Chronicles of Chiron: Excising Arx | Scene 24

“You’re Morris?” I ask Fritz with a wide grin. That is indeed interesting news.

“Who told you that name?” There’s just a hint of wariness in his voice now, as he realizes I know more about him than he thought.

“I met Corazon Santiago,” I tell him, keeping my voice low. The repo squad has moved on through the turnstiles, but there’s no need to get too sloppy.

“She made it?”

“She made it all the way,” I confirm.

“I wasn’t sure she would, but she deserved a shot.”

“She’s doing well,” I tell him.

“That’s good to hear. Data Haven’s doing well?”

“Yeah. If you’re ever in the area, and you want to meet up for coffee…” It’d be nice to just sit somewhere safe with him for a while and chat openly.

“You have coffee there? Of course you do.” He shakes his head in amusement. “Roze wouldn’t go without coffee.” Ah, so he knows Roze well enough to make such observations. “I got their update back ten or so days ago.”

“Something was transmitted then?” I ask, surprised. That matches up with when we hit the network node. Roze had said the data spike was just to collect. As far as I knew, only Marina’s drive was transmitting something. I guess there were more tasks going on that day than even I knew about. I wonder if Roze told Cleve.

“Something, yeah. I don’t get many updates back this way, but, you know, I want to make sure I’m not sending people to their death. So it’s good to know it’s still operational. But,” he draws in a long breath between his teeth, shaking his head in lighthearted concern, “what are you going to eat?”

“They have food for now,” I assure him. “And I hear somebody’s starting to farm bush bugs.”

“That wasn’t in the update!”

“That’s a newer development,” I tell him.

He gives me another sly smile. “You got some immigrants from somewhere else now?”

“Yeah, from Earth.”

“I like you, Mariah,” he tells me straight up. I’m not surprised, just surprised to hear it stated so openly. He was concerned enough about me to make sure Louisa wasn’t leading me astray, and although he was playing things up for the repo squad, they couldn’t see his smiles or the way they crinkle the edges of his eyes—that was all just for me. “So… are you moving to this dome, then?”

“We were here to do a job, and we did it, so I don’t know when we’ll be back,” I say. “Particularly not with what Morgan’s up to.”

“Things have certainly heated up a little bit.” Fritz clicks his tongue a few times. “It’s making my job a little more difficult.”

I ask for his assessment, then, of the danger Data Haven is in from the Planetary Security Force. My understanding of the geography around here is pretty weak, so I’m not sure what the chances of exposing its location are. It turns out that Fritz has never actually been to Data Haven. However, he confirms that Miasma Pass is the only east-west route there is. If the army is heading that way, it will be hard to keep Data Haven concealed.

“Do you have any update you want taken back? Any information I can free for you?” I offer.

“At some point I’d like to plan a network disruption on Morgan,” he tells me.

I nod. I can certainly convey that, and there are definitely people in Data Haven who could work on it. But that gives me an idea. “We have to unravel Morgan’s support from this side,” I start.

“Exactly!” Fritz agrees, voice breathy and eager.

“I have some ideas for slowing down the troops in the field, but we need to get people here to not support this initiative.”

“Yeah, that’s one of the things I’m working on. I mean, not focused on this initiative specifically, but… It’s hard when you don’t have anyone with authority on your side.”

“I think you should look into Leyland Campos,” I suggest.

“He’s been on my list to talk to, but I haven’t had an excuse.”

“We saw some privileged messages that indicate he’s not a fan of this waste of resources,” I share. 

“Got anything specific?” Fritz asks. 

Unfortunately I don’t have a physical copy of that, so all I can do is tell him as much as I remember from the messages Roze dug up. “But I have something else, too,” I tell him. “Hopefully you’re in a position where you can do something with this.” I pull the ledger out of my satchel and hold it out to him. “Consider it a present,” I say with a grin. “I like you, too.”

“Hmm…” He reaches for the ledger, letting a hand linger on mine as he takes possession of it. He flips through the pages for a brief moment. “Well that is fascinating,” he murmurs. Then he clicks his tongue again. “Huh! The Santiago girl was telling the truth, what do you know? I thought she was just a little… off her rocker.”

I give a small shrug. “Well, she is kind of that, too.”

Fritz closes the ledger and taps on its surface for a moment, thinking. “I’ll see what I can do,” he finally says. “This is one piece of evidence. But I should be able to make some progress. I’ll see if I can talk to Mr. Campos. Is Data Haven in a position to make a formal move?”

“I can’t really speak to that,” I tell him. I’m going to do my best to get buy-in from the so-called Council of Datajacks, but if they just want to hide… I’ll have to figure out another way. Hopefully I can get Cleve on my side. “But one of the new arrivals has Roze’s ear, so maybe.”

“That’s not an ear that’s easy to get,” Fritz observes. “I mean, they’ll look like they’re listening, but usually they’re not.”

“I think Roze will listen to Cleve. They fought together back on Earth.”

“Well, very well then,” Fritz says. 

It’s at this point, as we stand here right by the turnstiles to enter the main boulevard, that I notice a splay of rainbow lights shimmering above eye level. How long has Bella been floating around here? She slowly drifts downward, and I see she has a piece of paper clutched in her little legs. She flashes a deep bluish-purple—the same color I’ve seen in my own eyes in the mirror. I hold out my hand, and she makes her delivery. The scrap of paper has an unsigned message, but obviously it’s from Cleve. “Meet at the rover?” is all it says. I pull out my pen, write yes, and offer it back to Bella. “Here?” I try, hoping she’ll understand me without needing a more… chironic connection. She flaps her wings lazily for a moment and then drifts in close to my hand. She takes the paper but lingers.

“Mariah, what is happening?” Fritz asks, looking wide-eyed back and forth between me and the shimmerfly. He’s confused, though, not frightened.

“The magic of Chiron,” I joke, flourishing my hand like a stage magician.

“You have a messenger… bug?”

I chuckle at that interpretation of it. Some messenger, though, if I can’t get her to leave. Bella drifts back down towards my hand again. It’s clear she wants something, but what? When she gets in close, her translucent wings sparkle, going through a rainbow of colors. I realize there’s a section that’s shorting out. Or, it would be, if she were an electronic device. The color changes stutter there. Ah, maybe she’s injured. I wonder how she hurt herself. She must have had to really squash herself to slip into the airtight dome if Cleve’s already outside. So much for my quantum tunneling shimmerfly theory. 

I sigh and glance over at Fritz. He’s still looking at me for an answer, incredulous but not alarmed. I need to not be near the main boulevard to do something about the injured shimmerfly. What with my luck today, it could go really, really wrong. “Will you trust me for a moment?” I ask Fritz.

“Of course,” he replies with a smile.