Chronicles of Chiron: Excising Arx | Scene 21

///
While Mariah distracts the local authorities, Cleve continues on, saddled with teenagers and wild animals. Takuto, he knows he can rely on, but Louisa and Arx are still unknowns. Louisa has leadership potential, but she’s also got the potential for a short fuse. He only just managed to keep her in line long enough for Mariah to start up a conversation.

“So if that guy guns down Mariah, I’m going to release this wolf beetle,” Louisa says, voice low and intense. “Do you have any weapons? A rifle or something?”

Cleve makes a point of looking himself up and down. “Where do you keep a rifle?” he asks. “No. I have a knife.”

“All right, release the wolf beetles to distract them for a moment, dash up,” Louisa resumes, glancing over her shoulder back at the Planetary Security Forces. “Maybe we can knife one of them—”

“Gunning people down is a thing they do here?” Cleve interrupts her.

“What?’

“You’re the one who said it.”

“Well, the repo squad will exile you, which is as good as death.”

“Mmm, unh-uh. It’s different,” Cleve says. “Trust me.”

“They gunned down one of my squad,” Louisa tells him. “We were trying to do a job, you know, shut down a factory. They happened to catch us casing the joint, before we’d even started doing anything active. They yelled at us and before we could react, started shooting at us. We tried to scatter, but one of us was gunned down, right there in the street.” Anger simmers in her voice as she concludes bitterly, “They’ll tell you that they don’t do that, that they only banish people—which is just as bad—but no, they’ve gunned people down. They’ll do it again. These security forces are just the next level of goon.”

“Well, Mariah can handle himself—”

“Oh! That’s right!” Louisa says, brightening up at the memory of what happened in her hideout.

“—conversationally. And I don’t think they’re going to start shooting, but if they do, a wolf beetle is not going to save us.”

Louisa leans in closer, voice conspiratorially low. Cleve transfers the leashes of Mr. and Mrs. Fuzzy to his other hand, to keep them farther from her angry wolf beetle. “Do you mind if I ask… Are there any other special capabilities that the Stepdaughters of Chiron have outfitted you with? Like, do you have armored skin? Chitinous skin?”

“Just between you and me,” Cleve whispers back, “the Stepdaughters of Chiron have outfitted us with nothing.” They’ve gotten some medicines and some information from Dr. Citali, but those don’t qualify in Cleve’s mind. She hasn’t given them any armaments.

Louisa grins at Cleve, pointing two fingers to her eyes, then to his, and back to hers again. Who knows what else he and Mariah have, in addition to their special powders and whatever emitter summoned the xenofungus. “Right, right. I’m probably not cleared for that. And of course you wouldn’t have the authority to release that. I understand, I understand. Okay, but can you at least tell me what rank I should address you by? What title? Are you Agent Cleve, or—”

Cleve can’t help himself. “You can call me your highness,” he tells her with a chuckle.

“C’mon!” Louisa protests. “I have to have some appropriate way to refer to you.”

“I was a sergeant once, but you can just call me Cleve.”

Louisa leaves the matter there; Cleve must be a codename.
///