Chronicles of Chiron: Excising Arx | Scene 25

I hook my arm through Fritz’s and lead him back down the alley, away from the late night Planetfall Day celebrations. When we’ve rounded the corner, I lean my cane against the wall and wave Bella over. I coax her in as close as I can get her, encircling her diaphanous form with my left arm and placing my right hand above her glitchy spot. This is all going to come from me. I broke the miasma aggregator on my lapel earlier today, and I can’t risk completely destroying it. There’s nothing in the air or ground here that I can reach without it.

Motes of purple sparkles form on my hand and sink into Bella’s wing. I feel it, twinges of pain throughout my body, that strange non-physical sensation of thirst, a smell of iron for no discernable reason. It is so hard to do this in the dome. My leg is on fire with the pain of the process, and I can’t hide how much it hurts. I feel Fritz’s arms wrap around me, and I clutch at him to keep from crumpling to the ground.

“Whoa, whoa, Mariah! Are you okay?”

Bella hovers in front of us, the purple light sinking into her wing and repairing the damage there. She flashes through her range of colors again, looking good as new. I’m relieved that it worked. I catch my breath and tell Fritz, “There are a lot of pretty amazing things out there, outside the domes.”

“Yeah,” he acknowledges, but his concern is stronger than his curiosity. “Do you need a place to lay low for a while?”

I shake my head and reach over for my cane. “I need to get outside. The domes are… not a place I can stay.” It’s a discouraging lesson, but I’ve learned it well over the course of the day. My thirty years marinating in miasma have made me resilient to Chiron’s environment, but not without a cost. I’m also dependent on it.

“You’re with the Stepdaughters of Chiron movement, aren’t you?” Fritz asks.

I give a half-hearted chuckle, but I don’t refute it. Am I with them? Well, they’re being blamed for everything I do, so I guess I am, even if I’ve only ever talked with one member. But what I say to Fritz is, “Why do you think Louisa took up with us?”

“That adds up,” Fritz says with a nod. “Well, you take care of yourself, then,” he tells me, releasing me to stand on my own. “If you go out that way,” he nods in the direction I was headed earlier, down to the docks, “you’re going to have to climb across rocks. Or you could swim through the harbor if you’re really brave.”

I look down at my right leg in dismay. “Ugh, I cannot deal with slippery rocks right now.” The only thing keeping me up is my cane.

“Well, we can probably get you to the front door without too much issue,” he says, offering me his arm again.

“Yeah, that’d be great,” I agree. I slip my arm through his and take a quick glance around before we move on. No sign of the shimmerfly anymore, as I’d expected.

We head back down the alley, through the open turnstiles, and out into the central boulevard. It’s night now, so the dome above us is black, but there are plenty of streetlamps here, as well as festive strings of lights. We stroll slowly until I get myself pulled back together. Plenty of people are still out enjoying the party, but eventually the toll gates on the side alleys go down. Here and there, we pass repo squad associates who are “encouraging” festival attendees to leave—only those lacking the trappings of status, of course. No one bothers us, perhaps because we’re dressed well, or maybe because we’re headed to an exit—the main dome entrance.

And so somehow this draining day ends with a pleasant stroll alongside pleasant company. We chat about innocuous topics, like tailoring and fabrics. When I’m feeling more stable, I let go of Fritz’s arm and take his hand. He asks me what I remember of Earth, so I start by comparing this dome to LA, likening the back alleys to my barrio, and the central boulevard to the posh Unity Project headquarters a two hour commute away. 

That’s just my starting point, since it’s what Fritz is familiar with. From there, I talk about how a lot of LA was exponentially more over-urbanized than any Morgan dome could possibly get in thirty years. And the pollution… I understand miasma can damage lungs, but Earth’s cities had days where going outside was impossible for asthmatics—and there were many asthmatics. Just in my lifetime, the Air Quality Index gained two new levels above hazardous. 

I don’t know if Earth geography is covered on Chiron, but I tell Fritz about how one of my grandfathers was a climate refugee who fled Southeast Asia when islands started disappearing. Not that the California coast was much better. Areas on the outskirts of LA that had been beaches in my grandparents’ time were bays by mine. I share this, as well as other environmental catastrophes back on Earth, so that Fritz can understand why I think it’s important for humans to work with Chiron and not against it. “I really do think it’s viable,” I tell him.

Fritz politely listens, really listens. Some of the ideas are new to him. “You know, I didn’t particularly care to destroy the environment, but truthfully I hadn’t thought about trying to adapt to it. I figured that making it more like Earth would make it easier for us.”

“Why do you think information should be free?” I ask him.

“That’s just the tagline of Data Haven,” Fritz says with a shake of his head.

“But why do you work for that?” I press.

His face stills, all trace of a smile gone now from his lips and eyes. “I want people to be able to escape this debt slavery,” he tells me, with the most intensity and seriousness I’ve seen from him. Just as quickly, he brightens up again, as he adds, “I call it the Miasma Railroad.” Ah, so some Earth history has made it to the schools here. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we don’t have any jails here, we don’t have any prisons. Out there is the prison, out there,” he says, gesturing at the approaching gate. “You rack up too much debt, unless you are actively violent, they’ll just banish you. They throw you out, take everything you have left. And that’s as good as getting killed. So I try to give those people a chance. I get them out of here.”

I’ve heard a lot of this before, from Corazon, but it’s different coming from Fritz, more credible given the calmer demeanor. He goes on, “So when Roze and some of the other datajacks said they’d found something, Data Haven, I said I’d send folks their way. But me, I’ve got too much to do here. Folks deserve a chance to get away from this, but I want to fix it here. Gotta organize people.”

Ah, that’s right. Corazon said Morris was a labor organizer. I make a final appeal, asking Fritz to organize people here to undercut Morgan, specifically for this warfare push—even if that doesn’t immediately address the debt issues. “I respect what you’re doing,” I tell him. “I left Earth with a giant pile of medical debt. Who knows what it is now with a hundred thirty years of compound interest on top. So yeah, I understand. That’s no way to live.” We’re just reaching the front gate now, and I try for a graceful segue. “But here in this dome is no way for me to live, so I’ll bid you farewell.”

Fritz nods. “Much respect,” he says, squeezing my hand for a moment and then releasing it.

I step in towards him, but when he moves in for a kiss, I lay my hand on his chest, stopping him. “We don’t know each other well enough for that,” I tell him.

He looks a little disappointed, but he nods. “Gotta respect that,” he says. “I hope to get to know you better one day, then.”

I smile—that’s not a response I’ve ever gotten before. I give him a farewell hug, which he returns. And then I leave, unsure of when we’ll ever have an opportunity for that.

I suppose dome inhabitants might sometimes go out through this exit at this hour for stargazing. It would be safe enough in small doses. But no one else is leaving the dome at this moment, and there’s no security here to question me. There’s also no detox on the way out, thankfully.

The half mile back to the rover takes me a long time. The air feels so much better out here, palpably so, but I did a lot of damage to myself during that short stay in the dome. When I finally reach our campsite, it looks like Cleve and the others are just settling in themselves. They seem well enough—Takuto and Arx certainly do—but they’re down to just two wolf beetles, Mr. and Mrs. Fuzzy. Cleve looks relieved to be outside, too. He’s probably shocked that we’re all still alive. For now. We still need to get back to Data Haven.