Six twenty-somethings receive emails telling them their city, Poznań, is about to meet its Ragnarök, and they have been chosen as the city’s guardians. Most of them, however, don’t take the emails seriously as they have bigger things on their plate.

Mietek is preoccupied by sudden disappearance of his boyfriend, Kazik, and isn’t that much bothered by black squares levitating over Poznań until they start to grow like the amoeba from the 8-bit game Boulder Dash, devouring the city.

Cieszynka, after an ugly break-up with her boyfriend Staszek, wakes up in a house composed of countless floors and occupied by jellyfish. She lives a safe and uneventful life until she meets a man through a sex chat and becomes obsessed with the notion that he lives in the same building.

Mirka falls into a coma and finds herself in a homestead haunted by plastic dummies. Her devastated boyfriend Przemek builds a bathyscaphe he saw in a dream, then shrinks it to microscopic size (himself included) and has it injected into Mirka’s bloodstream. He embarks on a mission to save her.

heart mighty power
(fragment of the novel “Nocturine”)

Packed in a super-equipped, multifunctional vehicle, shrunken down to micro-size and injected straight into your artery, I sailed on a mission to save you.

I was in an enormous, softly lined, pink tube, rapid currents pushed the vehicle forwards, it was dark, the searchlights cut through plasma, revealing translucent bodies of blood cells, fibrous forms, everything was in movement, I thought about you and only about you, with each contraction the swoosh of plasma grew unbearably loud, my ears rang, and the currents got faster.

The vehicle somersaulted, I couldn’t manoeuvre, the currents were too fast, red blood cells kept hitting the vehicle’s walls, the white ones opalised slightly in the headlights, soft shreds of thrombocytes floated by, I was surrounded by the warmth of your body, thought about the day you had moved in and about me cursing that I had to carry all your stuff up to the tenth floor, and I was angry at you for sitting in classes like that, while I had to take a day off, after you came home, I prepared dinner for you, and then we made love on the floor.

The vehicle hit something, everything shook, I rushed straight towards the artery wall, a collision cushioned by epithelial cells, and a minute later I was sailing again along the softly lined vessel, admiring your inner landscapes, blood cells floated by, contractions pushed the plasma, one fork after another, the current grew weaker, I finally managed to even out the vehicle’s path, extended small engines on its sides, it almost stopped fishtailing, the vessels were thinner and thinner.

Finally, I reached the network of softly lined capillaries, and each such capillary was full of densely packed red blood cells, they shifted slightly with every movement of tissues, so I had to pull out, from the vehicle’s sides, six telescoping arms, and like an insect with its legs, I started to move, pushing slightly against springy membranes of the erythrocytes and epithelial cells.

I turned the music on, decided that the song “Oh, How the Boat Drifts” would fit the occasion, I was proud of myself that inside the bathyscaphe I had installed a CD player from my car, just needed to slightly modify the vehicle’s plan, a plan which had come to me in a dream and which I’d remembered in every detail, while building the vehicle, I was astounded I could remember so many details, it was as if the plan of the bathyscaphe had been written into my brain from birth, and I’d only recalled it in the dream.

I thought of you again, of your skin, bright hair, of the last time I had seen you, you were still asleep as I was heading to work, I kissed you on your back and left, and then this call that you’d collapsed during classes, then the hospital, white hospital light, waiting for your parents and sister.

Through the translucent capillary wall I could see your body’s cavity, it was dark, yet neuron endings flashed at synapses once in a while, muscular fibres contracted, amoeboid cells moved by, I missed you at that moment.

A huge, transparent lymphocyte sneaked slowly by the vehicle, its cell membrane as if of satin, it rubbed against the vehicle’s insect arms, and I was worried they’d get broken, but nothing happened, and I kept taking steps with the vehicle’s legs, and arduously moved forwards, and finally, when the lumen of the capillary was wide enough, retracted the arms and pulled out an engine at the back.

I started the engine, too much power, rushed rapidly forwards, somersaulted, got pushed into a dark vein.

+ + + + +

Deeper and deeper inside you, surrounded by layers and layers of tissues, which I couldn’t see but knew were there, because before I embarked on this mission, I had learnt your body by heart, I recalled a dream about black cubes, which were growing to form a huge black solid over the city, I didn’t know what that dream could mean.

I was moving slowly upwards, storey by storey, from valve to valve, the current was weak in there, so I started additional engines and gently, saving the fuel, helped myself climb upwards, with each moment the thumping of your heart grew louder.

I went past another valve and came face to face with a huge monocyte, which had emerged from among the red blood cells, it had a moving, rippling coating that shone in the headlights, the monocyte extended its pseudopodia towards me, I wanted to steer clear of it, but in a fraction of a second it became obvious that the confrontation was inevitable.

It was ten times the size of my vehicle, I pulled out a small laser cannon from the top, a moment for the batteries to charge, I fired, through the plasma burst a yellow string of light, I missed.

The monocyte extended its pseudopodia towards me, it took a moment for the batteries to recharge, I fired once more, once again a yellow string of light, red blood cells, thrombocytes on the vessel’s grey walls, the monocyte was closer and closer, I missed again, slightly burnt your epithelium, the monocyte’s pseudopodia already around the vehicle, it took a moment for the batteries to recharge, I fired, this time the yellow string of light hit straight into the monocyte’s membrane, burnt through it, shot through the cytoplasm and came out on the other side of the gelatinous body.

The cytoplasm started to leak out, still, the monocyte kept crawling towards me, I finally pulled out a grenade launcher, tried to evade the pseudopodia, used up too much fuel for manoeuvring, a thump sounded, and a grenade swept through the viscous clouds to sink deep in the monocyte’s body, then I fired another one, with all the engines’ power I rushed upwards.

A powerful double explosion, for the blink of an eye your heart froze, a powerful shock wave in the plasma, which jolted the vehicle and tossed it against the vessel wall, everywhere around hung shreds of the monster’s cytoplasm, I finally managed to regain control over the bathyscaphe, there was nothing left of the monocyte but organic remains.

I needed some time to cool down, blood cells all around, I changed the record, listened to songs, “My Body Is a Cage,” or maybe that song wasn’t yet released, sailed upwards, faster and faster, an increasingly loud pounding, the current gained power, the vein had become really wide by now, I knew that in a moment I would find myself in your heart.

I was caught in a whirlpool, found myself in enormous, pulsating spaces, a terribly loud pounding, which moved vast volumes of the blood, I could see red blood cells hurled with great force down the atrium, I was tossed about so violently I had to hide all protracting devices inside the bathyscaphe, I got pressed, along with the plasma and everything that was suspended in it, straight into the ventricle, here the spaces even greater, I could see nothing of the distant, fleshy walls, just as if I was falling into an ocean trench or some other immense geological formation, the blood around compressed tightly, a buzzing noise in my ears, I was afraid the vehicle’s pane would break, but nothing happened, I was pushed upwards into the pulmonary artery.

+ + + + +

Strong currents, I glided straight ahead for a long time, the pink walls were pulsating, I started the engines, trying to slow down, but it didn’t help much, blood cells kept hitting against the vehicle’s walls, flashing by the portholes, but at last I slowly began to lose speed, and the artery started to fork and get narrower in all its branches.

In the lungs it was semi-dark, it was one of the few places in your body that were reached by some daylight, a space that stretched for kilometres from my perspective, filled by transparent, soft sacks, which slightly shrunk and relaxed with each breath.

I drilled slightly into the membrane of the vessel because I needed to replenish my oxygen supply and stayed motionless like that for a long time, listening to music, looking at the alveolar spaces, at that moment I felt I really missed you and wanted to be able to touch you, not only from the inside using all those devices pulled out from the vehicle, I wanted you to forgive me all my infidelities, which you must have been aware of, to let me off for that evening when I went to her place, and we drank wine, and that weekend when you went to your parents.

When the oxygen tanks were full, I gently detached myself and let the blood flow lead me to a vein, and then back to the heart, to the darkness again, again to those vast spaces, blood cells hitting against the vehicle, a buzzing noise in my ears at each contraction, the atrium, the ventricle, like going down a slide, only upwards, straight to the aorta.

+ + + + +

Tossed into the aorta, I found my location on an electronic map to make sure which branch I should take to get to the brain, ’cause I knew everything depended on it, ’cause one false move and all would be in vain.

I made it, took the right branch, all around there were still blood cells, lymphocytes, fibrous forms, arterial landscapes, the current pushed me swiftly upwards, the pounding of the heart grew weaker and weaker, I rushed towards your marvellously woven brain, because there, I knew that from a dream, raved a merciless monster, the fast currents lifted me up.

Suddenly I was trapped in a cage of a forming clot, fibres around me curled like steel-wire ropes, I wanted to escape, but couldn’t manage, the clot grew denser and denser, more and more fibres, which entrapped platelets and red blood cells, and my vehicle among them, I pulled out the cannon, aimed at the fibres, helped myself with the circular saw on a boom, more and more fibres like steel-wire ropes, platelets, I cut the fibres with the saw, burnt them through with lasers, sparks were shooting off, I finally shot a grenade right into the middle of the clot, and there was an explosion, organic shreds went in all directions, and I was flung into the dark currents of plasma.

I was moving inertly upwards, the searchlights dimmed down for a moment, I was afraid that the batteries would die, I remembered my birthday, you hadn’t lived at my place yet and had come to me with a present, and we’d drunk wine together, talked about rubbish, about what had happened to us that day, outside the window we had the city and tramways.

One fork after another, narrowing arterioles, I finally stopped in front of a dense, absolutely tight wall of cells, it separated me from millions of neurons woven into this gigantic formation, in which all your fears were kept, all urges, thoughts, reflexes, all memories, also those of me, in which the merciless monster raved, the enormous robot resembling a marine animal, I had dreamt of this robot many times.

I knew this was the moment to use my power, I suspected that all previous events had led to this point, I had eyes that could see in the dark and a body that felt no tiredness, I turned the music off, in the middle of “Where I End And You Begin,” felt a tingling sensation run down my nerves and closed my eyes.

+ + + + +

Found myself in a vast space filled with cerebrospinal fluid, entangled neurons stretched endlessly, their bodies, axons and dendrites, and between them various amoeboid cells were floating, it sparked at synapses.

I pulled out the vehicle’s insect legs to carefully move around the neural networks, taking care not to get entangled in any of the grey, glistening strings, very slowly, saving the fuel and energy as much as I could, I moved farther and farther into your brain, struggling through the grey thicket, lights were shining all around, with each moment I was more afraid I was going to fuck this all up, that it was not going to work, I thought about you all the time, minute after minute passed, hour after hour.

Suddenly a shock, I saw sparkles and one of the arms was torn off and floating outside a porthole, I didn’t know what was happening, made a sudden turn, up above, in the tangle of neurons, the steel body of the robot shimmered, I saw sparkles, another sudden turn.

The steel body shimmered, a hundred times the size of my bathyscaphe, it had dozens of flexible octopus-like arms, which were also of steel, which consisted of thousands of identical segments, it had torpedo launchers and, in the body, a black hole fringed with rows of sharp, rotating teeth, it was in that hole that your neurons vanished, piece by piece, I didn’t know what to do, breathed quickly, a trickle of sweat ran down my temple.

Torpedoes in my direction.

They glided towards me at full speed, a rain of torpedoes coming closer, the torpedoes tore dendrites into pieces, I managed to dodge them, pulled out the cannon, you needed to wait for the batteries to charge, the torpedoes tore the living network, I fired, the laser beam missed the target, and the steel robot with the octopus-like arms and the black hole fired more torpedoes in my direction, I rushed upwards at full power, fired again, missed once more.

The robot’s belly opened, and from inside came an army of small, insect-like nanorobots, quickly moving their metal legs, they reached me in an instant, tore off the laser cannon, devastated the saw on a boom before I managed to retract it, I felt it was over, thought about you, running out of fuel, unable to duck the nanorobots, they attacked me with a huge swarm, hit against the vehicle, the light died down for a moment and I could only hear you breathe in the darkness, I was afraid the pane would break and the thick fluid would engulf me, and I would drown here in you, drown here in you.

With the last reserves of power, I rushed forwards as fast as I could, my head was filled with various images, lunch for work, suppers for two, waiting for you at a tram stop, with each moment I was closer to the steel robot, a robot which resembled a marine animal with an infinite number of flexible, wriggling arms.

I pulled out the grenade launcher, ducked the arms that tried to entangle me, nanorobots attacked my vehicle, a rain of torpedoes in my direction, there wasn’t much chance, but as I steered right next to the black hole with hundreds of moving teeth, I fired the launcher and, straight in the middle of the hole, sent a series of grenades.

An explosion.

Metal parts blasted off in all directions, many neurons were gone, leaving nothing but shreds, my bathyscaphe moved at great speed, pushed by a shock wave, a rain of metal chips.

+ + + + +

I opened my eyes, the dust was slowly settling, the turbulent depths were growing calm, metal and organic remains were covering shiny neurons, I couldn’t believe what I saw.

It will take some time for the rift to heal, for all neural connections to rebuild, I was aware of that, but you will, eventually, wake from this deep sleep, and I will have a chance to see you once more.

Trying not to use too much fuel, I steered towards the layers enclosing the vast volumes of fluid inside the brain, it took me several dozen minutes, I listened to music, and when I finally got there, I closed my eyes only to find myself, after lifting my eyelids, in one of the narrow capillaries.

I let the lazy currents push me until I reached a vein, I was exhausted, a dark space in front of me, red blood cells, leukocytes, valve after valve, I moved towards the heart, thought that maybe if I got through the system of arterioles, as close as I could to the skin, I would manage to pass outside your body.

The batteries died for a moment, and the light dimmed down, I grew cold, in spite of the warm plasma around, sailed through the heart, then an artery and its subsequent, ever-narrower branches, the light finally went out, the headlights died down, and I sailed in the darkness, pushed by one contraction after another, I had eyelids as if of lead and could only hear the swoosh of the blood and blood cells hitting against the vehicle, the fuel light was blinking, I thought about that evening when we’d gone out, walked to some restaurant, past some buildings, past some shops, watching trams go by.

The air was running low.

About the Author

Lukasz Drobnik

Lukasz Drobnik is a Cracow-based Polish writer, the author of two novellas, “Nocturine” and “Cunninghamella”, published in one volume in 2011 (Forma), and of shorter prose featured in Lighthouse (UK) and in several Polish literary journals (e.g. Lampa, Rita Baum, Dwutygodnik, Dodatek Literacki, Wyspa, Fabularie).