Chronicles of Chiron: Excising Arx | Scene 22

When I catch up with the others, I take the leashes back from Arx and Takuto so that they can focus on each other rather than wolf beetle wrangling. “You survived being gunned down,” Cleve observes. He must be in a better mood now if he’s making wry comments like that.

“It was a strange gun,” I tell him. “It didn’t look like anything that could shoot bullets. You were in the military back on Earth… Did you ever see any sort of laser gun weapons? It was pretty sci-fi looking.” I describe it to the best of my ability, but Cleve never handled anything like it.

“Nothing that I saw directly.” He shrugs. “There were rumors, but I don’t really know.”

“He was brought in from outside. The officers of that new Planetary Security Force are not from these domes. They’re from the university across the water.”

“That’s real?” Cleve asks.

I smile in amusement and nod. “It is real.” I flourish the business card with a flick of my hand. Then I slip it into my satchel, where it can hang out with the one from Fritz, the tailor who thinks I dress sharply, and Bianca, the VP who thinks I’m a terrorist. I sigh, my small burst of good mood rapidly deflated. “More types of weapons, great,” I mutter.

“Well, we can compare notes later,” Cleve tells me, eager to get the group moving along swiftly. As we near the harbor exit, he swears and then hisses a warning. A repo squad is approaching from the docks, though it doesn’t look like they’ve taken particular note of us yet. 

I report a different problem: someone is tailing us as well. With a classic trench coat and a fedora at a jaunty angle, he cuts a stylish figure. When he passes under a streetlight, I realize I recognize him. “Wait, I know that guy,” I say with some surprise. Why is Fritz following us?

“We’ve got to hide,” Cleve says urgently. “They gun people down sometimes.” That’s news to me! Given the look he throws Louisa, she must be the source of that information. “We’ve been lucky so far,” Cleve adds.

“I want to find out why Fritz is following us. Take the kids and the dogs,” I tell him, adding a bit of levity, “and maybe position yourself for if things go sideways.” I hand my leashes over to Arx. Cleve and the rest of the crew fade away into the dim light around some large dumpsters lining an alley off of our backstreet. 

I try to calmly retrace our steps, acting like I’m just out for an evening stroll. My cane beats out a steady tap that sounds really loud to my ears, but I can’t do without it right now, so Fritz easily clocks my approach. I speak before he has a chance to. “That’s a different look from earlier,” I observe, signaling that I’ve recognized him.

“I’m doing a different job now,” he replies with a grin.

I glance over my shoulder and am displeased to see the repo squad is more clearly heading my way now. I need answers from Fritz, though. “Oh really, what job are you on now?” I ask with forced casualness. “That has involved following me for the last several blocks?” My tone starts off light but ends alarmed. The strain of the day is really getting to me.

Fritz steps up alongside me and hooks his left arm through my bruised right one. “Let’s walk and talk, why don’t we?” he says pleasantly, directing our steps towards the walkway that heads back to the festival in the central boulevard. I go along willingly. I’m still not sure what’s up, but if he was an undercover agent for Morgan’s forces, he wouldn’t be escorting me away from the approaching repo squad, right? He tilts his head in close to mine. “How well do you know some of those folks you’re with?” he asks.

“Aww, you’re worried about me? How sweet. We’ve only just met,” I reply, matching his earlier playful tone.

Fritz purses his lips and shakes his head. “That Louisa’s gonna get you in trouble. You’re falling in with the wrong crowd,” he tells me. “You gotta be careful. She might have the right ends in mind but I don’t think her means are gonna get her there. Are those the same ends and means that you want?”

I casually glance back behind us. The repo squad is right at the intersection where I parted ways with Cleve. If they go left, they’re likely to stumble upon him and the others. If they go right, they’re coming towards me. They pause briefly and turn this way. They’re not shouting, but still, I don’t like this. If those are members of Yushi’s squad, they will certainly recognize me once they get close enough. It’s good for my friends that they’re coming this way, but I really wish they’d just continued on straight. It hurts my leg, but I increase the pace, speeding me and Fritz towards the open turnstiles leading to the festive—and crowded—boulevard. I’m juggling too much now, and I have to let something fall to the ground—hopefully Arx and Takuto can keep those two wolf beetles quiet, because I have no more attention to spare for calming them.

Voice low, I tell Fritz, “While Louisa’s methods leave something to be desired, her heart’s in the right place. She just needs a little direction. I believe there’s life for humans outside these domes.” Maybe I can have more luck planting ideas here than I had with Bianca Horvath and Dr. Bingyi Khan. I don’t think like Cleve does in terms of usefulness, of what good a tailor will do for Chiron’s cause. It’s just… I like Fritz. He’s nice and interesting and looks sharp. He’s got a charming playfulness about him that makes me wish I could spend more time here getting to know him better, but I can’t and that saddens me. I came to this planet to start a new life, but what I’ve started is a war.

“Would you like to live outside these domes?” Fritz asks me.

I’m surprised to hear that question coming from him. “Do you have a way?”

“Suppose I did?” he replies, the corner of his mouth quirking up into a sly smile.

“I would be very much interested in hearing what that is.”

Fritz steps in front of me, taking up both my hands between us. He leans in closer, his face inches from mine. “What if I can’t live there?” he asks. Then, with a playful pout, he adds, “What if we’d have to be apart?” His voice is teasing me, but his eyes dart past me—he’s watching our repo squad followers, too.

“Being with me is a very complicated thing,” I warn him. That was true on Earth, but even more so now.

“I don’t mind complicated,” he says, the pout turning to a wide grin that reaches his deep brown eyes. This may be a show for the repo squad, but he’s sincere, too.

“I don’t think you’ve ever met someone quite like me.” I’m facing the boulevard, away from the repo squad, so there’s no danger of them observing what happens next. But Fritz, so close to me, cannot help but see the indigo light that flashes in my eyes. If he reacts with horror and disgust, then I know this is going no further.

“That is…” Fritz is speechless for a moment and looks directly into my eyes, fascinated. “I have not seen that before, Mariah, you are right,” he says with wonder. “Where did you say you were from?”

I haven’t yet, but now I do. “Earth,” I say simply, letting him mull that over.

“Well, this is starting to add up a little bit more.” I hear the sound of footsteps approaching. Fritz’s eyes dart away, looking past me, and then back. “You trust me for a second?” he asks quickly and quietly. I nod, not sure what he has planned for dealing with the repo squad but willing to go along with it. He’s the local here, not me.

Fritz leans in even closer, pressing his lips against mine. Although I wasn’t expecting this, I keep my cool—the repo squad is coming. This approach would not have occurred to me, but I suppose it fits the story we’ve been projecting of two people having an intimate conversation. It’s a gentle kiss, but one that lasts long enough for the repo squad to decide they have no business interfering with it. When he’s confident they’ve continued far enough down their route, Fritz pulls back. “Now what were we talking about?” he says distractedly, a wide grin raising his cheeks.

“What’s your way out to the domes?” I ask. It’s a practical question, one that ignores what just happened and what it might or might not mean.

Fritz backs up a step, releasing my hands but staying close. “Well, if you were going to rat me out to the repo squad, you had your chance, so I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he says. He’s been worried about me ratting him out this whole time? This is no simple tailor. “There’s a place about two or three days’ travel east of the domes, if you’re interested. You see, information wants to be free.”

“Do you know Morris?” I ask. Fritz’s eyes go wide. “I am Morris.”