sanjay Patel.