OPTICA #18

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Jonquil used her watch to make an airtight helmet membrane that would at least protect her nose, mouth and eyes from the garbage water. She wouldn’t be able to breathe while wearing it, of course. “My record is two minutes, by the way,” she told Aliza. “For holding my breath, I mean.”

“Because I’m worried about you, I’ll spare you the comment I want to make.”

“Thank you. You done yet?”

Aliza grunted. “Maybe. You’re gonna get a request in a second, accept it and we’ll see how it goes.”

Sure enough, her watch buzzed. “You have received a priority message from Alizarin Fete,” it read. “It contains a potentially malicious download. Do not accept priority messages from accounts you do not recognize.

Jonquil tapped accept. And her eyes turned off.

“Well?” she asked, trying to keep the terror out of her voice in favor of impatience. “Did it work?”

“I… believe it did, yes! I can see the room you’re in and… yep, I can apply infrared too. Okay, you ready to swim?”

Jonquil tightened her jacket and took several deep breaths. “You’ll guide me verbally through this,” she said. “I’m placing my life in your hands here, Aliza. Don’t fuck it up.” She put the air bubble on over her head, then stepped forward to plunge into the abyss.

Jonquil could feel the sticky, grimy water clinging to her jacket, seeping into her pants and coat, soaking her in its oily embrace. She swam methodically, following Aliza’s instructions- things like “you’re too high, swim down,” or “take a left,” or “oh Sapiens, what is that? Never mind, I don’t want to know.”

The seconds went by with agonizing slowness. This was probably the worst thing she had ever done- the only redeeming bit was that she didn’t have time to dwell on it.

But it ended. Everything ended if you gritted your teeth and beared it for long enough.

“There, 122,” Aliza said in her ear. “Swim up and slightly to the right, then follow the curvature of the ceiling.” Jonquil probed above her until she found the opening, then swam up to the surface. Pulling the air bubble off, Jonquil greedily sucked down air- not caring that the air was fetid and rotten.

She still couldn’t see a thing, but gradually the world settled around her to the point that she was able to pull herself out of the tub. Her clothes were heavy with wastewater, so she stripped off her jacket and bunched it up under her arm. “I don’t suppose you’d help pay for a new outfit?” she asked, choking back the urge to vomit.

“No chance, Diakon. I’m gonna try to give you your vision back now…” Several moments of silence. “Ooh. Well, the good news is that I know a good surgeon for prosthetic eyes.”

“Aliza.”

“Just kidding! Here you go.” Jonquil’s vision returned all at once, and she staggered forward a step from the rush. After a moment, she regained herself.

The sooner this was over, the better. “You get a glimpse inside with the infrared?” Jonquil muttered, creeping closer to the door.

“Yep. Four of them in there, all packing. Do you want me to send you a message for them? A warning or something?”

Jonquil checked the propulsor and found that the green light was still on- that meant it was operational. The particle disruptor on the other hand, ugly even when clean, was obviously jammed. That was bad: the propulsor was a non-lethal instrument with a short range. The disruptor was an all-too-deadly weapon that would tilt the odds in her favor.

But just because she knew the disruptor wasn’t working didn’t mean everyone else did. “I have a message for ’em,” Jonquil said. “‘Show me how to say, ‘stay down’.’”

She creaked the door open.

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