Chronicles of Chiron: Excising Arx | Scene 17

We step inside the basement, and Arx quickly locks the door behind us. The room is dim, but there are some emergency lights, enough to see by as we descend the stairs. Arx immediately goes for the crates of medicine stored down here. Me, I start scanning the walls and floor, looking for any sort of vent, grate, access panel, or maintenance cover. I’m having no luck, and though I don’t wear a watch, I’m pretty sure we’re running out of time. 

I glance over at Arx, who’s loading their bag with vials of FungX. “Where am I going to get this in Data Haven?” they ask rhetorically in their defense. “I need this stuff.”

“We need to keep looking for an exit. Push crates aside or whatever you have to do,” I tell Arx. Anxiety laces my voice, and I don’t bother trying to hide it. We need to escape before that fungicide spray goes off. Arx sets to work, but I’m momentarily distracted when a sparkle of movement catches my eye. It’s the shimmerfly again; I recognize her by the ribbon. Great! I can at least let Cleve know where we are. I hastily tear a piece of a page out of my sketchbook and jot down that Arx and I are trying to escape out of the basement. I offer it to Bella, hoping she’ll take it and flicker back to our friends outside. She wraps her little legs around it and continues floating there. Is she looking at me expectantly? I don’t know. Her tiny little face is too hard to read.

“Bingo!” Arx calls out. They toss me a filter mask. “Nothing else so far,” they add at my disappointment. I’m not sure this will be enough to protect me. We hear a muffled announcement from upstairs warning that the fungicide treatment is coming in two minutes.

Maybe Bella can lead us to a way out if she can sense the movement of air or hear sounds we can’t. I take a deep breath and focus, trying to connect with the shimmerfly the same way I did to that wolf beetle on our way to the network node. Everything is harder here… there’s just nothing other than myself to draw upon. And I can’t afford to set off any more detectors—if there are any down here. I slowly reach my hand out to Bella and gently usher her closer to me, so that if there’s any emission of miasma or pheromones or whatever it is that forms these connections, it won’t have to go far.

Bella seems to understand what I want. She flickers out of sight, and when next I notice her, she’s in a corner of the room, up by a boarded-over section of ceiling. I would never have thought to look above us for an exit. The basement must have a larger footprint than the clinic itself. Bella flaps slowly, acknowledging that I’ve seen what she wanted me to, and then she slips away. I make my way through the clutter over to the corner, slipping on the breath mask in case we can’t get this open in time. Then I go to work with my cane, using it reversed, in pry bar mode, like I did to get the Progenitor hatch open. It’s much easier to exert leverage on the floor in front of you than the ceiling above you, though. Arx pushes over a crate and climbs up on it, setting to work with their multitool. We’re sloppy in our haste—at least I am. Arx is being more methodical, unscrewing hardware a piece at a time. But we’re not fast enough.

The blast of fungicide comes from a sprinkler system installed in the ceiling. This is a different formulation from Corazon’s sprayer or the dome entrance. It’s a white foam that coats everything in the room. If it doesn’t dissipate before orderlies come down here, they’ll definitely see signs of our movement in this back corner. The only silver lining here is that the fungicide does not bleach my clothing. Me, though, it burns. The mask protects my lungs, but not the exposed skin on my hands and face. The searing pain extends further than skin deep, though, coalescing in a deep throbbing pain in my right leg. When we get back to Data Haven, I need to ask Marina if she can do a biopsy on the flesh there. Surely this is not just referred pain. It could be the seat of my “infection” by Chiron—maybe it was the weak point the spores needed to take hold, like a fungus canker growing in the cracked bark of a tree.

Arx is unfazed by the blast. They wipe the foam off themself and assure me, “Looks like we can jigger this off of here.” They resume work with their multitool, and before long, they have several boards removed. That’s when we hit the next hurdle. There’s some sort of solid tile or linoleum over the opening. I climb up on the crate next to them and give it a shove with both my arms, but it’s way heavier than I was expecting. ¡Ay, no! If it’s not one thing, it’s another! Could I try something crazy, like coaxing a xenofungus bramble into existence here to smash through it? Maybe, but that doesn’t seem wise with all the fungicide around us.