Wilderness - JP

Word Association.

Before long, all the wild lands had been paved over and there was no place left to walk or hunt or build. The land became clogged with houses, the sky grew dark as we built upward, and a man could only get the thrill of true nature in the virtual world. Then someone realized that a whole enormous, pristine biosphere rested undisturbed literally right beneath our noses. It was a beautiful day for the outdoorsmen.          

“Miniaturization, Chuck,” Tom Barryman told me. “That’s the wave of the future. Exploring the world within.”           

“Like The Fantastic Voyage?” I asked.            

“Sure,” he said. “Get your gun.”           

I have to admit, I was a little nervous about the process. Still, I hadn’t had a real thrill since Tom and I shot the last wild grizzly; back then, we were still young men, each just made our first billion. I can still remember the roaring of the beast, the beeping of the tractors tearing down trees around us, clearing the land for a new housing development (Tom’s, I think), even as we brought it down. It had been awhile, and I itched for a new challenge.          

I never met our host; Tom did, found him boring, so I declined. Some middle-aged fellow, living somewhere in the endless fields of subdivisions and urban sprawl that carpeted the world, doing some damn useless job in some faceless office building. I didn’t care for the type. The shrinking process only took a few minutes, and gave me a powerful feeling of vertigo.            

“All right, we’re in,” Tom said. “Watch the macrophages, and try not to get caught in the blood stream.”         

We had arrived in a vein, a nice slow-moving river of red blood cells. The ship bobbed along with the current, drifting gently as we put on our wet suits and scuba gear. A few compliment molecule rattled against the hull, but the smooth steel offered them no purchase.           

“Watch yourself,” Tom told me, sliding his goggles down over his eyes. “This ship oughtta be pretty safe, but we aren’t the same. Can’t spend too long out there.”           

We strapped ourselves tight to the ship and entered the flow. Erythrocites the size of buildings slipped past, with the shattered remnants that are platelets drifting between them. Tom motioned, and I followed his gaze to where a herd of bacteria grazed peacefully on a dying cell. I raised my speargun, but Tom stopped me, pointing again just past the herd.           

A huge white mass lurked in orbit of the infected cell, moving slowly closer and pulsating. Tom tapped my arm, moved his hands far apart, then together again, pressing the palms together and moving his fingers in and out like jaws. Big eater           

As we watched, the macrophage enveloped the cell, slipping out a thin pseudopod to snatch a fleeing bacterium. In seconds, the infection had been completely devoured. And it would do the same to us, if it found us.            

We spent awhile floating along in the gentle current, bagging a few viruses and the odd bacterium, and pretty soon our trophies filled our little vessel, legs hanging limply from protein sheaths, bacilli gleaming a deep-green orange in the thin light of the ship’s interior.            

“It’s been a while since we’ve had anything to hang on the wall that didn’t disappear when you took off the VR goggles,” I said. “Almost makes you wish we hadn’t built all those subdivisions, don’t it?”           

Tom shrugged. “People gotta live some place,” he said. And I guess he was right.           

We had just decided to turn back and head home when the flow suddenly quickened. I looked out the port window; the thin, loose cells of the vein wall seemed to be growing stiffer, firmer. We were caught in a whirlpool, and there was only one explanantion.         

“The heart!” Tom yelled. “Damn, this is gonna be one hell of a ride!”        

The best way to describe it is like being caught in a washing machine that squeezes you. We were through in a second, but it was a second too long; erythrocytes slammed into us, popping free a panel from the ship’s smooth exterior.          

“Sonofabitch!” I shouted as we moved into the pulmonary arteries. Our lazy river was a gushing torrent, and to make things worse, the loose panel provided just what those compliment molecules needed to get a hold on us. They began tearing into the ship, grating against the metal.           

Tom ran to the controls, jump starting the motor and steering us toward the arterial wall. The ship ripped off a section of cholesterol plaque from the narrowed passage, but couldn’t gain purchase.          

“Goddammit, you french-fry eating fuck!” Tom screamed. I could see the big eaters closing in. If we didn’t get out soon, we would soon find ourselves occupying a cozy little vacuole on the fast track to digestion.          

At last, the cholesterol gave way to clean artery wall, and the ship’s legs dug in.           

“Dive, dive!” I screamed. The hull whined as the complement molecules slammed their molecular drills against the metal. We held on tight as the ship tore through the last bit of fascia and shot out into the emptiness of the ceolial cavity. The big eaters moved quickly through the tissue after us, but it slowed them down enough for me to get out the ship, clear off the complement and shear free the offending panel with a few quick whacks of a welding laser. Soon, we were smooth, impenetrable metal again, and just in time. The phages were upon us, but without their complement beacons, we slipped on past into the body cavity.         

Back inside, Tom was staring through the porthole out at the great vacant expanse of the liver.            

“Do you see what I see?” he asked.           

“Yeah,” I said. “A vacant lot.”           

And so that’s how we solved the housing crisis. Now I live in an arteriole, a cozy little corner away from the rest of civilization, right next to the gut. A more fascinating hunting ground, I could not ask for. Tom lives in the left kidney, and occasionally he comes over for a hunt. Humanity is now a series of nested Russian dolls, with those wealthy enough to afford the privilege literally living off those who can’t. Of course, all the wilderness is paved over again, but that’s the price of progress, I guess.