Chronicles of Chiron: Defragging Data Haven | Scene 4

I show up for dinner freshly showered and shaved, changed into clean clothes, and glad to be back in slacks. My vest is barren; I still need to find a plant that’s acceptable to wear as a boutonniere inside clean spaces like Data Haven. The cafeteria here has long tables with benches, and I make my way through them to the people I know best. Most of those I pass are eating ration packs, but Chloe has a couple bush bugs out in front of her. Few others are brave enough to try some; mainly the Data Haven inhabitants stick to the fare brought by Unity. I hear some grumbling about portion sizes being smaller than they were six months ago.

“You’d think that they’d get the concept of ration,” I hear Cleve mutter to Roze as I sit down near them. He takes a bite of bush bug, and I try some, too. The flavor is distinctive and quite strong. I’d say astringent and nutty, but Cleve calls it gamey. 

I encourage those around me to give this new food a try. If people are disappointed at their ration sizes, then supplementing with local fare seems wise. Chloe and Dr. Citali were already eating it, but at my prodding Roze and Cor try some as well. Cor likes it, but that should be no surprise given that she’s complained about the taste of Earth food. As for Roze, they really do have influence around here; when people see Roze eating bush bug, a few more break off small chunks to taste it. And those that don’t, well, at least they stop fussing about their meal.

Chloe hasn’t dressed the bush bug in any way, just microwaved it. There isn’t much in the way of kitchen facilities around here. “Might be better roasted,” Cleve says.

“Or a soup? That would make it go further,” I suggest.

“Yeah, soup could do that. Get more nutrients out of the rest of it.” Cleve nods to himself. “Maybe throw in some vegetables. Those shroomnuts, yeah. With a little bit of spices, you could make a real go of it.”

“Are you also a chef?” Chloe asks him.

“Uh, no. I mean, I cooked on the farm. With a soup, you could get the nutrients—I’m assuming mushrooms have nutrients here?” He looks at Dr. Citali, uncertain.

“You don’t mean xenofungus?” Chloe asks. “Do you know how to process that?” She also turns to the local expert.

“We know there are nutrients in xenofungus,” Dr. Citali says. “But they’re locked away chemically in a way that makes it a little difficult for humans to process. Shroomnuts, though, those you can absolutely eat.”

Cleve is game to try to improve this meal. All he needs is a big pot and a fire. The idea of setting that up outside makes people nervous. Smoke could give away Data Haven’s location, but also people are just afraid of outside in general. So Cleve makes an attempt inside. Tenoch provides the heat source, an over-sized Bunsen burner-turned-hot plate that singes Cleve a bit as he gets the soup going. 

All the bush bug remnants go in, as well as a ridiculous amount of chili powder. It’s one of the few spices on hand in Data Haven. Roze explains that this module of Unity had the right climate control settings for chili powder, so that’s why there are tubs of it here. If the ship had landed properly, different modules would have shared out the various spices they were transporting. Obviously, that did not happen. “We’ve all gotten tired of it,” Roze says. “If you want any of it, all the more power to you. Take as much as you want.”

“Actually, yes,” Cleve says eagerly. And not just for the sake of the soup. “Anything with eyes does not like chili powder thrown at it,” he says. Leave it to Cleve to weaponize something as innocent as a seasoning.

“I’m not surprised,” Roze says with a grin. “You never change, Cleve. You want some bags to go with? So you can throw it in people’s faces?” Of course he does.

The bush bug soup is pretty good. With the chili powder, the flavor is now a mix of familiar and exotic. There’s salt and pepper, too, since the ration packs come with them and they’re not always used at the time. Cleve thinks bush bug jerky could work; if people only taste the chili powder and the salt, they might find it more tolerable. “Just a little bit of something different to eat,” he says. “But don’t rub your eyes after you touch it.”

Cleve’s worried about more than flavor though. He’s got experience with cattle, which includes tanning hides and salting beef. If he’s going to get involved in hunting around here, then that will include preserving the meat in a similar fashion since there’s not much refrigeration space available. He’ll need more salt than these tiny packets hold. I take my leave while he and Dr. Citali are discussing the location of nearby salt deposits.

I was supposed to talk to her tonight, but honestly, my head is not in the right space for that. There are a lot of things I’m uncomfortable with right now—blown-up factories, what problems my unusual medical situation might cause—but highest on that list is the thought of lying down tonight in my pitch-dark underground bedroom. It wasn’t as big a deal those first nights here, but memories of my childhood accident are fresh in my mind now, thanks to that vial of briar-beast-controlling pheromones. I’ve spent my whole life living in a city. It was never completely dark. There was always some light from street lamps or neon-tube ads coming through the window at night. It’s a subtle thing, but it cues me that I’m above ground and safe. I know how I’m feeling right now isn’t rational. I’m perfectly safe down here in Data Haven; the floor is not going to suddenly give out under me. But humans aren’t always rational, and part of dealing with them is addressing that. That’s how you manipulate people into making a sale. And it’s how I’ll manipulate myself into getting to sleep tonight.

So I return to my room now and start cracking open the paints. It’s time to make my fake window. I work with my door open so I don’t overwhelm myself with fumes, and occasionally someone wanders by and comments on my progress and how Data Haven could use this in other spaces. One even asks me to put something like this in their room. It’s reassuring to hear I might have more ways to contribute around here than I’d thought, but they’re more impressed with my work than I am right now. I’m used to working with pencil on paper, where I have more fine-tuned control. And I primarily do sketches of small things in isolation—a customer in a coffee shop, a passenger on the metro, a mushroom on Chiron. Here I have paint on a wide vertical surface and need to deal with perspectives and larger-scale composition. It turns out sloppier than I would like, just blobs and streaks of paint rather than what I see in my mind’s eye. I was aiming for a view of a Chiron sunset from a promontory, looking out at the rivers of dazzling reds and purples that are the xenofungus corridors. What I get is… well, more impressionistic, I suppose. It’s better than nothing, though.

I mount a rod above the painting and slip on some fabric for curtains. I attach the lights Tenoch let me have and fiddle with them, trying to get that late night LA vibe. I never thought I’d miss anything about that city, but right now, I do. After a while, I accept that I have no idea what I’m doing. With the curtains partially pulled, I at least have something other than complete darkness in here. And I’m tired enough now to be satisfied with that.