Through the windshield, Dr. Nakamura watched a red blood cell race past. “Can’t this thing go any faster?”
Arthur, the submarine pilot, chanced a glance at the speedometer. “We’re already redlining.”
Nakamura forced himself to sit back, to steady his breathing. He shouldn’t have insisted on stopping to remove that clot, but the damage was done. Medicine was too often an exercise in choosing between bad and worse, but if they didn’t hit the exit port in time, a stroke was going to be the least of his patient’s worries. Now there was nothing he could do except trust Arthur to get them out.
Shrink ray tech was a double-edged sword, they all knew it. Nakamura had been one of the field’s foremost practitioners for close on a decade, but it still scared the hell out of him, and this was why. As a tool for interventions it was a medical miracle — less invasive than stitches, yet allowing for unparalleled surgical precision — but it was also a time bomb. Literally. If they weren’t out by the time the effects wore off…
“How long until expansion?” Nakamura asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
Arthur gave him a brief, harried look before checking the metrics on the console. “One minute fifteen seconds.”
Nakamura did some rough mental math. Then he double-checked it, hoping he was wrong.
“We’re not going to make it.”
“What? Sure we are,” Arthur said, but through a clenched jaw.
“No, we’re not. The port is halfway down the arm, and we’ve got to pass back through the heart first.”
Arthur gave the throttle a hopeful nudge, but it was already maxed. “So what do we do?”
Decision time. There were contingencies in place for such circumstances, but none of them were great. In fact, Nakamura hated them all, but he had to choose one.
“Turn the sub around.”
“Ha-ha very funny.”
Arthur’s expression now verged on panic. His hand hovered over the throttle but wouldn’t touch it, as if checking the heat coming off a stove top. “We’re about to hit the jugular, doc. If we turn around now we’ll be fighting some major traffic.”
Nakamura took another deep breath. “I know, but all we have to do is get to the sinuses. There’s no other way.”
Arthur yanked back on the throttle, throwing it all the way into reverse, then executed a tight one hundred eighty-degree turn. He punched it, but they didn’t start moving, not right away. There were regulatory programs in place for travelling “upstream,” and it took time to overcome the now opposing force of blood pressure bearing down upon them. The batteries hummed as they fought to get the sub back up to speed, the propellers cycling in sync with the rhythm of the patient’s heartbeats. Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, they started to move.
The jugular was the worst of it. Precious seconds ticked by as they struggled against the current, dodging pale, oxygen-deprived red blood cells making their way back to the heart. Every millimeter felt like a mile, but there was no viable alternative. The sub’s lasers could bust up the odd blood clot or fatty deposit, but they had nowhere near enough oomph to blast a hole through the walls of a major blood vessel, plus the many layers of skin tissue beyond.
The capillaries of the nose, however, were notoriously thin and led straight to a built-in orifice. It was their one shot at escape that didn’t involve turning the patient into hamburger.
“Turn here,” Nakamura said, indicating the opening of a tributary blood vessel. “What’s the time?”
Arthur banked as hard as he could while deftly avoiding a clump of white immune cells, then shot through the gap. “Kinda busy, doc. Look yourself.”
Nakamura did. He did not like what he saw. Forty-two seconds. Holy crap they were cutting it close. Only a few centimeters to go, though, and not having to battle against the main drag of the vein meant extra speed. On cue, Arthur throttled up until the propeller RPMs were once again redlining.
Time to prep for exit. Nakamura threw the intravascular map up as an overlay on the windshield so Arthur could follow the reroute himself, then activated the lasers. Using them would divert battery power, which would slow them down, so he would have to wait until the last moment to take his shot. Carefully he grasped the controls, one in each hand for the two mounted, articulating laser cannons, and pointed them dead ahead.
As slowly as those first few centimeters had gone, the last few raced by. All at once they’d come to the end of the line. The cabin was now flashing red, indicating the countdown timer was within the 30-second danger zone. Nakamura took aim at the vessel wall.
“On my mark,” Arthur shouted over the sirens. “Ready, set…”
Nakamura fired, cutting a neat, submarine-sized circle into the capillary wall, and less than a second later Arthur hit it like a battering ram, punching a hole clean through into the nasal cavity. The jolt was bone-jarring, but the sub was built to be knocked around, and now free of the cardiovascular system’s push and pull they could really crank the jets. With ten seconds to spare, Arthur flew them clear of the nostril and into open air.
They weren’t home free yet, though.
“TEN,” the on-board computer prompted. “NINE.”
“Bank left!” shouted Nakamura.
“If we’re still above him when expansion starts—”
“I know, I know!” Arthur shouted back, already throwing the ship into a barrel roll.
“We’re not going to make it!” Arthur screamed.
“Yes, we are!” Yet even as he said it, Nakamura could feel the tell-tale swelling sensation, like his body was a balloon about to pop. With an effort, he released the laser controls.
“We’re nearly there!”
They were both screaming now as space warped around them.
Thomas J. Griffin is a life-long fiction lover and sumo wrestling enthusiast. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee and writes out of an attic that could use more natural light. He is the editor of Flash Point SF and his own stories have appeared in such publications as Daily Science Fiction and Speculative North Magazine.