Chronicles of Chiron: Excising Arx | Scene 23

From behind a dumpster, Cleve watches the repo squad turn away from his hiding place and head down the access alleyway that leads to the main boulevard. “Should we tail them?” Louisa asks him. “Mariah’s that way. He’s going with that guy! What do we do, sergeant?”

Crouching low again, Cleve ponders their next steps. Mariah’s capable. He’s strong, and he’s shown he can fight—wolf beetles, at least. But Cleve’s mental review of the situation also includes the usual refrain: He’s probably going to get himself killed; we’ll all probably die. Cleve considers just standing their ground here; he definitely does not want to get a bunch of teenagers killed. Behind him, the wolf beetles Arx and Takuto are responsible for begin to yip as they root around in the trash. Cleve figures they must be hungry. He feels sorry for how the critters were treated, but what they’re doing right now could draw attention. He makes up his mind. “We’re going to continue with the plan,” he decides. “We’ll come back for Mariah if we need to.”

“Wait, what?” Arx says, yanking on their leash to try to keep their wolf beetle under control. “We’re not going to leave Mariah. Mariah got me out of there; we’re not trading his life for mine.”

“Yeah, and I left Arx behind! We can’t keep making these trades, Mr. Cleve!” Takuto implores him. His voice is hushed but anguished. “Who’s going to stay behind next?”

I see these two are well matched, Cleve groans internally. “We can’t go back that way with a cadre of wolf beetles!” Cleve rebukes them sharply.

“Well, we can’t leave these wolf beetles,” Louisa chimes in. 

“If we don’t get our act together, we’re all going to die,” Cleve growls at all the teenagers, voice low and angry. He looks at them each, one by one. “Is that what you want?” He is tired of being in this dome, of dealing with a gaggle of teenagers who all think they know best. Just like the wolf beetles, he would be happier outside among nature than in here with human problems. All they have to do is wrestle these wolf beetles outside and then they can see about Mariah. “This is not a game,” Cleve continues. “If we stay, we’re going to die. We’re going outside, and we’re releasing these wolf beetles. We leave now.” Picking up on the tension among the humans, one of the wolf beetles starts howling. Cleve catches its pincers in his hands and clamps them closed. “Don’t be a bad girl,” he admonishes the creature, and it quiets back down.

His sharp words have the desired effect, cowing the teenagers as well. Cleve takes one more look after the repo squad. They’re blocks away, almost at the main boulevard. Takuto nudges Arx and points. The repo squad is approaching Mariah, who is kissing the guy who was following them earlier. No one is paying attention to the dumpsters; the cost is clear to leave for the harbor. The subdued group emerges from the rubbish bins and continues on their way.

They get to the gate without any further issues. There’s no detox on the way out, so it’s a simple matter of strolling through the airlock and then just waiting a moment for the exit to open. The air outside is cool and damp but does not smell of salt. The harbor has a wharf with a few ships docked. That seems the main purpose for this exit. To get anywhere else, they’ll have to traverse the narrow rocky shore. Made slippery by the current drizzle, it glistens in the ambient light from the pier. 

Cleve orders the wolf beetles released. It will be hard enough to traverse the slick rocks without managing scared creatures on leashes. The multi-legged animals can probably navigate the rocks better than the humans can. Mr. and Mrs. Fuzzy stay with the people, but the other three wolf beetles are glad to be free of the leash. Two of them take off at a run, navigating the shoreline with ease after taking a deep drink from the water. The other one prowls down the wharf, sniffing around the boats for food.

The traverse is tiring and miserable in the chilly damp, and it gets darker the further away from the wharf they go. Cleve’s ribs are still feeling sore from that earlier collision with a wall, but he’s happy to be outside dealing with the elements rather than inside dealing with the repo squad. Despite his misgivings regarding the physical capabilities of the teenagers, somehow everyone makes it out of the harbor zone without falling into the sea. Once on stable land again, Cleve releashes Mr. and Mrs. Fuzzy, quite confident now that they’re domesticated and should not be left alone in the wilderness. He doesn’t know how he’s going to fit all these people and animals into the rover, but these pets need to accompany them to Data Haven. 

With everyone safe, humans and wolf beetles alike, Cleve decides it’s time to try the shimmerfly note trick again. He looks around, wondering where his little follower has gotten to, and then tentatively calls out, “Bella?” A flicker of color catches his eye in the dim light, and then he can focus on her. She’s probably been behind him the whole time. “Oh! Pretty girl,” he says with a smile. He pulls a scrap of paper from his journal and scribbles a message. With no wolf beetles, fugitives, or activists in his company, Mariah should be able to quit the dome via the main entrance. He just needs to know that the rest of them have made it out safely. “Can you give this to Mariah?” he asks Bella. “Do you remember Mariah?”

The translucent wings flap slowly a few times and then flash indigo, the same color Cleve has sometimes seen in the younger man’s eyes. Cleve smiles, pleased with how smart Bella is. I’m going to have to figure out what kind of treats she likes, he resolves. Although maybe, like him, she just likes having a useful job. Bella does not vanish from sight immediately; his eyes track her occasional flickers as she passes the harbor entrance. The main entrance was the other way, so he wonders where she is headed. Perhaps since they work with miasma, there really is a vent over by the clinic, and that’s how she’s planning to slip inside. She’s clever; Cleve’s sure she’ll find a way.

Then it’s just an evening stroll to get where they need to go. Before long, they reach an actual walkway around the dome’s outer edge. It’s punctuated with the occasional spot for looking out across the sea or stargazing. Each bench has a mechanical timer—with a slot for a credit chit, of course. They’re accompanied by a sign that says, “Set it, don’t forget it. Leave while you can still breathe.”

Takuto and Arx are preoccupied with each other, leaving Louisa and Cleve to escort Mr. and Mrs. Fuzzy. Now that the crisis is over, Cleve tells her, “I’m sorry for your loss. I’ve lost men in battle, too.” He couldn’t spare any bandwidth for compassion back in the dome, but he’s not an unfeeling monster. That kind of loss is heavy. The responsibility really weighs on you.

Louisa pauses for a moment. “Thanks. That means a lot.” She grows reflective. “We are fighting a war. From what I hear, these wars aren’t the same scale as they were back on Earth, but humans never change.”

Cleve nods. “Smaller population.”

“Bigger crimes,” she counters.