Chronicles of Chiron: Excising Arx | Scene 13

Two tall and solid orderlies escort me to the second floor and down the hall. They pause at a door, and one of them unlocks it with the rough announcement, “Hey, you got a visitor!” I’m allowed to go in for a private conversation. An orderly closes the door behind me, but I don’t hear anyone move on. Clearly their purpose is to keep anyone without authorization from leaving.

Arx in person, much like on the video footage I saw, is short and pale. Dark roots are beginning to show against the sky blue of the rest of their short hair. They wear typical hospital scrubs with a scratchy-looking bathrobe over them. Right now, they’re reclined in bed with an IV drip hooked to one arm and a bedframe to the other. The bruises on their freckled face and forearms are faded, but they’re too fresh to be from the first network node job. I suspect Arx has had some run-ins with the orderlies. Hopefully we can get out of here without any more of that.

The room itself is plain, simpler even than any hospital room I’ve spent time in. Given the bruises on its occupant and the leather cuff confining them to their bed, I imagine anything that could possibly be a weapon or a tool has been taken out of here. I expect Yushi’s room is better appointed. It might still have barred windows though, like this one does.

“Am I supposed to know you?” Arx says, looking me up and down.

I step farther into the room, away from the door and closer to them. From the pocket of my blazer, I pull a circuit board, Takuto’s talisman.

Arx’s eyes go wide. “Where did you get that?” they demand, more alert now.

“I’m a friend of Takuto.”

“You didn’t do anything to him, did you?” There’s a threat underlying those words.

“I have done nothing to Takuto other than help him get here to get you out.” Well, and repair his lungs. But this isn’t a good place to go into that.

“Oh, Takuto is here…” Arx murmurs.

“We’ve paid your tab,” I explain.

“Paid? Oh, ugh, that debt!” Arx groans. Its value, as far as they know, is insurmountably high.

“So they should be releasing you to me.”

“Whoa. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Really?! I can finally get out of here?” I’m not sure what’s in that IV, but it might be what is making Arx so fuzzy. From what Takuto said, I expected them to be sharper. Arx shakes their head. “They said I’d be in here for another year. I thought I got off light, honestly.” Suddenly, they tilt their head, looking at me from a different angle. “Who are you, mysterious benefactor?”

I keep my voice soft. “My name’s Mariah, but nobody else here in this building knows that, so let’s keep things quiet until we’re on the road.”

Arx winks at me and shoots double finger guns in my direction. “I gotcha,” they say with a lopsided grin.

“How are you?” I ask. “Are you mobile?”

Arx laughs weakly. “I guess I’m upwardly mobile now that someone’s paid my debt.” 

I chuckle, appreciating the wit, and Arx assures me that they can move. “But can you breathe?” I ask, serious again.

“Actually, yeah. This stuff works,” they say, looking up at the drip bag. They snatch it down off its hook and give it a heft. “I’m a little low, though. This isn’t going to last long. But yeah, the stuff works. I tested it myself!” I’m not liking the vibe I’m getting here, like Arx is strung out on something. How long are they going to be able to be without this medicine once we get moving, I wonder.

“Oh! Is Takuto…” Arx huffs out another small chuckle. “I know I asked if he’s okay, but is he okay, not because of something terrible you didn’t do to him, but because he’s treating himself okay?”

I smile. It’s a strange way to frame the question, but it shows Arx does really care, and it’s touching in its own way. I don’t know the status of their relationship before the job gone wrong, just that Takuto’s been pining for Arx all the while. So I tell them, “Takuto’s really worried about you, and he feels really bad about how things broke off between the two of you.”

“Yeah, the robot was kind of a drag,” Arx quips.

“He’s really worried about you.”

“I mean, I’ve been better,” Arx says with a shrug. “So can we just go then?”

“Not until the final sign-off from Dr. Khan,” I tell them apologetically. “She’s supposed to be on her way here.” Arx grumbles at that news. “Anything I need to know there?” I prod.

“Dr. Khan, Dr. Khan,” Arx mutters.

“Have you been antagonizing her?” I ask. Takuto’s the tame one in this relationship; Arx is clearly the troublemaker.

“Look, I tried sweet-talking her. I tried antagonizing her—though that’s not really my style. I tried slipping away; that didn’t work so well. I can handle the locks around here, but their orderlies, they’ve got a good schedule for watching the place.” I bite my bottom lip, mulling that over. We should be able to just walk out of here, but we can’t count on that until we’re out the door. “Dr. Khan is ruthless in her pursuits,” Arx goes on. “She’s a good doctor, I guess. Like, I can breathe again. So, there’s that going for her. She does not back down from a challenge.”

“All right…” My eyes drift down to the IV bag again, and I let out a long breath. “Are you addicted to that stuff?” Arx looks at me quizzically, and I reframe my question. “Do you go through withdrawal?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, they control my supply, and if I don’t get my treatments, then, you know, I’m not going to feel well. That’s the way drugs work.”

“That depends on the drug,” I point out. But Arx hasn’t had exposure to a wide variety of them, it seems. “So, this hasn’t really cured you. It’s just mitigating your symptoms.”

“Sure,” Arx agrees with a shrug, though from their tone, I can tell they’re not grasping the distinction. Drugs make you feel better. If you don’t get them, you feel worse. Simple as that. Here in the Morgan domes, anyway. I definitely understood drugs better than that by the time I was seventeen, but that was back on Earth.

“So, hey, yeah, I’ve hidden a scalpel,” Arx volunteers conspiratorially, voice low. “Do we need anything else to get out of here?”

I step over to the window to assess the bars. They’re on the outside of the pane of glass, so we’d have to pop that out first. Even then, there’s no way I’d be able to squeeze through, and unless they’re some kind of contortionist, neither could Arx. I pull out my mirror, intending to try to flash a signal down to my friends outside, but something catches my attention here at eye level. There’s a ribbon blowing in the wind. Oh wait, no, that’s the shimmerfly from before, the one Cleve called Bella. I turn back to Arx, about to share an observation, when I’m startled to see the shimmerfly again, here in front of me in the room. “Whoa! That’s so cool! Oh, hey! Can you carry people?” I ask. I don’t really expect an answer, but if this is the same shimmerfly we’ve seen a few times so far, she’s held useful things in her little legs, like medical shots and such. I chuckle to myself; of course she won’t understand what I’m saying. But still, it’s a delight to have observed that she can phase through a solid wall. For a moment, everything I’ve worried about today is eclipsed by another awesome Chiron experience.

“What is that?” Arx asks.

“It’s a shimmerfly,” I explain. “Have you never seen one before?”

“No? Maybe? I don’t know.”

“They’re really cool,” I gush. “They’re like jellyfish-type things when they’re babies and they live in the water. And then—” At the blank stare from Arx, I realize that analogy is meaningless to them.

“What’s a jellyfish?” Arx asks. Dr. Khan isn’t here yet, so we have time. I pull out my sketchbook and flip to the drawing I made of the immature shimmerfly in the stream. “Oh, wow, cool. No, I’ve never seen that,” Arx says. “Hey, are we going back to Data Haven?”

“Yeah, that’s the plan.”

“Okay, okay. Cool, cool, cool. I just… I want to get out of here. This place sucks.”

I nod. “I’ll be happy to get you out of here as soon as Dr. Khan signs off on the final paperwork.” But we have to wait another anxious hour before that happens.