The cocoon discorporated around them, reforming into the three Microbian angels. Joni found herself standing on solid ground, or something equating to ground. The light from overhead was diffused, tinted cool. She turned, looking in all directions. They had been deposited on a platform beside a placid sea, or perhaps a large lake. Beyond the featureless water the sky rose up from the horizon in a gentle curve and became a pale blue-green cyclorama without any hint of transition. Joni knew that she was actually looking at the inner curvature of a glass bottle. An air pocket at the back of the bottle kept the Captive Sea at bay, leaving roughly a third of the bottle’s enormous volume available for terrestrial exploitation, and in which the Microsians had constructed, over time and countless generations, a vast and intricate city.
Joni looked back over her shoulder at the towering columns and suspended platforms rising higher and higher into the air pocket, the uppermost levels disappearing into veils of fine vapor.
Overhead, spanning the enormous bottle interior was a progression of six buttressed platforms, a vertical array of enormous bridges, each serving as the foundation of its own Microsian city. The highest level was barely visible above a ceiling of cloud.
“It’s a soda bottle,” mused Jas as he strained to pierce the overhead cloud layer. “See? The hour-glass shape and fluted sides. Looks like it’s from the 1950s or 60s, the same kind Santa is holding in those vintage print ads.”
“So somebody littered it maybe seventy or eighty years ago,” calculated Joni. “But that doesn’t jibe – the city looks much older than that.”
“Much older,” agreed Jas. “Centuries old – by macro world standards. And if my cultural anthro classes were anywhere close to accurate – soda bottles definitely weren’t around in the middle ages when this place appears to have been built.”
The Microsian with the green chloroplasts suspended in its cytoplasm glided forwarded. Extending arm-like pseudopods, it indicated in a decidedly fluid sign-language for the humans to enter the city.
“Makes no sense…” whispered Joni as they passed into a shaded concourse between enormous pillars that held up the second level of the city. “…unless there is something to the time dilation theory – that time moves faster at micro scale.”
Jas answered with raised eyebrows, as if to say: that would explain a great deal.
The shadowy passage delivered the party into a well-lit, open intersection where several streets converged. Joni thought of Times Square in New York City, but far less busy. A few Microsians glided on flowing pseudopods at uniform speed through the intersection, and Joni was left with the feeling they were avoiding contact with the humans. At the center of this town square (octagon, really) were a pair of transparent columns, which rose up side by side, disappearing into the next level up. The trio of angels herded Joni and Jas toward the columns.
One of the three, whom Joni had nicknamed Merryweather, stepped up to the nearer of the two columns, stepping into an opening designed to accommodate the stature of Microsians. In the next moment Merryweather stood inside what was now revealed as a tube. The floor under the angel’s pseudopod feet was solid, yet Joni could see that it was the gel-like cohesive interface of water and air – surface tension. In the next instant the water accelerated upward, pushing Merryweather up and away through the transparent tube. Inside the neighboring tube, a core of water descended at the same time – counter force to the rising column.
The two columns must be a single looped tube, with the physics for ascending or descending provided by capillary action. How very clever! “It’s an elevator!” proclaimed Joni with a mixture of delight and admiration. “After you,” she said, waving Jas into the tube ahead of her.
Jas and Joni, Flora and Fauna stepped into the ascent tube and were propelled up through the amazing microscopic city.
Joni marveled at the simplicity and genius of the Microsian elevator as it hurled them upward at a relative astonishing speed. The foundation level of the Primo Gradu dropped away as the party ascended through the space between buildings, then a moment of darkness as the tube carried them through the second platform. In the space of a single breath they burst back into the light of the second city as the capillary conveyer carried them higher and higher, through the third, then the fourth.
They broke into the light of the fifth city. The grand vista of the Captured Sea was breathtaking. At this altitude the curved walls of the bottle drew closer, curving inward to meet them as they rocketed skyward. The vista revealed endless arrays of algae farms clinging to the inside of the bottle. A shimmer of movement among those vast gravity-defying fields betrayed the presence of shy Microsians– the grower caste was hard at work, tending the simple crops that provide the colony with energy and oxygen.
The darkness of the sixth level swallowed them momentarily. When they emerged from shadow, the light of the sixth city washed over them, the brightest yet. Joni saw that they had ascended above the atmospheric vapor frequenting the upper levels of the bottle-space, now cloaking the seventh city from view of the others below.
Flora pushed a pseudopod finger through the inner cylinder wall. At once their ascent slowed. They rose into the light of the uppermost city – the terminus of their dramatic vertical transit. Flora stepped through the cylinder’s inner membrane. The rest followed her onto the clean plain of the Semptimo Gradu, the city of the seventh level.
The new arrivals crossed to where Merryweather was waiting at the entrance of a roughly sphere-shaped building, several stories tall. At the moment of reunion, the three angels gathered close, extended their long necks inward, and bowed their heads until all three touched momentarily with a soft musical hum.
Merryweather swiveled her gaze to Joni, meeting human eyes with the Microsian’s bottomless red/black photoreceptive organelles. The humming continued, but seemed to emanate from all directions – more sensed than heard. The concept of enter here tingled like an impulse on Joni’s mind. She could comply, or resist, with equal effort. She turned to Jas.
“They want us to go inside.”
A grand corridor opened into an impossibly vast chamber that instantly evoked in Joni a sweet yet painful memory of visiting the Aerium in Brandenburg, when she had taken Kaya to the simulated tropical island resort built within the massive airship construction hangar. But here, in place of a palm tree spangled tropical paradise, one side of the enormous space was open to the soda bottle’s bottom, forming a gigantic window looking out into the microcosmic wilderness. A paramecium swooped through the tableau with a Microsian rider astride its whale-sized form, gripping reins for steering the huge ciliate.
“Of course. They defend their city with a microscopic cavalry,” commented Jas.
“Everything they need comes from microscopic resources,” said Joni with admiration. “These buildings weren’t built. They were grown. They’ve undoubtedly mastered techniques for genetic coding that we haven’t dreamed of. I would love to see if they’ve figured out…”
We are the Microsia Aquatica. You are from the Great Elsewhere.
“Yes. That’s right,” said Joni. “We call ourselves humans. It is a great honor to meet you. Thank you for rescuing us.”
Humans have been here before. Honor…Thanks… do not advance the imperatives of the Unity.
“What are the imperatives?” asked Jas.
Food – hummed Flora
Reproduction – hummed Fauna.
Defense – hummed Merryweather.
“Well then how can we thank you… express our gratitude?”
Gratitude does not advance the imperatives of the Unity. We propose a symbiosis.
“What kind of symbiosis?” asked Joni.
The angels stepped aside to reveal a container so meticulously crafted that it looked like polished platinum. A round porthole set in the side glowed with an inner luminescence. Something about about the shape and size of the container made Joni uneasy. She stepped tentatively closer. The collective humming continued…
A symbiosis to advance a new imperative.
Joni put her hand on the rectilinear box. It was cool to the touch, like the water outside. She leaned toward the softly glowing porthole. “Beyond food, reproduction, and defense? What other imperative could there be?” she asked as she cautiously leaned into the small window.
Domination – hummed the three angels.
Joni pressed her hand on the glass and peered inside. Her eyes flashed wide. Every muscle began to shake. The box contained a human body.
We will repair this individual, and you will help us attain the fourth imperative.
Joni knew this body. The face, though pale, bruised and broken, was still recognizable. It was Kaya.
Before Jas could stop her, she turned to Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather and gave her answer.