Chronicles of Chiron: Excising Arx | Scene 20

Louisa and Cleve take the lead, one of them guiding us where we need to go, the other keeping an eye out for danger and ushering us smoothly and quietly across intersections when the coast is clear. A parade of wolf beetles is a suspicious enough sight that we can’t just rely on coolly walking down the streets as if we have every right to be here. The repo squad lost track of us after we fled Louisa’s lair, but they are still an outstanding danger.

At one such intersection, we cross a freight corridor occupied by an armored personnel carrier of the new Planetary Security Force. It has flood lights on and is slowly rolling down the street. “Excuse me,” a voice calls out from it, “we’d like to ask you a few questions.” I’m surprised to see it off the main boulevard, actively working rather than just being on display. But so far, they’re being polite, not accusatory. Maybe this can be handled peacefully.

I hand my leashes to Arx and say, sotto voce, “Keep walking.” Then I turn my steps towards the armored carrier. 

Louisa makes a move to follow me, her and her agitated charge, but Cleve issues orders. “Stay here. Let Mariah handle this. You’ve got the most aggressive wolf beetle,” he points out. I hear her agree to stand down, but she tells him that if things go wrong, she will release the creature to go attack the soldiers.

I leave all that behind me, hiding my pain and anxiety behind a friendly visage. “You have some questions?” I call out as I approach. “Sure, how can I help you?” By the time I’ve closed the distance to the carrier, the hatchback is fully open, and an officer is striding out. “What are your questions, officer? How may I be of assistance?” Years of dealing with customers and clients make the phrase come easily to my lips.

“We’ve heard some reports of some possible dissident activity. We’re wondering if you might have seen anything along these alleys.”

I answer with the truth, though I fail to include that those very dissidents are right now walking their wolf beetles further away from us. Rather, I describe the location on the far side of the fancy boulevard where earlier today I witnessed a scuffle in which a repo squad busted down a door. “If you haven’t checked into that, maybe that’s what the rumors are about,” I suggest. Maybe he already knows this, and I’m just providing corroboration. That suits me just fine.

“Ah, yes, that is exactly why we’re investigating. We want to make sure everyone stays safe,” he tells me. “The, ah, repo squads aren’t as properly equipped to deal with this as are your new Planetary Security Forces.”

Every word we exchange gets Cleve and the others further from this danger. Plus, anything more I can learn about this new threat might help us stop them before they endanger Data Haven and the Stepdaughters of Chiron. So I linger and ask questions like a curious citizen. “How are you all better suited to handle dissidents? I thought you were primarily going to be fighting a defensive war in the field, not staying here in the dome managing domestic affairs. Clearly, you’re well-equipped for that with your fungicides and sealed vehicles.”

“Security starts in the Sanctuary and must be spread out from that point,” he replies. The phrasing is strange, and his tone holds a note of reverence at the word sanctuary. He notices something of my attention to his wording and continues, “I understand you might not be familiar with our ways. We’re from the University of Chiron.”

Surprised, I ask, “Oh, you’re not locals? You’re a mercenary force brought in by our board?”

“The enlisted troops are locals,” he replies, waving a hand back at the lower ranks still aboard the armored carrier. “The officers are not. Not until your local forces can be properly consecrated into the military sciences.” Now that is interesting news. One, that Morgan has hired mercenaries as officers. But also, I was not expecting the university I’ve heard mentioned a few times to actually be a military cult. This world, the human side of it, has just gotten substantially bigger. The officer continues, “Yes, your Morgan domes have some certain luxuries, but…” He draws in a breath, carefully considering his wording. “They lack the sophistication to truly drive to succeed on this planet. They are, in some ways, unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices.”

He takes his helmet off for a more comfortable conversation between us. He looks a little older than me, so one of Chiron’s firstborn. He has deeply tan skin, and his light brown hair is pulled back into a high ponytail with shaved sides. What is most striking about his appearance, though, is his bionic eye. It glows red in the dim evening light, and I can hear a quiet whirring whenever the lens changes focus. I’ve never seen anything like this, not even back on Earth. It’s possible he’s been recording me with it this whole conversation. 

I wonder whether his original eye was one of those “sacrifices” he alluded to, or if he more means the meat grinder that is war. “What is the nature of the sacrifices that the university is willing to make?” I ask him. “Is this a matter of compromising personal freedoms or suffering loss of life?” His answer is too couched in proselytizing for me to sort out what the University of Chiron’s actual agenda is. I gather that they are interested in surviving and thriving on Chiron, but how far they are willing to go to do that is another matter.

In addition to the bionic eye, there is another piece of advanced technology about this man. Unlike the lower rank troopers we saw in the square earlier today, he does not carry a fungicide sprayer. Rather, he has a strange rifle-shaped weapon with no actual hole for bullets to come out of. Maybe it’s some kind of energy weapon? I’ve only ever seen those in movies.

After listening to more of the officer’s convictions, I think I understand better. The Stepdaughters of Chiron are investigating biochemical adaptations to the environment here, adopting what Chiron natively provides in order to make survival possible. The University includes biomechanical adaptations, such as equipping themselves with embedded technology. I’m in no position to judge whether one approach is better than the other; I’m a walking example of adaptation. I bet Marina will be interested in hearing about all this; she said she would do whatever it takes for humanity to survive on this planet.

“Please enjoy your evening walking your wolf beetles,” the officer tells me, content to let me go since I’ve been so cooperative. There’s no animosity in his voice regarding the pets, no disdain for things natively of the planet. Before I go, he holds out a flyer for me. I don’t really think I’m army material, but I step forward to take it, wincing as another jolt of pain shoots through my leg. The wolf beetles are a ways down the street with Takuto and Arx by now, but they’re still a drain on me.

His mechanical eye whirrs as he really notices my cane for the first time. “If you enlist we can probably fit you with a new leg,” he tells me. “If you’re interested. You would have to initiate properly into the University of Chiron.”

“That’s an interesting offer,” I say, sounding like I mean it. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“It’s not a decision to make lightly. Search your datalinks. Search your heart. Find the harmony between the two.”

Now that gives me pause. “Are you referring to the decision to enlist as one not to be made lightly?” I ask, waving a hand at the personnel carrier behind him. “Or the decision to have cybernetic augmentations?”

“No, to initiate into the University of Chiron,” he clarifies. “Enlist if you want or not,” he says carelessly. “If you have whatever debt… shenanigans there are in this dome that you need to deal with, I hear enlisting is a great way to get rid of that.” He shrugs, adding dismissively, “Whatever it says in the flyer.” He’s willing to work for Morgan, but he looks down on the systems here. That’s also interesting. Perhaps even something we can leverage down the road.

“But you were just talking about something different from this flyer?” I press him.

“Yes. If you want to join the University of Chiron, that is something you dedicate your life to.”

“So just a simple enlisted soldier, would they be able to get the sort of surgery you were saying was possible?”

“Someone who has a leg that is not working probably wouldn’t be able to pass our physical tests in order to enlist. If they were injured in the line of duty, well, I don’t know what the Morgan healthcare plan is like. But in the University of Chiron, you would, as an initiate, have that taken care of.”

“So you’re here recruiting for your university, as well as doing this job that the board hired you for?” Seems we have something in common in that regard.

“I’m on a mission,” he says. 

Aren’t we all? His word choice is ambiguous, though. A military mission? A religious mission? He offers me a business card, since I’ve expressed some level of interest. Then University of Chiron Initiate Captain Damian wishes me a pleasant evening and signals for the armored carrier to proceed.