Jul. 3rd, 2011

Another break from the extended piece, because I'm crossing my own Great Divide -- July 2 is the exact midpoint of the year.

They had travelled far, come by twisting canyons and winding alleys to this place. Now at last they looked upon their objective. The quality of optics was poor, but the target could be seen in the distance. It was a relatively large structure, a series of cubes and cylinders with tubes snaking out in all directions. The central complex was poised on high ground, with a commanding view of the surrounding terrain.

"Such a curious thing," said Ivor, and Warren nodded. Of course, neither he nor Ivor were in the same room; they had a Viddit connection up to communicate in real-time, but Warren was in Longwood and Ivor was in Beijing. It was very strange for them to be looking upon their mutual objective on one screen, talking with each other on another, and looking out the window to see the Harvard Medical School campus as well. Of course, Ivor didn't have quite that degree of complexity; it was nighttime in Beijing.

"How are the light sensors on the NASR holding up?" Ivor asked innocently. Oh, Ivor made Warren's blood boil. They had worked together on the Nanoscale Surgical Robot project for years, until Ivor had bolted for Tsinghua University and brought all the research with him. The Chinese government had funded Ivor to the gills, allowing him to jump light years ahead of the Harvard program which was still languishing in national grant limbo. Nobody needed to tell Ivor that his Blue Max was the superior creation, but he loved to hear people say it anyway.

"Sensors are nominal," said Warren, refusing to rise to the bait. In truth, the picture was far too grainy, and the resolution poorer than expected, but he wasn't about to admit that to Ivor. He concentrated instead on sharpening the picture as best he could of the objective – that structure of alien construction implanted in the brain of an unconscious astronaut, which lay on the far side of the brain's lateral fissure.

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It was dark, and cold, and Janosh couldn't move. He could wiggle his hands a bit, and he could breathe, but his limbs were imprisoned. The air he was breathing was stuffy and stale. Janosh struggled to remember where he was and why he was there. He started straining with his legs, trying to push his back against whatever was pinning him in place.

"Don't move," came Ispil's voice. "You'll bring the ice and the snow down on us."

Then Janosh remembered. He had rushed back into the ice cavern to rescue Ispil after the insane sorcerer had brought the roof down, but both he and Ispil had been caught in the resulting collapse. Ice and snow had buried the both of them alive. Ispil was still slung over Janosh's shoulder. There was some kind of air pocket in a void in front of Janosh, and both Janosh and Ispil had their faces in it; this alone helped explain why they were still alive.

"We need to do something, or we're going to suffocate in here," said Janosh.

"I know," said Ispil. He sounded more level-headed than usual, almost jovial. "We're going to die. I can see it. Did you know I can see the future?"

"No," said Janosh. He was suddenly keenly aware of the fact that he and Ispil were touching. Under other circumstances, Ispil would be planning to murder anybody who touched him.

"I can see images of the immediate future, clear as day. Sometimes I just feel them. Like, just before we came across the zombie mastodon, I felt needles stabbing into my brain. It's been my curse all my life."

"Oh," said Janosh. "What does death look like to you?"

"Oh, it's glorious," said Ispil, awestruck. "There's a very bright light, and I don't want to go to it, but then it comes for me and swallows me up, and I feel like I've been saved. Do you realize what this means, Janosh?"

"No," said Janosh, who was a lot more interested in figuring how he could dig for the surface instead of waiting for the afterlife.

"It means I'm not damned to an eternity of torment," said Ispil beatifically. "I've lived a bad life, because I've hated everything around me, but now I know that at the end, the world won't hate me back. There will be a place for me." Ispil sighed, and even patted Janosh's shoulder companionably. "The hate is just gone, Janosh. For once in my life, I don't hate everything."

Was Ispil crying? Janosh frowned. "Look," he said, "You may think we're going to die, but I think there's still a chance we can dig out of here. So if it's all the same to you…."

"Shhh!" hissed Ispil. "Did you hear that?"

Janosh listened. There was a scraping noise, insistent and continuous, coming from the direction Janosh judged was likely upward. Were they being rescued? Were the monsters digging them out to eat them? A thin shower of powdered ice rained down on Janosh's face, making him spit and blink.

"Here it comes!" cried Ispil beatifically. "Behold our eternal salvation!"

A blinding beam of light shone down on the both of them.

"Behold!" thundered Ispil.

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