The mud was webbed with cyclops-roots, red and thick and deep. The freshest ones lay at the top, tiny tendrils worming towards their forebears. The triple-cyclops flit between the gaps in the network with astonishing speed and grace, coiling and flattening its body to make sharp tight turns in the muck. The stolen antenna of The Inspector trailed behind it, tickling the roots as they passed.
As they dove deeper the roots grew thicker while the mud degraded into a translucent blue plasm. Maebel was surprised to find she could breathe it in, the warm gel steadying her heartbeat as it slurped in and out of her lungs. Eventually the triple-cyclops slowed its descent, until they were suspended at the tip of a massive tendril.
Three eyes looked on her expectantly as the root wiggled deeper into the plasm. Maebel tilted her head downward, or her best guess as to downward, towards the endless blue expanse the roots invaded. They could have been six feet away from the bottom of the world, or sixty-thousand leagues. There was no way to tell.
Perhaps she should have felt some fear, then. Nothing in the Grief Pod had ever prepared her for this. She was past the world of things she knew. She was past the world of things in general, an articulate invader in a formless world. One by one she tested her knuckles, bending them each one at a time, then her elbow, then her knees, then the full circumference of her neck.
She heard several small pops, all buried deep inside her.
The triple-cyclops wrapped around her then, tilting her head gently towards the root nearby. She reached out with both hands. The tip was a red so deep it was nearly black, its surface etched with a bark like callus. She bent her chin and nibbled. The skin cracked easily between her teeth, purple sap rolling into her mouth.
Her ears tickled and crept open. There was singing. She touched her throat but it was still, just as the cyclops-flesh was still against her back. No song came from the ancient root, only the sap that washed over her tongue. Her skin tingled, and she laughed as it, too heard. The plasm itself was singing, and she was nestled in its music.
The plasmelody traveled up the root, through the mud, and back down to her hand. It reverberated back to her in degraded form, stunted by the grey muck overhead. Nothing reached the freshest roots except for bits and snatches, eddies in a fuzzy sea. She pat the pouch of eyeballs on her belt. It bobbed and quivered as its contents swam inside. Her hands had cast them in shallow soil and amputated their ears.
Maebel untied the bag. Tiny eyeballs swarmed around her, chirping fast and stroking her skin. Their roots wiggled frenetically, super-charged by the mainlined plasm. Soon they had dug their roots around her fingers, along each tooth and in her nostrils. She felt no fear. “Please,” she whispered through a mouth of tender vines. The triple-cyclops wrapped around her legs, and they all drank deep the song.
They shot back to the surface in a perfect line through the only continuous gap in the root system. Maebel balled her fists as they launched through plasm, mud and air, into the open space above the golden-based pillar of salt. Cyclopes teemed below, marching towards the Shredder-Men. The Shredder-Men carried dark contraptions with steel teeth. The cyclopes would feed into one end, and occasionally an Inspector would throw in a bag of Digested Hauler. Out the other end spat eyeballs, red roots not yet solid.
The Shredder-Men dumped the eyeballs into pouches and handed them off to the Inspectors, who’d tighten the straps of their penitents before prancing back to the Complex. The Shredder-Men and Inspectors looked only at their work. The cyclopes looked to the top of the pillar, where Maebel and the others stood.
Maebel opened her mouth, singing plasmelodic. A crack thundered beneath her feet as the cyclopes swarm joined in. Giant chunks of salt rained down on the Shredder-Men and the pillar split in two. It rushed away beneath her feet, yet her journey down was gentle.