It only took just over six years to create the process, another five to build it.
Four robotics experts, a surgeon, a physicist — two, actually — some computer geniuses, a molecular biologist, an astronomer, of all things, three actual rocket scientists, a bunch of engineers. Lots of guys behind big computer screens. And me. The Department of Amalgamated Research and Practical Disciplines.
I’m a pilot.
They weeded out some submarine guys before they got to the pilots.
I wish they’d stuck with the submarine guys.
The idea had been around for years. In fact, the story goes the whole thing was dreamed up by a couple of MIT and Harvard department heads over too many cocktails and a screening of Fantastic Voyage.
The brilliant part, they always said, was not in achieving miniaturization, that the ability and the technology had always been there — the hard part was bringing the technologies together to try something new.
Nearly eleven years later, they had it.
After they moved it from the university setting to the secure site at the Air Force base, I spent the better part of a year practicing on a simulator. It was a lot like a plane, but designed to do a lot more hovering. Someone compared it to a nimble moon rover.
And the plan was a lot like the moon landing. Shrink down to about the size of a small seed, fly a few feet (that’s real-size; it’d be almost a couple of miles for me), land, grab a sample, and then zap back up.
I knew something was wrong nearly the second they did it.
In the simulation, I knew what to look for — lots of white light from the lab, and then several bright, primary colors painted to orient me, give me a sense of where I was. They were eighth of an inch strips of primary colors painted about a foot across under the ship, but once I was sized down, they’d be on either side of me, each going into the horizon from my view.
They hit the switch, there was an electric crackle, and all I could see was hazy white out the window. I felt myself drifting, and then I saw nothing but blue. No other colors, not even close.
I was too small.
I had an override button to lock the ship into place, which was step one. Step two was to try communications. I heard some pops and whistles, but nothing over the headset. I didn’t know if they could hear me.
And then I saw the green, off in the distance.
I was going up. Fast.
It only worried me a little because the vents were closed-filtered — not much was getting in our out but heavily filtered air. I’d get trapped in a filter, they’d scan it and find me. No big deal.
Then the communications kicked in.
“Mike,” some screeches and fuzz. “Mike, you copy?”
It was Doc, an astrophysicist named Rich Torkelstien. About as smart a guy as you could hope to meet.
“Right here, Doc. What the hell happened?”
“You okay, Mike?”
I didn’t like the sound of his voice.
“Good, Doc. I’m okay. A little disoriented, maybe, but good.” The ship was still floating up. I could see more colors laid out before me, like the square and rectangle fields you see when you look out the airplane window at 30,000 feet.
I figured I’d try again. “You want to tell me what’s going on, Doc?”
Silence for a moment on the other end, and I thought I lost them.
“Mike, the generators kicked in for some reason right when we hit the ignition switch, and we got almost double the power.”
Silence for a minute. He didn’t sound good.
“Mike we think you might be considerably smaller than originally planned.”
Now I waited a second. “Just how small, Doc?”
“We’re figuring to have at least doubled the power… that means you may have doubled just how small you are. Umm… maybe more. We don’t know yet.”
Now I was starting to freak out. Which is saying something, because a large part of the criteria for this job was keeping cool under pressure. A sky full of Iraqi ground-to-air rockets, no big deal. This? This was fucked up.
I knew I was supposed to be the size of a mustard seed, more or less. Roughly two milligrams. Roughly one-twentieth of an inch. Visible to the naked eye. And now I was less than a milligram. Maybe a lot less.
“Mike,” I heard the radio squawk more, and start to whine. I was going to lose the signal. “We’re scanning like hell. We… can’t find you.”
That was the last I heard from them. Three days ago.
The best I can figure is I was carried out, probably on a finger, since it was yellow and smooth for a long time around me, and anyone in the lab had to wear latex gloves. By the end of the day, I was outside. Even at smaller than a microgram — which I figured I had to be, given my orientation to the world — I could see the bright sunshine and the wind carried me pretty far.
So, where’d I end up. It looks a lot like paradise, but I’m sure it’s the park outside the base, past the gate, not all that far from the lab. The worst has been a lizard that looked like a dinosaur on steroids. This morning, I climbed out of the ship and was face to face with a three-story flea.
Last night, a moth fluttered around and nearly launched me out of the grass. Two days, and there’s been some kind of beast to contend with every few hours.
Am I going to ever make it back home? I really don’t know. At this point, I just want to survive the night.
© 2016 by Benjamin J. Kirby
All rights reserved.
Originally published at terribleminds for a flash fiction challenge.