Connie hadn’t ever piloted a submarine before and as crash courses went she felt she’d managed to keep the amount of crashing to a reasonable minimum.
“Is it strange that the weirdest thing about this is that I keep wondering how our lights are shining through blood?” Jen asked. “Blood’s not exactly transparent, but our headlights are making it look like water with some red food coloring spilled in it.”
Connie hadn’t bothered wondering about that. It was a key to dealing with magical stuff successfully. Roll with the weirdness or get rolled over by it.
“What we’re seeing is more of a projection than strictly objective reality,” Sarah said. “Bogoroa and the other physicians are taking care of that so that we can navigate in here and won’t go bonkering in the process.”
Connie corrected their course almost in time to miss a collision with a red blood cell.
“Oops,” she offered and spun the orb under her left hand to mitigate the rebound acceleration as the cell’s spongy wall hurled them away like a trampoline.
Their craft was a soap bubble, an iridescent sphere with enough room for a crew of twenty, though Jen had insisted that no one but the three of them be risked on the journey. Connie had been impressed with both its size and the fact that the Telidees had something like that available on the spur of a moment.
“Microscopic bio-exploration was the first use we put shrinking technology to when we discovered it,” Bogoroa said. “It’s one thing to look at a sample in a lab, but nothing comes close to watching a biological agent in action for truly understanding how it functions.”
And so Connie had gotten to drive a submersible blood exploration vessel. She like ‘bloodmarine’ for a name, but no one else seemed to agree with her. Jen objected to the name due to it being a mismatched combination of terms, and Sarah simply thought it sounded ridiculous.
“Are you sure you didn’t need a longer training period on this?” Sarah asked. “You only spent about ten minutes with the instructor.”
“It’s not working the controls that’s the problem,” Connie said. “I can make this thing go where I want, but this blood has some funny currents in it. It’s almost like it’s fighting me.”
“Could it be?” Jen asked. She was at the primary telemetry stations, monitoring their progress through Pynni’s body towards the principal weaponization sight. Predictably that was right outside Pynni’s heart, because why not be as horrible to your living weapons as possible.
“Probably,” Sarah said. “Pynni’s body shouldn’t be rejecting us, but any weaponeer would be an idiot to leave their creation undefended from this sort of attack.”
“I thought the bio-weapon spells were still inactive?” Connie said.
“Inactive is such a broad term,” Sarah replied, checking her own display which was monitoring the temporal and spatial shifts around the craft.
When they’d first seen the bloodmarine it had towered over them, all clear crystal outer hull and sleek (and sterile) stainless steel appointments. The spells that shrunk it and its occupants down to microscopic scale weren’t fire and forget affairs. They required careful monitoring both from inside the ship by Sarah and outside the ship by Bogoroa’s team.
“We brought our own time with us,” Sarah said. “As we move through Pynni’s body we’re bringing the nearer pieces of it into that bubble so that we can move through them. If we did that without allowing any time to pass for the areas outside our sphere of influence our passage we’d be creating tiny micro bursts of speed in the cells and fluid we encountered.”
“We knew that we’d be facing an active version of the bio-plague spell as a part of this,” Jen said.
“Yeah, I’m just concerned with how much of a headstart the plague spell is going to have on us.”
“As little as possible,” Sarah said. “We’re coming up on the primary activation site now.”
Outside the bloodmarine, the sea of red they were drifting through didn’t change. Only the indicator icon directing Connie towards their destination looked different, growing with each passing second as their target came into view.
The “bio plague” was beautiful when Connie finally caught sight of it. Against a wall of red that either was or represented Pynni’s heart muscles, a glittering blue white jewel hung glittering like a star. Inside the jewel there was a man suspended as though he was floating on his back.
The closer Connie guided the bloodmarine, the more resistance she felt to its forward movement until she was barely able to make any progress at all.
“I think the spell defenses are active,” she said, gritting her teeth as the controls fought to escape her grip.
“That’s my cue,” Sarah said and began tracing glowing glyphs in the air.
“Hold on,” Jen said. “Bogoroa’s team figured this might happen. I’ve got it covered.”
“You’ve what now?” Sarah asked, the strings of light she’d been tracing falling away like confetti.
In response Jen only smiled and smack her hands one at a time into her forehead. Lights along and within the prosthetics came to life as a suit of liquid metal flowed over her body.
“I don’t…what are you doing?” Sarah asked.
“Going out the airlock it looks like,” Connie said as Jen departed the craft. Apparently the metal exo-suit did not come with communications gear.
It did however come with its own thrusters which churned a wake behind Jen as she pushed forward through the force that was holding their ship back.
Connie wondered briefly if Jen intended to make contact with the Nano-soldier on her own, but instead she stopped once she’d reached a point that felt like a hundred meters from the ship and reached out in a beckoning gesture.
Connie felt a rumble go through the ship and watched as the disembodied force that held them in its grip materialized into a pair of grasping hands.
Jen brought her prosthetics together in an X across her chest and grew (or unshrunk) to the point where she could engage the spectral hands on their own scale. As she did she glanced back to the ship and nodded for them to proceed.
“She’s literally wrestling the defense spell?” Sarah said. “I knew I should have asked about the stuff Bogoroa hooked her up with!”
“I’m taking us in,” Connie said. “You ready in case they have any backup spells waiting for us?”
“Yeah. Let’s not waste this opening,” Sarah said, unable to take her eyes off the giant form of Jen straining against the crushing hands to hold them at bay.
As it turned out there was not a backup spell for the main defense spell. There were three. None as powerful as the first, but each one deadly, and each more subtle than the last.
They just weren’t deadly or subtle enough.
“Here’s where things get difficult,” Sarah said, wiping an amount of blood off her arms which included all too much of her own.
“We’ll need to be quick about it,” Connie said. “Jen’s beaten the main spell about a dozen times now, but it keeps regenerating. Sooner or later she’s going to run out of stamina.”
“From what I can see in here, it’s pretty much what Bogoroa’s people predicted,” Sarah said. “The control for the defenses all runs through him.”
She gestured at the man who was floating a few feet above the floor in the small chamber within the crystal jewel they’d docked with/
“He looks like he’s moving?” Connie asked since whatever the man was doing looked only marginally related to moving. It almost looked closer to vibrating, but his changes in position weren’t that regular and he stayed too long in spots randomly.
“He’s skipping through time,” Sarah said and walked closer to him. As she did, his jittering slowed and finally stopped.
The first word out of his mouth was a scream.
“Definitely not good!” Sarah said and rushed to his side.
Connie followed her and helped hold the man down, though there wasn’t any structure like a bed to hold him too.
“The spell defenses are trying to either wake him up or kill him and they’re being very insistent about it,” Sarah said. “If he wakes up, talk to him, I’m going to need to keep him from being shredded into a lovely shower of neutrinos.”
With that she got to work, tracing her fingers an inch over the man’s chest as though she was marking out mathematical convergences from one point to another.
“What happened?” the man asked, being to move before falling back onto the invisible bed.
“You’ve been assaulted,” Connie said, thinking it was the simplest version of the truth she could think of. “We’re here to help. What’s your name?”
“Smooh,” the man said. “Smooh Davo. Why was I assaulted?”
He was trying to open his eyes, the eyelids fluttering but Sarah passed a hand over his face and he relaxed instead.
“You are very open to mystical augmentation,” Sarah said as she came to the end of one set of images she was tracing over Smooh’s body.
“I have to be, I’m only first tier scum,” Smooh said. “We have to be able to take whatever we can get, and we’re too impure for anything good.”
“That doesn’t sound all that great,” Connie said.
“Sorry to disappoint,” Smooh sad with a rueful laugh in his voice.
“No, I mean that doesn’t sound like a great system,” Connie said.
“It is for people above the fourth tier,” Smooh said.
“Can you hold this?” Sarah asked and passed Connie a long spiral of red light. Connie followed it back to find that more and more of it was emerging from Smooh’s chest and abdomen.
“What is that?” Smooth asked, still without opening his eyes.
“A weapon,” Sarah said.
“Am I being Pronounced upon? Was there already a trial?”
“No, nothing here is about you,” Connie said. “Someone has wrapped you up in some pretty nasty stuff. We’re trying to get it out you.”
“Nasty stuff? Wait, I smell iron. This isn’t the Infinite Blood Flu? It can’t be?” Smooh asked.
“Don’t know what that is, but the name sounds on the money,” Sarah said.
“No! That was just a story,” Smooh said. “Something to scare the First Tiers with. They can’t have grabbed me for that!”
“We’re not sure what brought you here, but you’ve been stuck into something like a plague machine,” Connie said. “We’re going to get you out of it though.”
“You can’t,” Smooh said. “I heard them talking about it. I was just a maintenance worker, not fit to speak, but I could listen, and I didn’t matter so they talked around me. They couldn’t get the Flu to work, not fully, but they could geas the subjects. I can’t be part of the Flu, I couldn’t speak to you if I was.”
“Yeah, I worked on that first,” Sarah said. “There’s no point saving your body if the spell vaporized every trace of your personality in the process. I’ve got your mind fully cleared now. The rest of you is proving to be a bit more difficult. I don’t want to mess up your natural casting ability either.”
“What are you doing? I don’t have any magic.” Smooh asked.
“Sure you do, you just don’t know how to use it,” Sarah said. “Going to fix that too or die trying.”
“Uh, is that a good idea?” Smooh asked. “My memories are coming back. They definitely dragged me into an Infinity Chamber. I’m a weapon now.”
“No, you’re a person,” Connie said. “The weaponization is just an add-on.”
“And add-on which is almost ready to come out,” Sarah said. “The question is, are you ready for this?”
“Ready for what?” Smooh asked.
“You’ve been abused by people who should have respected you,” Sarah said. “I’m about to cut all hold they have over you. That is going to make them pretty unhappy. If I do this, you don’t have to fight with us, but you’re never going to be able to go back to your old life.”
“What other alternative do I have?” Smooh asked.
“I can disable the spell work but leave it intact,” Sarah said. “We can deactivate this cloning pod so you won’t be a danger to anyone. You could go back to being who you were and the Higher Tier people would have no cause to distrust you. They’ll think we weren’t able to break the seals on your spells and that you might even have use to them still.”
“Or, you can work with us,” Connie said. “There’s a lot of other people in cloning chambers like this. Our plan is to free you one by one and have each of you who will join us start freeing other people too. We can’t get the job done in time to save everyone if we work on our own, but together we can spread out like a wave of hope rather than a plague.”
“Cut me free then,” Smooh said. “And let’s give the people like me their second chance.”