Chronicles of Chiron: Excising Arx | Scene 2

The entry gate to Morgan Industries’ main dome has just a simple entrance button, no elaborate keypad. It is underneath a transparent plastic flip-box that one must intentionally lift in order to depress it. This way, no random animal can accidentally trigger the vehicle-sized double doors. Not that we’ve seen many that could. A craw wouldn’t be able to reach that high, and a shimmerfly wouldn’t have the strength. I suppose a briar beast might be able to work it out… 

“Remember, we might not be properly equipped for this,” Cleve warns me and Takuto. “Let’s make it smooth, so that we have the option to come back.”

Takuto nods. “We can always come back later to transmit the program. But we’re getting Arx now. It’ll be fine.” He flips up the latch and presses the button, eager to get on with it.

“Let’s not blow our chance to come back,” Cleve reiterates, but Takuto is no longer listening. He’s marching into the revealed vestibule. The chamber is large enough to hold a repo squad van but nothing the size of a tractor trailer. I suppose there aren’t many such large vehicles on this planet. Shu-Fen’s drill is too tall to fit through here, but maybe the Morgan Prospecting dome has a larger entrance, even if it itself is smaller.

The doors close behind us, and a sign on the wall lights up with bold easy-to-read text. “Cycling the airlock,” it says. Of course. They have to keep the air clean for the dome. Then the announcement changes to, “Detox spray down. Hold your breath for the next thirty seconds.” We have just enough time to read that before the hissing starts. Cleve rubs his eyes, which are irritated by the spray. Takuto wipes at his burning eyes, too. For me, that’s not the worst of it. I hold my breath for the requisite length of time, but when I try to draw air in afterwards, it feels thinner. I gasp, trying to breathe more deeply, but there’s just something missing. Like I need something more than oxygen, something no longer here. That spray must’ve contained some potent fungicides, clearing the air of most traces of miasma. I begin to suspect that there are deeper physiological changes in me than just the ability to tolerate lethal levels of miasma in my system; I must be more dependent on it than I realized. After a few gasps, I settle into a modified rhythm, more shallow than my usual breathing. I’m not going to pass out, but I’ll have to be careful how much I exert myself. I fervently hope the whole dome doesn’t feel this taxing. Maybe the effect will wear off once this fungicide gas fully disperses.

As soon as the inner door opens, I step through it, away from the detox. Takuto and Cleve follow, the latter with a new friend. He has his jacket wrapped protectively around a shimmerfly! “Careful, girl,” he says to the nervously fluttering creature. “How did you get here?” A wave of colors courses over the shimmerfly, which I’m surprised to notice has a ribbon tied around one leg. “There’s a pretty girl,” Cleve coos softly as the shimmerfly calms down. “I’ll call you Bella.” It’s rather touching, a tender side of him I haven’t seen before.

Once we’re firmly out in the open, the shimmerfly—Bella—flutters out of hiding and is soon lost to sight. She’s around here somewhere, I’m sure, but it would take a lot of concentration to track her movements. And this is a place rife with distractions.

A boulevard stretches out in front of us, lined with Earth trees growing in orderly rows. The buildings have gorgeously detailed facades. Natural light streams down from the transparent sections of the overhead geodesic dome. The aromas are overwhelming. I haven’t smelled food this good in a hundred thirty years. Dough fried in oil… what could be more delicious? And there’s a ton of noise. It looks like a parade is just getting started up ahead under a banner that reads, “Happy Planetfall Day!” Older folks are wearing pins that say, “Kiss me, I’m a planetfaller.” The tradition here seems to be alternate cheek kissing like I’d sometimes get from my abuela.

Two round blue pins that say in white, "Kiss me, I'm a planetfaller." Also, green ability die showing two successes and red challenge die showing two threats.
Planetfaller Pins and decorative Genesys die pendants provided by Cleve’s player, Lex.

“Weird,” Cleve mutters under his breath, taking in the scene.

Between us and the festival is the toll plaza we were warned about. The unobstructed path, narrower and poorly lit, leads off to the side, where there is no party. We’re not shunted off that way, however, because the toll gates are all currently up. The fee is being waived for Planetfall Day. Ah, that explains all the crowds. Many of these people would normally stick to the back alleys to save credits, but today they can bask in the good life along with the wealthy.

The central mall is full of vendor booths with all sorts of crafts and snacks. A large number of children scurry about, not really associated with any particular adults. Some of them even appear to be working, running errands, delivering messages, and the like. There’s a noticeable age gap here, one that Cleve sits just on the cusp of. There aren’t really that many people on this planet between the ages of thirty and forty-five, since only the truly wealthy could buy Unity berths for their teenagers. 

And true to everything Cor told us, there are people with pet wolf beetles. These are smaller than the ones we’ve seen in the wild—dog size, rather than deer size. One woman carries hers in an oversized handbag. Another actually has a servant with her holding her pet’s leash. I make that judgment based on her fancy clothes and the uniform the man trailing her is in. The wolf beetle itself wears a large bow, and the way its fur is trimmed reminds me of poodles back on Earth. There are definite class distinctions here in the Morgan domes.

As fascinating as this all is, we’re here for a reason. “Time to find where this medical center is,” I announce. For Cleve, that means studying a directory with a large map, but I’m more of a mind to chat with people. Finding Arx is the priority, but I’m open to whatever additional information I can gather. I leave Cleve muttering under his breath as he looks for a gunshop. Takuto tags along with me. 

I say that, but actually, he scurries off in front, asking people (with little subtlety) if they know where the experimental miasma treatment hospital is. He seems so innocent, so unassuming, that he actually gets answers. He certainly puts forth a less threatening presentation than Cleve does. The specific information we need ultimately comes from someone who, much like Shu-Fen, wants to benefit from a referral bonus.

While Takuto takes care of that task, I glance around for someone else to talk with. I’m sure Cor would appreciate any leads we might find on Mr. Fuzzy, but I can’t simply ask anyone about underground wolf beetle battles. As I am standing there, surveying the crowd for a likely candidate, someone actually addresses me, complimenting me on my look. “Where did you get this outfit?” he asks. His eyes don’t linger on the Progenitor tech, however. They scan my whole ensemble.

This is the first person I’ve met on this whole planet with a refined sense of taste. Most people I’ve seen have been in polo shirts, coveralls, or leather jackets. Now, I personally wouldn’t wear this type of suit, but it’s perfectly cut for his build. And it’s a definite statement, a curated look. The colors complement the gold tones in his brown skin, and the crisply folded pocket square is coordinated with his cravat and kilt. I kept abreast of fashion trends on Earth—not that I’d be swayed by whatever the latest microtrend was, but to know what you like, you have to peruse the menu. So I can tell this is unique, Chiron-grown fashion.

“Oh, I know someone with a 3D printer from the old ship,” I tell him, sharing a fraction of the truth. “It’s able to produce these styles.”

I don’t name my source or where they can be found. This fellow picks up on my caginess, but fortunately he misinterprets the reason for it. “I’m Fritz, Fritz the tailor,” he introduces himself. Ah, he must have made his outfit himself. His deep brown eyes study the threadwork on my vest. “Hmm… All the 3D printers I’ve seen in the dome—and I’ve seen them all—don’t produce that high a quality.” He presents me with a business card and says, “Well, if you’re ever interested… I’d love to take a closer look sometime.”

I take the card with a friendly grin and give him my name in return. I do not know what use I will have for Fritz’s Tailor Shop, but it’s always fun to meet new and interesting people, and I like to leave a positive impression. We part ways, me mulling over just how wealthy he must think I am based on my appearance. Unless… was he interested in something other than my business or attire? That’s a level of complication we definitely don’t have time for on this trip.