Microscopic Monsters Novel – The Age of Discovery, Chapter One: The Machine

Exploration Log

Captain Jonathan Adler, MS Cyclops

Day 1: 0630 hours… A measure of time. But I as yet do not know how the passage of time will affect us in this altered condition. Will we sense time as we did before? Will it turn faster to our senses, or slower? We are the first to undergo this change, and the first to enter the Hidden World. It is the beginning! It is the ultimate exploration. I can barely contain my excitement! What a grand privilege it is to take command of our first comprehensive survey of life in the living micro universe.

For the benefit of those who may be curious I will give a brief description of myself. I stand just a hair over two meters – a measuring reference that will soon become handy. I am of slender build and have hair and moustaches the color of bright pewter. I am 57 years of age, and enjoy writing and etching – of which I am proud to boast some expertise, particularly with pencil and charcoals.

Although my memory of the actual transformation is muddled and befogged, I will forever remember the thrilling moment I shook hands with President Roosevelt and received his encouraging invocation – a similar speech I imagine to the one President Jefferson imparted to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark before their historic quest of discovery. After a toast of (excellent) champagne a Navy commander ushered me and my crew away from the festivities. We descended many stairs, and dropped deep into the earth by way of a mechanized lift. Eventually we found ourselves in secret catacombs far beneath the streets of Washington. Our escort team of Naval riflemen guided us through a maze of dim but tidy stone tunnels that opened onto a very large chamber hewn from bedrock. We paused to gather on a balcony that looked over an elaborate subterranean facility. Beyond an iron handrail was a view of the most intricate assemblage of machinery I have ever seen.

The complexity of the Q-73 Implosive Devoluminator was lost in the shadows of that enormous chamber, which I suspect lay a quarter-mile directly beneath the Washington Monument itself (and I theorize may actually serve as a dissipation rod for excess electricity from the Q-73 machine). Though much of the apparatus was hidden in darkness, sporadic illumination came from many incandescent globes of Edison’s direct current. Visible in that light was a stage, or platform. This dais was a hundred feet in diameter, and was elevated above the cavern floor on marble pillars. From the surrounding darkness reached giant metal arms of copper coil muscle and platinum bone toward the platform, embracing it. Veins of quartz, like the arteries of some Olympian god, transferred pulsing energy through the technological appendages into massive polished crystalline capacitors designed to unleash cosmic forces upon the stage. But it wasn’t the Q-73 Implosive Devoluminator that captured my attention.

“Is that the ship?” whispered the young man beside me, like a visitor in a chapel. Hamilton Geronimo O’Shaughnessy, Gyro his apt nickname, was our pilot and navigator. He nodded toward an intrepid shape bathed in Edison’s light at the center of the stage. Supported in a cradle made of timbers and angled iron, was the Micro Submersible (M.S.) Cyclops.

My heart raced to finally see her. My ship, at last! Oh, let me hasten to add that I had familiarized myself with the drawings and shipwright’s schematics, but that was ink and paper. Until this moment I had yet to see her made manifest. Her construction had been in total secrecy, or so I had been told. To see her made real was stirring in a way that I had not often experienced in life.   Cyclops was a true marvel of Yankee shipbuilding, and yet more. Never had glass, iron, and brass been rendered into a more impressive fusion of submarine seaworthiness, but I sensed in her an almost living spirit. Having penned these words, I am now laughing at the folly of them, but I will not discount them, for I sensed it the instant I laid eyes on the M.S. Cyclops – she was creature of discovery waiting to be awakened.

A series of alarms and bells echoed through the huge space. Below us, on the floor of the chamber, there was a flurry of activity around the giant machine. A crescendo of whirling dynamos accompanied the increase in illumination all around us. The Navy Commander distributed seemingly opaque eye-goggles to myself, the crew, and the entourage. “First we will perform the operation on the ship,” he explained. “If you choose to watch, your eyes must be protected. You may feel a bit of momentary vertigo, so steady yourself against the railing. Goggles, please.”

We obeyed. Like the shade of a welder’s mask, the lenses were so blackened that I could barely see the brightest of Edison’s globes. A louder alarm announced that the procedure was imminent.

It began! Titanic bolts of Planck energy arced from the glowing capacitors of the mighty machine’s quartz-veined arms onto the Cyclops. The ship glowed as bright as I imagine an exploding sun. Then came a thunder that I felt in every bone. I leaned into the handrail and clasped my hands over my ears. My eyes involuntarily winced shut. When I reopened them, the Cyclops had vanished. A thin vapor, rapidly dissipating, was all that remained on the platform. The energies of the great machine dimmed again.

“You may remove your goggles now,” came the voice of the commander. “But hold onto them. You will need them again. You are next.” The commander gestured toward a flight of stairs. It was time for the Cyclops’ crew to undergo the same incredible manipulations of cosmic energy that the ship herself had only recently endured, and presumably survived.

I led my crew down the flight of metal stairs from the observation balcony to the floor of the chamber. The excitement of the moment made for heightened senses. There was a lingering sizzle sound emanating from the stage, from the place where Cyclops had vanished, and in the air the harsh scent of ozone.

Two flights of stairs rose from the ground to the level of the stage. I stood at the base and shook the hand of each crewmember as they began the short ascent. First was Gyro, his handshake was strong and eager. He bounced up the stairs two steps at a time. Second came engine master Barron Wolf, an edifice of a man with shoulders too wide to pass through most doorways without sidestepping. His hand swallowed my own, and he smiled confidently as he followed Gyro up the stairs. Third in the cue was my executive officer, Army Sergeant Randall Emerson, a man whom I had known as a friend since my Annapolis days and Eastport nights, despite hailing from different branches of the service. In addition to being my first officer and sergeant at arms, he would also be tasked with the cartography of our voyage. His maps would someday become the charts by which researchers would reference ecology, biome, and habitat of every species we encountered. We shook hands briefly, and as he went up the stairs Rand flashed his infectious and reassuring smile. I was grateful that he would be there, especially when we found ourselves in difficult moments.

Fourth and last in line was my young naturalist Lyra Saunders, a graduate in Biological Science from Cornell University, the auspicious class of 1900. I offered my hand and she shook it enthusiastically, but I saw a shadow of concern in her blue eyes. “You are about to be the very first biologist to survey the biodiversity of the freshwater micro verse. I’ll wager that Cornell will make your research logs required reading. “

Lyra’s concerned look deepened. “Oh no, skipper! I mean, would they really?! I don’t think I can take all those expectations.”

I laughed. “I think you may surprise yourself. If it’s inspiration your seeking, the micro world will not disappoint. And just wait until the Institute gets a look at the motion pictures you’ll be taking.”

Lyra’s smile brightened. She quickly nodded. “I’m very excited about that, sir. We will be bringing back images of living things never seen before! I’m just a bit nervous, well you know, about the process.” She said the word process with significance. The odor of ozone was still hanging in the air.

“Well,” I said, lowering my voice to impart a sense of confidentiality, “I have a similar nervousness. But it isn’t as if we are the first to go through the machine. The team at Duckweed Base has been there for weeks. And by now the Cyclops has been delivered and they are preparing her for us.   It’s going to be fine.”

“Thanks, skipper,” Lyra said gratefully, then sprang up the steps behind her crewmates.

I waited at the bottom of the stairs another moment thinking about what Lyra had said: “We will be bringing back images…” What else would we be bringing back? – I wondered to myself.

Moments later I joined my crew at the center of the stage. We gathered inside the innermost of a target-like pattern of concentric circles etched into the floor. There were scratches indicating where the Cyclops and her support scaffold had been sitting earlier. The vapor of her dematerialization had dissipated. She was waiting for us now in the micro verse.

The Navy commander and his team arrived, carrying with them two sets of waist-high trestles, which they swiftly assembled beside us. “To lean against,” explained the commander, “when it…happens. And don’t worry. Those will go with you. That’s when the vertigo will hit, and you’ll need them.” The sound of the monstrous dynamos began. It built from a bass to a shrill dissonance. “Don’t forget to put on your goggles,” the Commander reminded. “And best of luck to all of you.”

He was about to depart when a woman called to him from the stairs. She held a slip of paper. She met the Navy commander half-way across the platform. He looked at the paper, then stuffed it into his pocket, spun on his heel and returned to us.

“Is there a problem?” I inquired.

“Just a minor adjustment to your arrival coordinates,” he said dismissively. “No reason for concern. We’re going to set you down two feet, four inches to the south-southwest of Duckweed Base. We have an observation blind in the cattails. Code named Dragonfly Sky-base.”

“Two feet four inches,” exclaimed Gyro. “That is almost one hundred miles at micro-scale.”

“Ninety three miles, actually. You’ll transfer to the Duckweed facility by flyercraft,” explained the commander.

“What’s the reason for the relocation,” Randall Emerson pressed. He wasn’t going to let the commander off the hook without a damn good explanation for changing our destination.

“I’m a little embarrassed to say it, but it’s a frog,” answered the commander. “Seems it decided, or will decide, to stalk damselflies next to Duckweed Base. Don’t worry, Cyclops is safe, or it will be. Sorry, the time dilation between here and there can be a synthaxic challenge. The harbor master just wants to make sure you don’t arrive in the middle of a calamity.”

The Q-73 Implosive Devoluminator cleared its throat and prepared for its solo. The dynamos were approaching a high-pitched hum now. “Goggles,” reminded the commander, then departed. Human activity around the huge machine ceased as the machinists withdrew to a safe distance.

Overhead, the huge capacitors began to glow. We donned our eyewear, gripped the wooden rail and waited. We didn’t have to wait for long.

Without warning there was a lightning-like flash as the pent up energies of the Device were brought to bear on us. The Implosive Devoluminator bellowed its crackling Olympian basso. I was struck with a profound sense of displacement and dizziness. In that instant, my crew and I became citizens of a new world.

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