a short story

© Mark Govier


Our ship entered unchartered territory. Suddenly, the wind disappeared. The sea was flat. In the near distance, I could see a pod of whales. They vanished. Our ship was in the tropics. Without the wind, the heat and humidity became unbearable. Too many fights broke out, amongst the crew. At night, the stillness was relentless. On the second day, we all hid below deck, if we could, to be away from the sun. Here, there was alcohol and opium rations to take the misery of the heat away. By the third day, everyone on board exuded fear. To be drowned in a shipwreck, upon a wild sea, is quick, easy – this was slow, merciless torture. On the fourth day, a crew member became demented. He could not be restrained. He dived overboard, screaming, and was eaten by the sharks circling. In response, our Captain posted armed guards on deck, in shifts. On the fifth day, a small riot ensued. It began in the cabins. A passenger, a wealthy man, emerged with an insane aura. He had two revolvers. The sound of the first shot drove most of us back into our cabins. The crew, who slept in the fetid dormitories in the lower deck, tried to block his entry.  They turned over boxes, cartons. But the man was strong, made extra strong, due to his madness. The sound of shots echoed. The screaming of the wounded and terrified rose. There was a loud explosion, then silence.

‘He’s gone’ shouted our Captain, ‘you can all come out now.’

But none did. We were too apprehensive. There was much mumbling. We could hear the voice of our Captain, giving orders.

‘Take all the dead, throw them overboard, now.’

The sounds of grumbling, expletives. Bodies were removed. The silence resumed.

On the sixth day, our Captain and his crew went through our ship. It was the foul smell of the dead that caused him to so act. Each door was unlocked. If a door was barricaded, as some were, the sound of banging resounded. It had become intolerable. In cabin after cabin, rotting corpses were removed.  I stood in the dank, putrid corridor, scented kerchief over my face, watching. I counted eight corpses. Our Captain said two had hung themselves, the rest had poisoned themselves, with opium. Those of us left had lost our voices. We all knew, unless the wind returned, soon, we would all be dead, one way or another.

It was the morning of the seventh day. I was awoken by shouting. As I went to open my cabin door, I felt it. Our ship was rocking. I saw the remaining passengers dashing up the ladder to the top deck. I followed. There was a strong wind blowing, south. I cheered, all of us cheered. Our Captain ordered the crew to their stations.  Sails were unfurled, at last. Our Captain stood at the wheel. There was a smile upon his face.

Our ship sailed forth. There were extra food rations, left to us by those who had died. We all felt such relief. Each day and night the wind blew strongly, but sweetly. There were few clouds in the skies, high above.  We remained in the tropics, so the days were still hot. On the third day, however, our Captain seemed most anxious. He talked to his crew, though in private. Something was up, but what? I approached him.

‘Captain’ I asked, respectfully, ‘is there a problem?’

He turned to me. His eyes were glazed. He did not look well.

‘I’m sick’ he answered, spitting on the deck.

I could not but notice the colour of his spit, black.

‘No’ he added, ‘it is not contagious, it’s just something I carry around with me.’

He waved me away.

I spoke to the other remaining cabin passengers. We were concerned. One, a tall quiet man, well dressed, spoke first. He said our ship was lost.

‘I know this route’ he whispered, ‘done it too many times not to. The Doldrums, we should not have passed into the Doldrums. The wind that came, god only knows where we are now? Our Captain certainly doesn’t, neither does the crew…’

He resumed his smoking.

On the evening of the seventh day, a dreadful storm began. Our ship was tossed, violently. The books and materials in my cabin fell to the floor, the bed was hurled aside.  Fearing the worst, I grabbed my money and documents, placed them in a waterproof belt that I affixed to my waist. Our ship wrenched and strained. I made it to the top deck. The wind howled. Our ship tossed and turned.  What remained of the crew and passengers stood with our Captain. They were untying the life boats. As I went to join them, a vast wave hit. I fell flying to the deck, smashed my head. When I recovered, raised myself, all were gone, along with the boats. I retreated to my cabin, used everything to block the door. I took out my talisman, kissed it, knelt, prayed. More and more waves smashed into the ship. A particularly huge wave hit so hard I was thrown to the wall, knocked out. 


When I awoke, the storm had passed.  The ship rocked gently, from, side to side. My head ached. I removed the furniture, stagged out. The walkway was flooded. I clambered up sodden stairs, onto deck. It was morning. The sun was bright, the sky cloudless. The deck was empty. I called out. There was no reply. I returned to the cabins, shouted. Again, there was no reply. I was alone. I broke into the galley. Crates of dried food floated on the scum. It was ruined. Thanks to its casing, most of the cheese was edible. There were many unbroken casks of water. I found some dried meat that, somehow, had avoided drenching.

I managed to break into the Captain’s cabin. It was here the crew’s and passenger’s alcohol and opium rations were kept.  I was overjoyed, they were intact. I drank a cup, cut off a piece, ate it. I returned to the deck, fell into a heavy sleep.

For an unknown period, I existed on the ship, eating, drinking. The ship floated on the currents, or as the winds decreed. I had no idea where I was, or where I was going. My only hopes were seeing another ship, or seeing land. I soon resigned myself to an early death, when the water ran out. One morning, I sat on the deck, staring at the endless water. In the distance, to the east, I saw the dark sails of a ship. Such imaginings had become so pronounced I no longer paid any attention.  I drank a small cup of rum, to wash down another bead of opium. The effect, as always, nullified me. As I turned, to lie in the shade, I saw the dark sails, this time much closer. I rubbed my eyes.  Had I taken too much, again? It was real. It was coming my way!

Their ship was small.  It was black, as were its sails. There was no flag, nothing to identify it. As their ship approached, I could make out sailors. They too were dressed in black. Were they pirates?  I began to tremble, hoping they would take the cargo, whatever they wanted, and sail away. Six men boarded, one of whom was in charge. He was a short but well-built man, with insignia on his shoulders.

‘What do you think, sir’ one of the sailors asked the Captain.

‘Search the ship, where’s the damned dog?’

Another sailor removed a tiny black dog from the small black sack he carried. The dog bounded over to where I hid, barking in a high pitched squeal. Beneath the rubble of the deck, I was pulled out. The sailor patted the dog, gave it some food. Three sailors went to the lower decks, taking the dog with them. I was brought before the Captain.

‘A bad storm, I gather’ he asked unemotionally.

I nodded.

‘Do you know where you are?’

I shook my head.

‘Anyone else left on board?’

I shook my head, again.

‘What was the ship carrying?’

‘Cargo’ I replied, ‘cargo for the east.’

The Captain smiled. ‘The usual cargo for the east, I gather?’

I nodded.

‘And you are?’

I told him my name.

‘I am Captain Smythe, of the Atlantis Sea Patrol’ he announced.

I said I did not know of his country.

‘No one has’ said the Captain abruptly, ‘and no one ever will.’

I gulped. 

‘Mr Welt, you will be coming with us.’

‘Where’ I asked.

‘To Atlantis, of course.’

The sailors who’d gone below re-appeared.

‘Anything’ asked Captain Smythe.

‘Kegs of rum by the smell of it sir, and dozens of chests of opium.’

‘Excellent’ cried the Captain, ‘well then, start loading.’

He turned to me. ‘And which product is yours Mr Welt? All of it, or none of it?’

‘The opium Captain, I am a trader in opium.’

‘Excellent, very excellent indeed’ he said before wandering off.

By mid afternoon, our ship had been cleared of anything of value. The alcohol, mostly rum, and the crates of opium, the contents of the cabins, and the cheese. When this had been done, the Captain ordered me to accompany him to their ship. As we sailed away, I watched our ship slowly disappear beneath the ocean. It had been scuttled.

I had thought their land was far, far away, but it was not. Just over the horizon lay a large island. It was green, and in the centre stood some tall hills, in a ring. 

‘It’s the Circle’ announced one of the sailors, ‘that’s where we live, inside the Circle.’

‘And he’ll live there too’ added the Captain.

I looked at him.

‘Mr Welt, we are the most civilised men in this world, as you will soon discover. There is no poverty in Atlantis, nothing is wasted, everything is put to the best possible use. Our Natural Philosophy, and that which it creates, is beyond anything you have seen before, I can guarantee this.

I did not understand. The Captain and his sailors laughed.

‘We have harnessed a few of the secrets of the world Mr Welt, and we harness more every year. Our aim is not to rule, to engage in constant wars and duplicities, alliances and betrayals, but rather to continue, unknown, for always.’

‘Like a mystical machine that constantly improves itself’ added a sailor.

‘Indeed’ said another, ‘for our benefit, and for no one else’s.’

As we sailed towards the well concealed port, the Captain gave me a strange drink.

‘This is for you’ he said, ‘it will make the shock easier to bear.’

The taste was sweet, and I soon fell into a deep slumber.


Days later, I properly woke. I was in a small room, with black walls, ceiling and floor.  The bed was black, the sheets were black. The door was locked, from the outside. I had been fed food and drink that had been drugged. I could remember passing out after each meal. All my clothes, even my money belt, were gone. In their place, black clothing lay in a black chair, in the corner. The door opened. In came a man. He was neither young, nor old. There was something odd about him, his face, eyes, the way he walked. He wore a smart black uniform, with an insignia.

‘Mr Welt, my name is Doctor Gabriel’ he said, with a faint tremor. ‘I have been appointed your custodian, for the foreseeable future.’

He smiled. I did not know why. He ordered me to rise, dress, follow him. The Doctor led me down a long black corridor. It was lit not by candles, but peculiar white lights that appeared to burn on their own.

‘They are made possible by a special source, Mr Welt.’

He did not explain. At the end of the corridor, he unlocked a door. We went inside. The Doctor was not armed, there was no one else there. I considered running away, but to where? It was the Doctor’s office. He sat behind a black desk, in a black chair. I sat the other side. The windows were open. I looked out. In the distance I saw a black towering edifice, with turrets.

‘It is our defence wall, should we ever need it’ he remarked.

I did not understand.

‘Look above, far above. Do you see the Circle, our ring of hills?’

I could. I understood, I was in the centre of their walled town.

‘No one can enter or leave without the President’s permission.’

More puzzlement.

‘Atlantis is a small but secret society Mr Welt. You are the first in ages. It is an honour to look after you, such an honour.’

The Doctor opened a small black box on his desk, pulled out a thin black tube. He lit it. A thick aroma filled the room.

‘This is one of the many delights of Atlantis’ he said, knowingly.

He inhaled, as if the tube was a pipe, and exhaled the smoke. A gleam of pleasure filled his face. He lit another tube, gave it to me.

‘Suck it, that’s it, fill your lungs, then exhale, that’s right.’

I felt different.

‘More’ he said, ‘then all your fear and doubt will vanish.’ And it did.

‘This is one of our amusements’ he said, dropping his finished tube into a black rubbish bin. ‘Tobacco B, we call it, to distinguish it from Tobacco A, the sort you are acquainted with.’

I now felt solid, profoundly peaceful.

‘We use it as a relaxant. Do you feel relaxed Mr Welt? You certainly look relaxed.’

I smiled, though I did not know why. I stared at the walls. On each wall hung a black frame.

‘Look’ he said.

I was astonished. Each held a picture of the Doctor, yet something was different about each of them.  Some of the pictures were old, very old, and one was quite recent.

‘That’s me, as I am now’ he said, pointing to it.  He laughed.

I did not understand.

‘And this one here’ he said, pointing to an old one, ‘is at least 150 years old.’

The Doctor laughed at my lack of comprehension.

‘Facsimiles Mr Welt, in Atlantis, we are all facsimiles.’

The Doctor lit up two more of the tubes, gave one to me.  We both ‘soared’ together, as they say in Atlantis. He opened his desk, removed a large black book. He placed the book before me, ordered me to examine it. The book felt heavy in my hands. I saw an image of a man. It was not a painting, or an engraving. It was so accurate, so clear. I was stunned. The man looked shocked, though calm. He sat in a chair, in a room, just like the room I now sat.

‘This is the first of your forebears Mr Welt. Another bad storm, way to the north. We could have let him die, we could have killed him. Instead, we brought him here.’

I nodded, turned the page.  There was another image, of another man.

‘It is the Memory Book, of our section at the Hospital you now reside in.’

Page after page I turned.

‘And where are they now’ I managed to ask, through the satisfaction I was immersed in.

‘Out there’ replied the Doctor, ‘once they have been quarantined, and trained, why they are inducted, so to speak, they come to join us, to serve a useful purpose in Atlantis.’

‘And if they can’t be inducted’ I asked, without knowing why.

‘They have no choice Mr Welt, none who enter Atlantis by error have a choice.’

Instead of becoming apprehensive, fearful, I laughed and laughed. It was of course the Tobacco B. There was a knock at the door.

‘Enter’ shouted the Doctor.

In came a servant pushing a trolley. On the trolley was a black container. The servant saluted, the Doctor saluted back. I had no idea what was happening.

‘This is your medicine’, said the Doctor, taking the container, and removing a black flask.

The flask contained fluid.  He poured a measure into a black cup. I smiled, I could not help smiling. It was all planned. First the tube, the second tube. I was now beyond refusing or complaining, or even fighting.

‘Medicine for what’ I enquired, accepting the cup.

The Doctor laughed. ‘To be of use, to us, of course.’

I didn’t understand.

‘Nor will you understand’ he replied, urging me to drink, ‘until later.’

Despite my misgivings, I drained the cup. The fluid was dark and sweet. The Doctor obliged me to consume a second cup.

The Doctor rose. ‘Would you like to see outside’ he asked.

I could not refuse. He led me down the corridor. I followed him down two flights of stairs. We entered another long corridor. Along the corridor there were numerous black statues.

‘Our forefathers’ quipped the Doctor.

The puzzlement on my face caused him to laugh once more.

‘This man’ he said pointing to one, ‘is the creator of this college.’

The statue resembled the Doctor himself. Yet it was very old. He offered me another tube. Again, I was transported. A group of young men all dressed in black passed by. Each bowed to the Doctor. They looked at me, laughed, disappeared whispering to one another.

‘Our students’ remarked the Doctor.

We entered a closed black courtyard. There were four locked gates. I was discretely pointed at. One student came over, bowed to the Doctor, asked if he could speak to me. The Doctor assented. The student bowed, introduced himself. His face, the look in his eyes, was peculiar, very similar to the Doctor’s. 

‘Where are you from sir’ he asked, in an odd voice.

I told him. I was surprised, he knew of it.

‘We study geography sir, at our university, thus we know of all the known world.’

‘But’ added the Doctor, ‘the rest of the world does not know us, is that not right Brown?’

The student agreed, offered us both a tube. The Doctor declined, for both of us.

‘You’ve had enough’ he said. ‘You can only leave here, with my written permission, once your treatment has been completed.’

And with that comment, he walked me back to the room.


The inhabitants of Atlantis have no calendar, as we would know it. They have no named week days, no named months. There is only a count of 1 – 365 days for a year. The years have a starting point, but it is unlike ours. I had been ‘discovered’ on day number 221, said the Doctor, as if this could have any significance to me. I asked him to explain.

‘To us’ said the Doctor, lighting up another tube, ‘such things are meaningless. ‘

‘But how’ I interjected, involuntarily smiling, ‘do you keep time?’

‘I cannot understand your question, Mr Welt.’

I explained, as best I could, our system of birthdays, religious days, fasting days.

‘So, each day, and each year, has a special name, does it?  And when you are born, this is recorded, and when this day recurs, a celebration of sorts in held, is that right?’

I nodded, it was obvious he knew of our system.

‘You will never have another day celebrating your day of birth Mr Welt, do you understand?’

I could not stop smiling.


On day 287 of their calendar, I was taken from the Hospital, beyond the gates.

‘You are ready, or almost’ said the Doctor, cryptically.

He unlocked the east gate. We entered a narrow path, with high black walls. At the end was another gate. The Doctor unlocked this. We stood in a large square. Men of various ages and sizes walked about, sat on dark stone benches.

‘This is one of the Plazas of Atlantis’ he remarked.

He led to me to a stone seat. There was something wrong, but what?

‘How do you find the medicine, Mr Welt’ he asked.

I did not know, I had merely taken the drinks, as they were given me.  He pointed to a large mirrored device nearby.

‘Look’ said the Doctor, ‘and tell me what you see?’

He walked me to the mirrored device.

‘Many different chemicals and herbs are in your medicine. Some are there to bring about the Change, others are there to prevent you being aware of the Change.’

My beard had fallen away. My face was now smooth. And on my chest, beneath the clothes, small breasts grew. I felt my groin. It had shrunk, almost to nothing.  I touched beneath this.  I felt a small opening, one that had not been there before.

‘You are young Mr Welt, strong and healthy. Within fifty days, you will be moved to your new home, to join Atlantis.’

The blood drained from my face. I felt faint. I wanted to run, but there was nowhere to run.

‘Why’ I asked, when we had returned to the bench.

‘It is the Rule.’

‘Rule’ I cried, ‘what ‘rule’ is this?’

My heart beat and beat.

‘The Rule states all who arrive uninvited, unannounced, or who are purchased specifically, for we do purchase Mr Welt, from the lands of the north, will have their body transferred into that of a woman, to serve our needs.’

My heart continued to throb. ‘What needs?’

He did not reply.

The Doctor took me back to my room in the Hospital. He gave me not a tube, nor the medicine, but a small back pill.

‘Take this’ he ordered, ‘it will calm you down, considerably.’

He returned later, sat beside me on the bed. I was sedated.

‘Now that you are quiet, I will try to explain. Long ago, we, those of us who comprise Atlantis, were Natural Philosophers, by which I mean those who decipher the nature of the world, how the works, how it can be harnessed, and so forth. We formed a network, a society that crossed the seas. We corresponded, constantly, through wars and famines, revolutions and plagues. It was clear we could not truly pursue the ends of Natural Philosophy under such contagion, greed and chaos. We decided to escape, and establish our own realm.’

He stopped. I nodded, I understood, so far.

‘We secretly sent out expeditions, and found this island. It had not been discovered, except by us. We left our various lands in disguised ships, and carefully journeyed here. Once settled, for we were wealthy, and could afford to erect what you see around you, we set our minds on discerning a way out of this maze of birth and death. Through the combined study of the very processes of life, of chemicals and herbs, we performed countless experiments. Only after years of trial and error did we discover the medicine that you have been consuming. We could create vessels, but this was but half of the problem.’

The Doctor paused, briefly.

‘Instead of creating new creatures, as is done by the animals, we sought to re-create ourselves, for we saw no purpose in our dying. It took years more to perfect this method of making facsimiles, the complexity is such that you will never grasp even its basics. Now, the seed of any Natural Philosopher of Atlantis becomes a child who is the identical sameness as the donor. All of which means that, as long as we have a supply of fit, healthy young men who can be converted into vessels, Atlantis is trans-mortal. Do you understand your situation better Mr Welt?’

‘But’ I replied sluggishly, ‘why did you require men to convert into women?’

‘You will not become a woman, this is not possible. Your brain, your identity remains as it always was, however your body is transmuted, to serve our ends. You will be able to bring forth seven or eight of us, so we can continue our work, indefinitely, if we are lucky.’

And with that comment, for he had not answered my question, the Doctor left me to my fears.


As he prophesised, after further days of the medicine, my physical transformation was complete. If it had not been for the black pills I was fed on a daily basis, I may have attempted to take my own life. My mind, my inner life, my beliefs and faiths remained, unchanged. I was a man still, whatever my body suggested. On the fiftieth day, the Doctor re-appeared. First, he examined me, thoroughly. He removed a thin smooth black instrument with a small bulb at one end.  He ordered me to remove my trousers, and lay on the bed, legs far apart. I obeyed, what else could I have done?

‘First’ he announced, ‘we will lubricate your new passage.’

Immediately, I felt a coldness enter me. I became tight, apprehensive. 

‘It will not hurt, it is only the insertion of the seed of the facsimile into your womb.’

I closed my eyes. I felt the metal tube enter me, go deeper. It was not painful, but unpleasant.

‘There, it is done Mr Welt’ he said, removing the instrument. ‘Do you know whose facsimile you are carrying?’

I neither nodded, nor shook my head.  What did it matter, really?

The Doctor smiled. ‘It is my facsimile, for I will pass away within 20 years, at best. We need to have the maximum number of practicing Fellows at all times.’


‘That is what we call ourselves Mr Welt, Fellows of Atlantis.’

‘But, what happens to the offspring?’

‘The facsimile, why it shall be taken from you as soon as it is feasible.’

I shuddered. ‘And what happens then?’

‘Then, we repeat the process. As I have told you before, seven or eight times.’

‘But after this, then what happens to me?’

‘By this time, you will suffer the effects of years of the medicine. As you know, your physical transformation is controlled by the medicine. By the age of forty, it will have damaged much of the internal workings. You may become incontinent, your ability to walk may decrease significantly, your ability to think, to reason, to act, may become confused, your speech may become incoherent. You may become like an old horse in the fields, unable to function.  You may shake, uncontrollably. However, you may decline at a slower rate.’

I understood, I was 23, now. And, by the time I was forty, I would be used up, and put down.

The Doctor packed his instrument away.

‘I will ensure you receive sedatives each and every day Mr Welt. I shall also provide an increase in your Tobacco B ration.’

And with that comment, the Doctor bad me goodbye. His job was over, he said.

The following day, I was taken from the Hospital to another Hospital some distance away. I was placed in a room, on the second floor. This was the place of confinement, for those who had been transformed, to bring out facsimiles. The walls and door were so thick, I could hear nothing, not a voice, not a whimper, not a scream. Food was brought to my room, at the same time. At a particular time, I was taken to walk in the locked square at the centre of the building each day.  Here, I met and spoke with others condemned to bearing facsimiles. The others said they had been kidnapped, or purchased. Most were young. One man was badly aged. Eduard was his name. He was 38, but had been forced to bring forth eleven facsimiles.

‘They have ships’ he said, ‘fantastic ships with fantastic weaponry, and they set upon passenger ships and cargo ships to the far north, and take all men who are between fourteen and twenty, then disappear at such speed, no one can ever catch them.’

After our time in the square was over, we were escorted back to our cells, to eat more food, to be inspected by various Doctors. I counted, we were eighteen.


As the days progressed, I began to swell. I had trouble walking, bending down, urinating.  Within, I could feel the facsimile of Dr Gabrielle, Fellow of Atlantis, growing.  I quickly became close to Eduard.

‘They captured me when I was fourteen, and this’ he said, patting his sagging misshapen stomach, ‘is number twelve. After him, they will take me to the knackers. They take everyone to the knackers, eventually. Though not immediately. I’ll go to the special place for used up vessels. It is by the sea. They have promised me a short time in peace, before they put me out of my misery. It’s their great idea, a few weeks of luxury, before termination’

Eduard coughed, laughed sickly. His eyes had no life in them. His back was bent. Most of his teeth were missing. His skin had a sick yellowish tone. His life was all but over. I lowered my voice, said I would like to write the story of my experience of Atlantis, in the hope that someone may find it. Eduard pulled me close, whispered carefully.

‘I am a dead soul, you know this! They let me have almost anything I want. I’m their pet, their amusement. I draw, I am quite good, they gave me ink and paper, much ink and paper. I will give you some…’

I nodded, said nothing.

‘Write your story soon, for this facsimile inside will be out soon. When they take me to the sea, I will take your message, put it in a bottle, cast it in, if I can.’