Chronicles of Chiron: Excising Arx | Scene 27

With my unique condition so prominently on my mind, I wish to reassure myself that the precious medical data we recovered from our cryopods is still in our possession. It looks like the rover has been undisturbed while we were gone, but I’d like to see the data drives for myself. When I pop open the trunk, I startle the teenagers sitting on the other side of the rover, leaning against it. Takuto in particular looks around, alarmed, and then he realizes how late it’s gotten. “We should probably get going to bed, shouldn’t we?” he says.

“Yeah, and you’ll probably all want to sleep inside the filtered vehicle,” I point out. I have no intention of doing so myself. I look over at Cleve. “If you want me to take the first watch, I can do that.” He nods, but there’s a pensive look on his face. “Do you want just you and me to do it?” I ask.

“Yeah, let’s just do it and let everybody else rest.”

“Hey, no,” Louisa objects. “I’ll do my part. I’ll take a shift.” Cleve looks unconvinced, and she insists, “I can do it. I can handle it.” 

Cleve gives in swiftly, and I have my suspicions about what that means. But that’s a problem for later. Right now, I’m checking the contents of the trunk. Everything I expect to see is still here, thank goodness. I leave the data drives be and start pulling out the blankets to distribute. That’s when I notice some new items among the wrenches. “I think your shimmerfly friend has been bringing prizes,” I tell Cleve. “Either that or a craw came by and left some packages. There’s additional junk back here.”

For starters, there are crumpled up, dirty papers—more flyers, just like the litter we found when we first emerged from our module. Only these are for some new initiative, called the Morgan Industries Earth Corridor. Disapproval rumbles at the back of my throat as I look the flyer over with pursed lips. “Pathway to Prosperity!” it says in a font that’s a throwback to the ancient days of Art Deco. This must be related to what the new terraforming subsidiary will be working on, opening up more land for domes and monoculture farming. The artwork shows an old-fashioned country road snaking its way to the horizon, lined with Earth trees, barns, and silos. In short, a fictional future built on a fictionalized past. 

I’m certainly not going to add to the litter on this world by throwing the flyer away. I fold it up—Cleve can use it to start a fire, I’m sure—and stuff it into the tool box. In here among the wrenches there’s a small gear that I’ve never seen before. Maybe that’s something from Cleve’s earlier repair work on the rover? I’m not sure. But what’s next to it definitely is not. I hold up the strange tangle of filament to show Cleve. “This looks maybe Progenitor… ish,” I say. The more solid parts have the same sheen as my boutonniere.

I pluck yesterday’s find off my blazer and compare the two. The boutonniere is looking a little worse for the wear, the filigree crumpled in places. The new item is all twisted up in a way that makes no sense to me, but maybe parts of it could be repurposed. “Hey, Takuto, you’ve been looking through what you downloaded… Did you come across anything that looked like this?” I ask, indicating my boutonniere. “Because I think it’s broken and needs to be fixed.”

“I can see the part that’s broken,” Cleve says. He doesn’t need a schematic to tell that the wiring isn’t holding the shape it had this morning.

Lest they think I just want my fancy lapel decoration repaired for aesthetic reasons, I elaborate, “The device is helpful to me. It’s a…um… miasmic aggregator, I’ll say. Like how a distillation setup collects water while something is boiling and condenses it down. That’s how I imagine it working. It makes it easier for me to access… whatever it is in the environment that I access. When I pulled too much in the safehouse and there was that xenofungus explosion, I overloaded it.”

“Ok, so maybe you fried a circuit or something. But what’s that thing?” Cleve asks, indicating the new piece I found. I hand it over to him to examine.

Takuto is a bit startled to find himself folded back into a conversation with the adults, but he’s willing to pull out Datapad++ and check for relevant information. “Sure, Mariah, let’s do that. This should just be a quick database search, right?” he says optimistically. Arx settles into the rover with a blanket while Takuto and Cleve compare notes and fiddle with pieces of alien technology. The newer piece is not just a clump of wiring. It follows some pattern that Cleve can track—well enough that he’s able to use Chloe’s multitool to clip a small section off without disrupting it. That gives him enough material to patch up my boutonniere.

“Whoa!” Cleve calls out, biting back a curse. “That’s got more energy in it than I thought.” He shakes out his scorched hand.

“You’ve got to be careful with resonance fields, Mr. Cleve,” Takuto tells him, his voice showing concern despite the admonishment.

Cleve holds the repaired boutonniere out to me. “Well, can you tell if it worked?” he asks, not fully confident in his repair of an alien device. “I mean, it looks good, but…”

“Well, let me try doing something with it,” I suggest. As I drop my eyes down to clip it back in place on my lapel, I tell him, “Give me your hand.” When I look back up, he’s holding it out as though we would shake. I snort a quiet laugh and then turn his hand flat to lay it in my left palm. I place my right hand on top of his and concentrate. “Okay, it’s working again,” I announce, once I feel it. “If you look at it, you should see it moving.” And indeed, the delicate filaments are fluttering lightly in a non-existent breeze.

“Good to know,” Cleve says. I release his healed hand. It’s a fair trade, I think. He can keep repairing the boutonniere, and I can keep repairing his body—though of course I would prefer neither get broken again. I take in a deep breath of night air, relieved at how smoothly that direction of energy went. There’s something in the air here that was definitely not in the Morgan dome, of that I am sure. My brain does the best it can to process these new sensations, supplying the smell of fresh rain in a dry, dusty lot. Only, with how humid it is here from the afternoon rain, there’s no way that real scent could stand out. So this is something different. And as I consider it further, I realize I can tell those two scents apart. Fresh rain doesn’t smell as… rich as this does. Whatever this is, pheromone or something else, it’s not exactly the same thing as miasma. They’re related—they feel similar—but when the boutonniere is at work, the flavor is different. ¡Ay! I wish I had proper words for these things. Maybe I can get Marina to come outside Data Haven and measure what’s in the air around me as I manipulate this. If she doesn’t have the necessary equipment, that’s one more reason to head to wherever the Stepdaughters of Chiron are based.

My ruminations are interrupted by Louisa. “You two are full of surprises,” she comments from across the campsite. She’s not interested in Progenitor tech—maybe has never even heard of it—but the brief flare of Chiron power and Cleve’s nonchalance about it impresses her.

Arx has a comment, too, but not about that. They tap on the rover window to draw attention and then hit the button to lower it. When it’s down, they lean their head out. With a big grin plastered across their face, they ask, “So, Mariah, who’s your boyfriend?” They punctuate the question by puckering their lips in a mock kiss.

“That’s a little forward,” I reply coolly. “I told him I was from Earth. It’s Planetfall Day; that’s just the custom around here, isn’t it?”

Arx gives me a kind of touché look, acknowledging that I’ve handled that smoothly. Then their eyes slip over to Takuto, who’s finished packing up Datapad++. “Hang on… Takuto, I’m a planetfaller!”

“Right, and I made out with a few locals while you guys were in the clinic,” Cleve comments wryly.

With laughs, everyone retires for the night inside the rover. All except me. I have a few more hours of wakefulness ahead of me while I keep watch and try not to replay all the events of the day in my head. Out here in the night, it’s just me and these two wolf beetles and my thoughts. And thanks to Arx, Fritz is right at the forefront of those again.