“We begin, sir, with this most absurd assumption and theory of yours which you entitled ‘Christ in Atlantis.”
Dr. Polterwiest, the University “Interlocutor” who was appointed to ask questions of each examined candidate for a doctorate, looked round at the solemn, long-bearded visages arranged at the Great Hall table and winked. The panel of 19 examiners, all holding Ph.D’s of long, long tenure, did not wink back, but there was a hardening round the eyes and a grim compression of lips when the subject was thus so announced.
“But that was only one topic I—“
Dr. Polterwiest waved the examinee’s objection aside and continued. “You will have your chance to respond, in good time, Candidate! Please no more interruptions, or we will exact a penalty of fifty points of merit from your total! Now, as I was saying—“
Dr. Pikkard (for his candidature allowed him the use of his prospective doctoral title at his examination), seeing that the panel, acting like the Inquisition or any other infamous Star Chamber, was determined to attack him on a minor issue, ballooning it up to be representative of all his work, the point on which his entire thesis would either rise or fall, turned his eyes upwards, pushed his chair back, and began doing mental computations to occupy the otherwise wasted time.
Finally, after three quarters of an hour of sheer bombast and rant, he was called to respond to Dr. Polterwiest’s rebuttal, if it could be called that, of the idea that Christ once trod the sod of the mythical continent of Atlantis.
By that time he had discovered four new numbers for pi and was pleased with himself.
He stood, put his hand on his thesis as required, bowed to the assembled authorities and judges, and began.
“I see my point-—for it is but one point in a series of instances I cite for my claim to your serious and scholarly consideration of my dessertation—is not acceptable in your collective view. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, that you hold to the mythicality of Atlantis and, therefore, reject any possibility of our Master walking upon its length and breadth. I expected this reaction, only not so precipitatively!”
The solemn assembly, growing gradually aware they were being held up to barely disguised censure by an inferior, began to shift uneasily in their robes, scholarly vestments, tassels, and gold braid. Warning looks were given the Interlocutor who in turn tried to impress the examinee that he might well consider his panel’s displeasure if he maintained such an attitude.
Dr. Pikkard, however, appeared not to notice and blithely continued. “Nevertheless, now that you have chosen to begin here rather with the main substance of my thesis, I will address you, sir, and your question. Rather, I will speak to the supposed mythicality of Atlantis, which is basic to the discussion. If Atlantis never existed, then Christ walking its verge is absurd, and I will be the first to admit it and turn in my dissertation for major review and revision.”
At this point, Dr. Pikkard did something startling to the panel. He left the table, strode to a window, threw it open and let the winter breeze enter. He took a deep breath, closed the window, then began pacing back and forth as if he were in his own study. His pipe in hand, he began speaking rapidly.
“I don’t wish to take up more of your time. The Honorable Interlocutor took three quarters of an hour to destroy my thesis by attacking a single point. Perhaps I might be accorded a response of twenty seconds."
He glanced at his timepiece, which he slipped from a vest pocket. “Yes, that will be sufficient!”
He sent the timer on it, then put it back in its pocket, resumed pacing, and continued with his defense.
“Now honorable doctors, here is my counterpoint, which is sufficient to wrap this discussion up, I am sure any reasoning body will agree! Since my main thesis, the retrogression of the culture of technology in society and the world is not being questioned at this gathering, I will restrict myself to one contention only: Atlantis existed! Rather, I should amend that. Atlantis is coming again! Not only did it exist ages previous to our own, but my findings in geology and tectonics prove that an enormous island-continent is arising in the Atlantic, extending from the Arctic Circle to four hundred miles of the Falkland Islands. This continent will also take in the islands of the Caribbean, which formerly were high points on its topography before the continent sank sometime in the 10th millenium before Christ. I have here the evidence for proving this beyond the shadow of a doubt—this revival of Atlantis on the world globe. If it comes again, there can be no doubt it formerly existed. For with its emergence there will come to light a wealth of artifacts that are presently buried in the detritus of the sea bottom. I have, however, extracted several interesting artifacts from the ancient, extinct Atlantean civilization.”
Dr. Pikkard handed two small objects to the Interlocutor, who stared at them as if he were loath to dirty his hands with such questionable items as “Atlantean artifacts.”
The artifacts, however, were passed slowly round the panel, and the aged examiners peered at them, each in turn, until all had seen them. Then they were handed back to the examinee.
Dr. Pikkard held them out to the panel. “Christ, you see, did not come to Atlantis as a tourist, gaping at the grand sights that once existed there. Oh no! He came as a Judge, avenging the oppressed and destroying the wicked. For when He walked in Atlantis, it had reached its nadir in spiritual depravity, you see. These artifacts testify to that fact. What are they? You think they are mere game board items. That is what I first thought. But then I subsequently deciphered Atlantean script inscribed on these items and also on others I had collected over the years with my private diving bell, and this is my translation of the first cube: “Player Kill infant. Move one position forward.” “Flay human couple. Move two positions toward orgy.”
Dr. Pikkard put the artifacts in his pocket, then faced the astonished and uncomprehending panel. A little bell began tinkling on his timepiece. He clapped his finger on it, and smiled at the panel.
“Ah, just in time. I rest my case, Your Excellencies.”
Giving a flip to his jacket’s long, curved, tricorn tail, the examiner sat down.
His Magnificence, Dr. H. H. van der Transcendentius, rose from his chair at the head of the panel, and without a look at the examinee, gravely shook his head, which meant that his beard swept the polished table once, then twice before he paused to speak.
“Candidature denied,” he declared. A liveried university bailiff then struck an enormous brass anvil with a brass hammer the size of a Norse skygod’s to adjourn the meeting.
At once everyone arose, and Dr. Pikkard was first to reach the doors, which were opened by liveried attendants. “Now just a minute,” he protested to the unjust, arbitrary tribunal. “What is going
on? This is most irregular! I made a valid point, gave more than sufficient proofs, and you have denied me my—?“
The panel, calling the attendants to move the failed examinee aside, vacated the hall.
Moments later, Dr. Pikkard remained there alone, sitting on a chair edge, his collar undone and his tie pulled off. He ran a hand through his hair, after throwing his mortar board across the room and toward a group of statues representing “The Fall of Leiden,” one a half-clad maiden with a sword held to her delicate throat, the others infidel Spanish soldiers.
He sprang up and strode to the window and threw it open. Fresh air flooded the room. He began to breathe deep. Then he turned round, his eyes darting with fierce light. “Let them deny the truth, the old falsehoods are good enough for them! But they won’t stop me and my investigations. I will continue to show how everything they take so much pride in is mere decay, nothing but barbaric imitations of the former attainments of the Atlanteans, depraved though they became toward the end! They’ll never stop me. I’ll die for the truth, if need be! We’re all going backwards, not forwards as they think! Even in its worst excesses, Atlantis was the true high point. We have been sinking ever since!”
The firebrand of a young professor and already an acknowledged genius in the academic world for his undergraduate work, then left the hall. To every pitying and questioning glance, Professor Pikkard (for his doctorate was now in limbo now that his doctoral dissertation and candidature were denied) turned a defiant, undaunted glance.
Only after he had calmed down amidst his own beloved scientific apparatus and the various collections of artifacts and evidence he had amassed did he consider that any true man of science is bound to brook much opposition to any new approach. In turn it behooved him to submit to it, since science was served best by giving way to every possible reproof bearing upon his theory. If true, he had nothing to lose by seeing his theory dispoved, since he, and his detractors, served the cause of truth above all other considerations in their academic and scientific endeavors.
In this humble spirit he busied himself and wrote letters to all the leading scientists and authorities that dealt with his subject of inquiry and challenged them to disprove his theory.
The following days and weeks brought nothing but stony silence. Dumbfounded, Professor Pikkard searched all the leading periodicals, thinking that some criticism or rebuttal of his theory might have been published. The science magazines had carried his articles before, and so their editors were duty-bound to respond to his challenge. But he searched in vain, for not one word of his challenge was ever entered in the thousands of pages he scanned. What was going on? He could think of no explanation. What could have provoked such a general black-out where his dissertation was concerned?
As he went to his classes and passed colleagues on the faculty, he noticed something equally odd. His own peers wouldn’t so much as utter, “Good day!” to him. And his students were acting strange too, whispering in the classroom as he entered, then, as he came in, falling instantly into silence while they gazed at him with the same fixed expression.
Utterly bewildered, he made a mess of his lectures, then escaped to his own quarters, wondering if the world, or he, had gone mad.
“I can’t go on this way,” he decided finally. “I must get to the bottom of it. Why are they all treating me like I am some sort of exotic tropical disease? Is it just because my candidature was temporarily denied? It can’t be just that!”
He was headed to the Lord Chancellor’s office to speak to the one person who ought to know the reason for the situation when a student approached him and was about to duck past when Professor Pikkar recognized him and caught his arm.
“Hey, stop!” cried the professor. “You’re Groot van de Grootvader, aren’t you? Yes! I had you in a class a couple terms back, and you failed the class, if I remember. What’s happened to you? Are you doing any better these days?”
Professor Pikkard was shocked when the student turned a glaring eye on him, with an expression of pity and sarcasm. “YOU are hardly one to remind me of that!”
The professor couldn’t believe his own ears. “What do you mean, Grootvader?”
Grootvader turned his eyes upwards. “Now who is the stupid one here? Everybody knows, and you don’t know? I am asked to explain what the whole world knows? Give me a break, professor!”
Professor Pikkard’s face must have showed it, for Grootvader’s leering face sobered. “Okay. Okay. Don’t have a heart attack, professor. I’ll tell you, if you really don’t know. You’re an arch heretic. The things you wrote about Christ in Atlantis—they’re going to get you for that. You might think of leaving the country, for you’ll never have any future here. Now—“ Grootvader pulled away from the professor’s grasp. “—let me go! I’ve been expelled. All I want is to get out of this hellhole and get a job!”
Professor Pikkard let the failed student go, watching him hurry off and fling away his scholar’s uniform and tie as he made for the university gates.
The professor walked slowly back to his rooms. Closing the door and shutting the curtains, he sat in the darkness, unable to think. He had always been up to vigorous academic debate, but this was no debate, it was nothing but a witchhunt. His own peers had turned against him in the most vicious way. A heretic! Just because he had voiced a minor point concerning Christ appearing in Atlantis in the manuscript of his dissertation? How could they have been enraged to his extent about such at trivial thing? Surely, it had to be something deeper, something more fundamental? <
Whatever it was, he couldn’t, for the life of him, lay it bare. Hours passed, but he had got nowhere, and though it was dark, he went out for some fresh air and a long walk.
When he returned, he not only felt better but he had come to some conclusions. Heresy, in academia, was rather hard to come by. He had to have flouted every basic rule, ceremony, belief, and approved tradition that made a university what it was: a community of scholars and gentlemen, banded together for the pursuit and the advancement of truth and learning.
Had he done that? Of course, not! He was something of an eccentric in people’s eyes, he knew. He was something of a marvel and an envy, for publishing so many scientific treatises so early in his career. He was a bachelor, when most of the faculty were respectably married men. He was not so much orthodox in his religion as a fervent inquirer, too.
He, consequently, came to realize that the whole issue was really not so much about him as it was about the university and its mindset. Somehow, he had touched a very raw nerve, and like an enraged, very sick animal, they had turned in fury upon him.
Knowing he was on the right track, he sat down and took his pipe and began to mull over the thought most thoroughly. “So what have I done?” he put it to himself. “I have infuriated the whole academic world, it seems, most unintentionally. All they can think at present to do about me is to ostracize me, to kill me with silence. Well, that won’t work with me. I think I can stand such treatment for a good, long time. But what have I done? What have I done to provoke all this?”
He went to his next class as usual on the following day, to lecture on the strange aberations in the orbit of Jupiter when, seeing no students were present, went and sat down and began to smoke his pipe instead.
He was still there, an hour later, when he heard a tiny tap on the door.
“Come in,” he said, without looking up.
He was startled when he found he was being watched from the door, instead of the person coming in. “Well, come in! Don’t be afraid! I won’t bite!”
Groot van de Grootvader crept in, the most sheepish look on his face imaginable. Professor Pikkard almost laughed at him, he looked so ridiculous. Anyone so big and overweight, creeping about like he was a little mouse, was too much to take.
“Yes, my boy! Found your job in trade or factory yet?”
Grootvader shook his head. Cap in hand, he seemed another man entirely. “Sir,” he began, looking most doleful and downcast. “I hope you’ll overlook my bad behavior toward you the other day! I was really out of humor due to the verbal lashing I was given, when they said I had failed in all my majors and would have to leave at once or I’d be kicked out the gate by the bailiff!”
“Oh!” said the professor. He smiled and extended his hand. “Well, I will overlook it. And good luck on your job hunt. If you should need a recommendation—“
“No—no!” Grootvader protested. Then he remembered something, and his face turned beet-red. “What I mean is, I am applying to you, sir. I heard you are looking for a boy to man your balloon and do other-—er, tasks for you, and I think I am just the assistant you can use—“
Professor Pikkard now had his chance to show pity, but he did not. Swallowing his own pride, he took Grootvader’s hand. “Of course, you’ll do fine! You’re hired! Report to me tomorrow, 6 a.m. sharp. It’s the start of my flying season. I want to get things ready for the next flight. Well, as to salary, you can see to that tomorrow, all right? I am not in the mood to discuss technical things right now, if you can wait until tomorrow.”
Grootvader looked as if he couldn’t believe his good fortune. He dashed off without another word, leaving his employer wondering if he should laugh or cry.
“Well, two social and academic pariahs have a lot in common, and Grootvader realized he could sooner get on with me, in my state, than apply to anyone reputable! Figuring that out proves he can’t be the utter imbecile he seems to be! I might do worse for an assistant!”
With a shrug, the professor took his pipe, his walking stick, and went and shut the door. He knew it would be some time before his return. Leaving a note in the box of the department’s secretary, he departed on his sabbatical. As for his replacement, if there was any problem finding someone to step in for him, he himself would hire the fellow at his own expense!
As he walked toward his quarters and decided he was too tired to do any late night experimentation in chemistry, he was thinking about the whole situation confronting him and it suddenly dawned on him. Of course! He thought. “Eureka!” he cried aloud.
He now knew the reason for all that had happened of late. He had unwittingly turned a light on in the darkness. And as the holy scriptures testified, “And the darkness comprehendeth it not.”
Which simply meant, what darkness cannot tolerate is light, and so it is utterly hostile to light, knowing it cannot stand before it, it must be eradicate the light or flee. There could be no co-existence.
No wonder darkness was so hostile to light! No wonder his peers and superiors were so enraged? They hated the little bit of light he had turned on with his remarks about technological retrogression in society and Christ’s appearance in Atlantis once upon a time.
There could be no other explanation, and he knew it. He knew it!
Professor Pikkard was the soundest sleeper in Dutch Christendom and Dutch American academia that night. While all others twisted and turned in their beds, he slept profoundly like a baby because he slept, though his chamber was dark, in the midst of light and peace.