The Lost Continent



Of the Aim of the Magicians of Atlas:
Of Zro, and Its Properties and Uses:
Of That Which Combined With It:
And of Black Phosphorus.

It was the most ancient tradition of the Atlantean Magicians that they were the survivors of a race inhabiting a country called Lemuria, of which the South Pacific archipelago may be the remains. These Lemurians had, they held, built up a civilization equal, if not superior to their own; but through a misunderstanding of magical law — some said the 2nd, some the 8th, some the 23rd — had involved themselves and their land in ruin. Others thought that the Lemurians had succeeded in their magical task, and broken their temple. In any case, it was the secret Lemurian tradition that they themselves represented the survivals of a yet earlier race who lived in ice, and they of yet another who lived in fire, and they again of the earliest colonists from Mars. The theory, in fine, was that the aim of man is to attain the Sun, whence, according to one school of cosmology, he was exiled in the cosmic catastrophe which resulted in the formation of Neptune. His task on any given planet was therefore to overturn the laws of Nature on that planet, thus mastering it sufficiently to enable him to make the leap to the next planet inward. Exactly how and in what sense the leap was made remains obscure, even to the heirs of Atlantis.[1]
The men of Atlas could fly, it is true, and that by a method so simple that men will laugh outright when it is rediscovered; but they needed air to support them; they could not confront the cold and emptiness of space. Was it in some subtler body that they conveyed the Palladium? Or, content to die, could they project that supreme vehicle across so great a distance? The answer to such questions probably lies in the recovery by mankind of the knowledge of Zro and its properties.
Beneath the labour mills[2] run troughs[3] in which the sweat of the workers collects and drains off into an open basin without the mill. In this basin churns with immense rapidity — through multiple bevel gearing — a sort of paddle with knife edges. The sweat is thus churned into froth, and gradually disappears, and is as continually replaced. The workers toil in shifts — eight hours work, four hours repose, eight hours work, four hours rest and recreation. The mills never cease day or night.
The basin is of polished silver and agate, and is set at an angle, facing two enormous spheres of crystal, encased in a sort of trellis made of a certain greenish metal, its optical focus at a point midway between the two.
The only sign of activity is that out of this focus a spark crackles unless the air be dry, a condition difficult to secure in this part of the world, although fans blow air, dried over chloride of calcium and sulphuric acid, over the globes and their focus. These fans are worked by tidal power, human labour being appropriated solely to the one use.
In the temple of the 'house' are two globes similar to those upon the plains, and the mysterious force generated below is transferred to those above, collecting within them. Now the name of this substance is always Zro, but in its first state the gesture is a twiddling of the thumbs. In its second, it is a rapid twittering of the fingers, and in its third state of distillation it is a screwing of the hands together. Within the spheres it sublimes suddenly in the air as a snaky powder (4) of silver, which immediately turns to an iridescent fluid (5) that is forced up, by its own need of expansion, through a fountain into the temple, on whose floor it lies (6) in a semi-solid condition. Expert priests gather this in their hands, and rapidly shape it into its seventh state, when it is a knife of diamond, but alive. An instrument like a Mexican machete is used to carve rocks. The edge shears them, the back smooths them. The rock behaves exactly like wax, responsive to the lightest touch. What is not used for weapons is then gathered up swiftly and kneaded by women of the rank of high priestess. It is not known even to the high priests with what they knead it, but in its eighth stage it is a substance solid enough to support great weight, but eternally heaving of its own force. Of this they make beds, so that the sleeping Atlantean is (as it were) continually massaged. To this they attribute the fact that Atlanteans sleep never more than half an hour, though they do so four times daily. These beds remain active only for a few days, and they are then thrown into the ninth stage by being taken into a room where is a cauldron of great size. They are thrown into this and sprinkled with black phosphorus.[4] The Zro then divides into two parts, one liquid, one solid. Neither of these has any ascertainable properties, for it is absolutely passive to the will of the user, who may taste therein his utmost desire, whether for food or drink. Among adults there is no other food or drink than this. The children are not allowed to taste it.
The black phosphorus is always added by a high priestess, and it is not known in what manner she does this. The Zro that may remain is the subject of eternal experiments by the magicians. It is generally thought by the greatest of them that an error was committed in bringing it to a ninth stage of division into two, and many openly deplored the discovery of black phosphorus. All however strive in harmony to produce a tenth stage that shall surpass the virtues of the ninth.
Theoretically it is possible to reach an eleventh stage wherein the Zro takes human form, and lives! Opinion is divided as to whether this was not actually done by a certain magician at the time of the passing of Atlas. In any case, I beg the reader to remember that I have only described one seventh of the virtues of Zro, and I have even omitted this, that in its ninth stage it is not only food and drink, but universal medicine, if properly understood. For Zro is also a vision and a voice!
Now the muscles of the people of Atlas are the muscles of giants, and yet they do one thing only. And this thing is combined by the wisdom of the Magicians, so that it is at the same time work, exercise, sport, game, pleasure, and all else that may fulfill life.
This work never ceases. It has these parts:
  1. Working at Zro, i.e., bringing it from the first stage to the ninth.
  2. Working with Zro, i.e., for one's own particular purpose.
  3. Working for Zro. This is the common and most honourable task, the Zro eaten and drunken being worked into a Quintessence of higher power, though identical in property with the common Zro. This new Zro (Atlas Zro) goes through the same stages as the common Zro of the serviles. But it is the result of free and joyful labour, and so serves the Magicians in their experiments, and the Governor of all for his sustenance. None by the way is ever wasted. For example, a tunnel was drilled completely through the Earth and filled with Zro, and it is said that by this tunnel the Atlanteans escaped.
This working, whether with or for Zro, requires two persons at least at any one time and place. Great heat is generated in the working, and the bodies of the workers are therefore sprinkled heavily with the black phosphorus, which is incombustible. This black phosphorus, poisonous to the servile race, becomes innocuous to anyone who has been in any way impregnated with Zro. This itself, in its first stage, is as dangerous as electricity of high voltage.
The reverence attached to Zro is unbounded. At one time it was hymned as the father of the gods, and till the end all children were thought to be 'begotten of Zro,' though everyone might know who was the father.[5] All such conception was however held indignity. Its official name was "the old experiment." It was carried on simply because the new methods of continuing the race were not perfected. Childbirth was therefore in one way an accident; although a duty, everyone shrank from it. For though no pain or discomfort attached to the process, it was a sort of second-best achievement from which proud women turned contemptuously. This was in part the reason why the father's name was never mentioned.
On several occasions in the history of Atlas the Zro 'failed.' Although not changed in appearance, its properties were lost or diminished. In such a case young men and maidens in great numbers were captured on the plains, brought into Atlas, and offered in sacrifice to the Gods. Their blood[6] was mingled with Zro in its third stage, and the latter recovered its potency. Their flesh was eaten by the high priests and priestesses in penance for the unknown wrong. It was subject to other and terrible scourges, being the most sensitive as well as the strongest thing on Earth. On one occasion it had to be treated with a fox-like perfume prepared by the chief magician; on another it was subjected to streams of moonlight from parabolic mirrors.
The most serious crisis was some two thousand years before the destruction of Atlas. One of the serviles, riding his 'hippopotamus' to the ploughing, fell off and was instantly bitten by the poisonous fish previously described. Through an accident of boyhood he had, however, for a reason too obscure to describe here, no such vulnerable spot as suited the Zhee-Zhou. He survived and went to work, as it chanced, the next day. The Zro was poisoned; a third of Atlas died within the hour; the plant on the affected island had to be destroyed, and all its people. It was only repopulated some three hundred and eighty years later, and then for particular reasons of magical economy impossible to dwell upon in this account.
Marriage was compulsory on all those whose passion had been so exclusive and enduring as to produce two children. Further intercourse between the pair was barred. The Magicians thought it was inimical to variation for a woman to have more than one child (a fortiori two) by the same father; and the custom further prevented those stupid sporadic outbursts of burnt-out lust which make so many modern marriages intolerable.
Closely connected with marriage, the close of the reproductive life, is that of death, the close of the little that remains. Death hardly threatened the Atlantean; he would decide to "go and see," as the old phrase ran, and take an overdose of a particular preparation of black phosphorus mixed with a very little Zro in the ninth stage, which ensured a painless death. That none ever returned was taken as proof of the supreme attractiveness of death.
The ghoulish and necromantic practices with which Atlanteans have been unjustly reproached never occurred. A little vampirism, perhaps, in the early days before the perfecting of Zro; but no Atlantean was ever so stupid or so ignorant as to confuse death with life.
Beside this voluntary death only one danger existed. As the use of Zro guaranteed life and health and youth — a centenarian High Priest was no better than a kitten! — so did its abuse spell instant corruption of those qualities. As mentioned above, now and then the Zro itself was at fault, and caused epidemics; but from time to time there were deaths in a particularly loathsome form caused by what they called 'misunderstanding' the Zro.[7] Such mistakes were particularly common in the early days of its discovery, and before its use had become well nigh a worship. The first symptom was a crack in the skin of the temple, or sometimes of the bridge of the nose, more rarely of an eyelid or cheek. Within a few minutes this crack became one open sore, of horrid foetor, and within twenty-four hours, the patient was completely rotted away, bone and marrow. A circumstance of singular atrocity was that death never occurred until the spinal column collapsed. No treatment could be found even to prolong the agony by an hour. This being recognized, sufferers were thrown from the cliffs at the first sign of the malady. In this way too were all other corpses disposed. It was the most honourable death possible, for becoming "bread from heaven" for the serviles, they were again worked up into Zro itself, a transmutation which in their view would be well worth all the "resurrections of the body" and "immortalities of the soul" of the theoretical, dogmatic, hearsay religions. So much then concerning Zro, and the matters immediately connected with it.

[1] The point was discussed fully, and finally relegated, in the Council of Stockholm, 1913.

[2] The scene is so real to me that I find it impossible to avoid using the historic present here and elsewhere, inadvertently.

[3] There are six other pieces of apparatus to insulate and carry to the basin the six subtler principles of sweat.

[4] Only the smallest quantity is required, and it is unchanged, its function being purely catalytic. This form of phosphorus is one of the most stable elements. It combines (so far as is known) only with Zro. But if thrown out of such a combination, it becomes ordinary yellow phosphorus.

[5] In spite of the absolute promiscuity of the Atlanteans, this was never in doubt, owing to the special mark of each man, whose stigma or variation was infallibly transmitted.

[6] This item is loosely used, as equivalent of 'life.' The sacrifice is described later, and the point made clear.

[7] No other disease was known after the bringing of the Zro to its ninth stage, all indisposition being instantly cured by a single dose.

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