The three angels approached and encircled the humans in a slowly tightening ring. Tension radiated from James, probably his combat training shifting into gear. If there was a fight, was he in any shape to defend them? Joni doubted it, and knew for certain that she wasn’t – but it wasn’t a conflict she was worried about. Joni put her hand on his arm in a calming gesture.
They drifted in aquatic micro space miles above the submerged bottle. From within, points of light twinkled through unimaginably dense glass. Bioluminescence, Joni reasoned. If the city boasted light, maybe there was heat, and who knows what other unimaginable micro wonders. For the city to exist in this hostile environment was itself a wonder, and could only be explained because of the colony’s ideal location – inside the air pocket of the bottle, safe from invaders. Joni recalled that many species of freshwater microorganisms preferred to colonize similarly protected spaces. It seemed that the Microsians learned from the best.
The angels showed no sign of aggression – though who really knows what aggressive angels look like? – thought Joni. The creatures closed their ring around the pair. Pseudopodia grew, broadening and thickening – the limbs of one Microsian interweaving with those of the others, forming a watertight plait of eukaryotic membrane that enveloped Joni and Jas – a near perfectly spherical cocoon. The angel’s clusters of red photoreceptor eyes faced outward.
Inside the cocoon Joni felt the relative gravity increase as contractile vacuoles in the membrane pumped water out, while green organelles – chloroplasts – replaced the water with oxygen. In seconds, the inner space was dry. Joni touched the pressure point on her collar: her helmet evaporated with a soft pop. She took a breath. The cocoon’s air was sweet, richer than she was used to.
Jas filled his lungs. “Seems okay,” he intoned with an approving rumble. “Don’t breath too deeply, or you’ll hyperventilate.”
Joni pressed her hand against the wall of the cocoon, could feel the thrumming reverberation of cilia working in wave-like coordination, propelling them… somewhere. “They’re moving us,” Joni thought aloud. Although the Microsian cocoon had no windows, the shifting of watery light playing through translucent cell membranes confirmed movement.
Jas finished her thought: “To that bottle, and whatever is inside it.”
Again, the dark cloud of desperation threatened. Joni held it at bay by focusing on the present, on the now. She concentrated on breathing. Short breaths, spaced three seconds apart.
“Are you all right?” asked Jas.
Joni shook her head. “Kaya is gone,” she answered, and continued distantly. “Whatever life was before, no longer is. Our mission…the crew…me…you…all of it…gone.”
Jas did not offer any words – there were none. He put his arm around Joni, and not just for warmth. The only sound was the flittering butterfly humming of the ciliary membranes fanning the water, moving them toward the Microsian colony in the submerged bottle.