Chronicles of Chiron: Excising Arx | Scene 26

“Do you want to drive out of here in the dark?” I ask Cleve as I limp up to him. He rubs a hand over his roughly shaved chin and directs a concerned glance at the countryside behind me. “Oh! Nobody is hot on our heels,” I assure him. “I wasn’t chased out of the dome.”

“Good to know,” Cleve says absentmindedly, indicating that wasn’t his concern. No, he’s worried about navigating the terrain at night. Only one moon is out right now, and it’s a little one. And we have more people than the vehicle can comfortably hold—plus the two wolf beetles. “I think we wait until morning,” Cleve says. “We’re well hidden.”

“Fine with me!” I’d really like some rest before what promises to be an uncomfortable drive. “So… watches?” I ask wearily. Somewhere on the other side of the rover, Takuto and Arx are quietly talking. Bits of their muted conversation—Takuto concerned, Arx relieved—float over the vehicle to us. Louisa is minding the wolf beetles.

Cleve’s far-off gaze returns to me and then really looks at me. “You look like you’re in rough shape,” he says. 

I don’t disagree. He starts digging around in his rucksack for his first aid kit, and I tell him, “Arx and I got sprayed with fungicide when we were inside that miasma research center. It was… not good for me.”

Cleve nods. He’s seen fungicide burns on me before. “Doesn’t seem like good stuff.”

“It’s particularly bad for me.”

“Did you get any in your lungs?”

With a dismissive chuff, I tell him, “I’m not worried about my lungs.”

“Guess that’s a no,” I hear Cleve mutter under his breath. He stands up with the kit, leaving the rucksack down on the ground. As he straightens up, I notice he’s treating his ribs gingerly. They must still be hurting from when Louisa accidentally slammed him into a wall earlier in the day.

I shrug off my blazer, relieved to see there’s no blood on my shirt sleeve. Still, my right arm hurts quite a bit where the wolf beetle got it earlier, so I start rolling up the sleeve to inspect the damage. That means juggling my cane, which messes with how I’ve got my weight distributed, sending jabs of pain through my right leg again. I grit my teeth against it—and the discouraging reminder that as fascinating as my new abilities are, they also carry with them some serious costs.

Cleve applies ointment to the contusions on my right forearm and then loosely wraps them with gauze. Seeing how much I’m wincing with every shift of my weight, he offers me some anti-inflammatory pills for pain management. I swallow them down with some water, hoping they’ll do something about my Chiron-related aches as well as these bruises.

Arx’s wry teasing voice floats over from the other side of the rover, reminding me of something else I think I should inform Cleve about. “Oh, Arx didn’t seem to suffer any ill effects from the fungicide. We had breath masks on when the spray went off. But also… Arx is probably addicted to whatever treatment they were getting at that hospital. They swiped a bunch of vials of the medicine, but I don’t think their lungs actually need it anymore, not at this point.”

“Do you think it did anything?” Cleve asks.

“I worked on their lungs before we left the hospital. I think maybe the medicine was necessary prior to that, but I don’t think it’s necessary now. That’s my judgment based on my experience working on Takuto’s lungs, in comparison to Arx’s.”

“So you got them all fixed up?”

“I think so. But I think they may have other dependencies on that drug now, regardless of whether they need it for their lungs to function.” A new thought occurs to me, and I consider it aloud. “And actually, you know, probably Dr. Citali does, too.”

“Dr. Citali’s been taking this drug?”
“Have you ever noticed that she’s got this gum she’s chewing all the time?”

“Yeah…?”

“It’s medicated. She gave me some of it in case Arx might need it. It’s in your first aid kit. I think it’s related to whatever sort of miasma exposure she’s had in her time outside. She may have originally taken it to help with her lungs—I don’t know whether she still needs it for that purpose.”

Cleve looks at me for a moment, and then abruptly declares, “Okay.” It’s not a problem he needs to take an action to solve right now. 

“Let me take a look?” I ask him, indicating his side. He was catching his breath as he worked on my arm and moving stiffly. I hope he hasn’t cracked a rib—or worse, punctured a lung. “I seem to be our pulmonologist.” Cleve holds his arm up out of the way, and I feel along his torso, my fingers guiding the focus of my miasma-vision. Off in the distance, I hear the ambulance-like howl of a wolf beetle. “So what happened to the other wolf beetles?” I ask Cleve. “There were five when I left you, and there are only two now.”

“I let them go,” he says. “Those guys were wild, feral at best.” Then he launches into a discourse on animal handling. I seem to have happened upon a topic that the normally stoic survivalist is passionate about. “You can’t just tame wild animals! You have to be very careful with that, and we don’t have the kind of—” I tune in and out of his speech as I direct energy where it needs to go to undo the knots in his muscles and get blood circulating smoothly again. Motes of deep purple pulse in the dim light, sparkling along the edges of my hands and then sinking through the fabric of Cleve’s shirt into his flesh beneath. “It’s not like bush bugs, that you’re just holding in pens… When you’re trying to domesticate an animal, it takes a lot of patience… And they were being mistreated… I just let them go on their way.”

I have Cleve take a few breaths and then drop my hand from his side when the results are satisfactory. “Hang on, hang on!” I hear Louisa hiss out, voice hushed. “Is this a Stepdaughters of Chiron healing technique?” I turn and see that she’s been watching me with rapt attention as I worked on Cleve.

“I have no idea what healing techniques the Stepdaughters of Chiron know,” I tell her.

“Medicated gum,” Cleve points out.

“Look, I know I’m still new to the community of the Stepdaughters,” Louisa says, “but it would really help me if you could read me in on these abilities. It would be helpful for all of us if we all knew the extent of all the capabilities we have, right? Like, if you can summon a siege worm, that would be good to know!”

I resist the urge to shoot Cleve a knowing look at that. I’m sure that isn’t information he wants to share right now. Instead, I crouch down in front of Louisa by the wolf beetles, looking her in the eye as I make my appeal. “Please. Please believe that I am not withholding any sort of Stepdaughters of Chiron secrets from you. I’ve been straight with you from the very beginning: I’m not an official member. I have met one person who belongs to that organization, and I have helped her out with a few things. But I don’t know any of their secrets. And I’m sorry if that’s not what you want to hear. But I’m trying to do the best that I can here, and I’ve only been awake for, what, four weeks?” I’m not feeling as frayed as I was in the dome earlier, but I am still carrying the burdens of the day’s revelations. Things have happened that are definitely my fault, and they have gotten more out of hand than I ever anticipated. I need to stop this in its tracks now before Louisa’s misunderstandings diverge too far from reality, spiraling out of control like so many other things have. “You know more about the Stepdaughters of Chiron than I do,” I tell Louisa. “Cleve and I are not hiding anything from you. We don’t know anything else about them.”

“Yeah,” Cleve agrees from behind me. This is the same line he’s been toeing with her all day.

“The things that you saw me do? Those aren’t Stepdaughters of Chiron tricks. That is something that I can do because of the manner in which I was exposed to the Chiron environment—I assume.”

My words sink in. “All right,” Louisa says, accepting that we’re not Stepdaughters of Chiron operatives. “But you two are some amazing activists.”

“I mean, it is pretty amazing that we identified one pet wolf beetle out of an entire dome and brought it back,” Cleve says dryly.