Chronicles of Chiron: Excising Arx | Scene 4

A general store is on the way to the medical center, so even though Chloe’s shopping is not our “main mission,” we’re taking care of that before we get Arx. Or rather, Cleve and Takuto are. I find the street fair atmosphere out here on the boulevard of more interest than a kitschy hypermarket. The smells are wonderful, but the only thing I can afford is free samples, and of course the lines for those are long.

At a far less crowded booth, someone with actual credits to their name is purchasing the largest funnel cake I have ever seen in my life. The signs advertise it as elephant ear cake, I guess because elephants were back on Earth and Planetfall Day is sort of a celebration of Earth? It’s a tenuous link. Maybe the name is just because of the size. The fragrant treat is enormous.

I drift over to one of the permanent structures nearby, a department store with a window display of fancier clothes than most of the people around me are wearing. By the door is a finely dressed woman who is repeatedly checking her watch in annoyance and occasionally glancing into the store. She catches my eye and starts up a conversation with me. “Impossible to hire good help these days,” she complains. She must be waiting for her servant to pick up an order.

“You wouldn’t think that’d be the case, what with how much debt some of these people are in,” I reply. Her comments have placed me in her own social sphere, so I’m happy to occupy that role while I see what I can learn from her.

“Nobody wants to work anymore, is the problem. At planetfall, everyone was willing to work. Everyone put in their time. And those of us that worked hard reaped the rewards.” I judge her to be in her sixties, someone who was already established in her career before leaving Earth.

I play the part of a Chiron-born who shows proper deference to my Earth-born betters. “You’d think that a holiday celebrating planetfall would give people a chance to reevaluate their priorities and get back in line,” I say pleasantly. I don’t think that at all, of course. Plenty of holidays back on Earth had origins that were mostly forgotten by the populace celebrating them, overworked folks who needed a day every now and then to simply relax and enjoy a cookout with friends and family.

“You know, that’s what it used to be! But Planetfall Day…” She huffs in annoyance. “It’s a celebration of our survival and success at taming this planet. But now it’s just a party! We worked hard to build this society. They could show some appreciation of that.” 

She doesn’t include me in that “they” so I’m doing a good job of staying on her good side for now. “That’s a stylish outfit. Do you shop at Fritz’s?”

“Mmmm, I’ve gone to Fritz once or twice. Eh… Fritz does good work. But it’s…” She sighs. “It simply doesn’t compare to what we had on Earth.” Ah, planetfaller biases in the opposite direction of what we saw with Shu-Fen. “I don’t know if it’s the materials or the work ethic. We built the Unity starship on Earth. We came all the way across the galaxy!” 

Um, no we did not. The galaxy is over a hundred thousand lightyears wide. We traveled just over four. “What was your role in the Unity Project?” I ask. It wasn’t astrocartography, that’s for sure.

“I work in terraforming, agriculture… Everyone must eat.” 

She presents me with a business card identifying her as Bianca Horvath, Vice President of Sustenance Operations. Maybe I can get some useful information from her. “Oh, I’ve heard rumors that there are going to be even better fungicides. Are you involved in the development of that?”

“That’s not exactly my department, but that’s something we’ll deploy. Once the land is cleared of that disgusting filth, xenofungus, then we can make it ready. Grade it nice and even. Plant our crops in a proper, orderly fashion. And you know, I believe one day we’ll be able to rebuild an earthly paradise here.” ¡Ay! I don’t like the sentiment, but I still hold out some hope for this conversation. Surely this is someone scientifically-minded, right? Open to new knowledge and incremental improvement? Bianca continues wearily, “This new fungicide is an important component of that, but finding a fungicide that doesn’t also destroy our crops is an ongoing project.”

“Well, but what about adapting the crops to the native environment?” I ask. “Couldn’t you till the native plants into the soil? Surely some of them are nitrogen-fixing.”

Bianca shifts her weight, and with the change of stance, I can tell I’m in danger of falling out of her good graces. “Now, maybe in some industries, like construction, it’s safe to use local materials. But you don’t want that xenofungus in your body. Trust me. Maybe you don’t remember how many people were so severely sick in those first few years. Hundreds of people died before we even figured out what they were dying from, that the miasma was so dangerous. You, young man, look like you were perhaps born after those initial hard years. Xenofungus is the enemy,” Bianca insists, carefully enunciating each following word to make her point, “and the only solution is to burn it out.” 

She raises her hand up between us, thumb and forefinger close together. “If you give xenofungus an inch, it will take over the entire dome. Until we properly implemented our detox, that was a regular fear and occurrence in those first few years. I’m surprised you don’t remember that. Surely, as a little kid, you participated in drills.”

This is exactly the type of opportunity I was telling Marina that we need to take advantage of, sharing information so that people see that there are viable alternatives. I’m not going to win a scientific debate, but I can at least leave this person with food for thought. Bianca seems very entrenched in her position, but she’s also a scientist of some sort. Or at least in charge of scientists. “People are too focused on xenofungus,” I argue. “There’s plenty of other life out there. Shroomnuts, for example, are completely edible. And then there are these other types of Chiron flora with practical applications…” I share some details from the zine Marina gave me, though I don’t present the reference itself. Some of them are edible, some have medicinal uses. All of them should be researched more. And really, people can survive with xenofungus in their system. I’m living proof of that! I don’t go so far as to say that, but I do get too passionate in my arguments about not depending on Earth crops when there are Chiron ones to investigate. Bianca jerks back, eyes narrowed. It’s not just my words bothering her… I can feel the tingle in my eyes—they’re glowing again.

“What are you, one of these Stepdaughters of Chiron sympathizers?” she demands, voice loud enough to draw attention. “Terrorists?” Heads turn our way. People are staring at us now, some with fear, others with interest. And some with malice: I see repo squad uniforms headed this way.

Suddenly there’s a well-tanned hand on my forearm. “Let’s go,” Cleve says quietly into the stunned silence of the crowd all staring at me. He gives a tug, and I don’t resist. We speedwalk away from the scene outside MorMart, and I learn that I’m not the only one who made a stir. “The repo guys ID’d me, and I don’t think it was good,” Cleve shares.

Priority one is to get out of the line of sight of any authority figures with arresting powers. We duck into an alley, and at the end of it, we see turnstiles. This is a route off of posh Commerce Way and into the common folks’ experience of life under Morgan. The turnstiles are disabled for Planetfall Day, and we pass quickly through them.

I notice an immediate change in the lighting. It’s darker here. The buildings are several stories high, but the street is narrower, giving less space for sunlight to reach down this far. But also the plates of the geodesic dome are smokier than the ones above the central boulevard. Maybe grime has accumulated on the inside, or perhaps this is where the builders placed defective ones. The overall effect, though, is gloomy. Everything back here is dirtier: the street, the walkway, the building faces. On regular days, there’d be a lot more people too, but many of them are currently enjoying today’s free access to the boulevard.

It’s not quieter, despite the lack of people. Slot machines—of the old mechanical one-armed bandit variety—blare noise. Our ears are bombarded by music, ads, and the anachronistic clanging come-hither sound of coins jingling down into a cup. Advertisements paper most flat eye-level surfaces. I’d expected computerized gambling machines and flat touchscreens mounted everywhere, like in LA’s metro stations. However, most of the distractions here are mechanical, such as billboards with physical copy that cycle through several ads. This is what Morgan Industries has devoted their resources to? It’s all just a matter of how much money they can make, isn’t it? For the first time since waking up, I don’t feel like I’m on a new planet. And it’s so loud. Even in the homes, there’d be no escape from this noise seeping through the walls.

Cleve is far less distracted than I am. He whips off his hat and runs a hand over his jaw, muttering, “Maybe it’s time to shave here pretty soon.”

Then it’s his turn to get yanked around. A pale white hand in a long black sleeve grabs him, jerking him down a side alley leading away from the central boulevard. Cleve spins and slams into the corner of the building, winding himself. That’s enough to get my attention fully back onto our current predicament. The new arrival is a tall, skinny woman in a black hoodie duster. A fringe of lime green hair pokes out from under the hood. That wasn’t an attack; she cringes a bit at the collision but motions us urgently down the narrow passage with a, “Follow me!” We do, and soon we find ourselves bundled into a dingy rowhouse, its entrance smoothly concealed behind a barrel and some crates. This is clearly a safehouse of some kind, but for who?