Chronicles of Chiron: Excising Arx | Scene 6

Having reached an agreement with the activists, we then move on to discussing what’s of more practical importance right now, rescuing Arx. “We’d appreciate any information on the miasma research center that can give us a leg up on what we have to do there,” I tell the group, looking around to see if anyone has any experience or knowledge of it. 

They all look to Louisa. “The Hospital for Experimental Miasma Treatment? Oh, yes, your agent would be taken there and probably held against their will and experimented on until their ‘debt is paid,’” she says grimly. “They use repo squads as security, but that’s to keep people in. If you want to get in, you could probably just go up to the front desk and say that you want to visit someone. If you claim that you’re there to maybe pay off some debt, they’ll be a lot kinder about that. The head researcher is Dr. Bingyi Khan.”

“Is this somebody sympathetic to your group?” I ask, hoping for a scientist willing to expand their horizons.

“Definitely not,” Louisa declares emphatically. “She is a bigot who is trying to destroy native life on this planet.” Well, I won’t be making any friends there! “That planetfaller would frame it as making the world safe for humanity, but no! She’s burning down this world,” Louisa gripes. “Well, I’m going to burn down their whole institution!”

That is not something I want to be part of. Into the silence that follows the cheers echoing support of Louisa’s declaration, I quietly ask, voice serious, “Do you know how many people died in that factory explosion?” I expect she knows the answer. Her group has probably been wondering who did that, because it certainly wasn’t them.

“A few people were severely injured and couldn’t afford treatment to be saved. Those five died.” Louisa thinks for a moment, and then her face brightens. “Wait, did you do that?” she asks excitedly.

“No, we weren’t involved in that,” Cleve answers, a look of confusion on his face, as though it would be impossible for us to be responsible.

I did that,” I say, owning up to my actions. “You were busy doing something else,” I tell him.

“You did that?!” Louisa echoes. “That was incredible!”

“No! Five dead people is not incredible!”

“That is awful, I agree. Morgan is the one who killed them by denying them critical access to healthcare.”

I am not going to accept those excuses again. “Morgan is not the only person liable for those deaths,” I insist.

“You’re right,” Louisa says. “The whole institution needs to go.” ¡Ay! She is not listening to me at all!

“When did you have time to get all the way over here?” Cleve asks, slipping in his question while I’m grappling with how to tamp down Louisa’s enthusiasm for violence.

“It was a virus. When you were fighting the robot,” I tell him.

“Oh, at the—okay. Oh. Oh!” Comprehension slowly sinks in.

“One of the Morgan Autonomous Security-Trons?” Louisa asks, simply growing more impressed with us. “We’ve heard about them. They’re specifically at important Morgan-owned properties.” Takuto’s face blanches at the mention of the machines that beat him up and took away Arx. He recoils further into a dark corner of the candle-lit room.

I turn my full attention back to Louisa. “I understand your desire for vengeance and revolution, but those don’t have to be violent things. I think it is possible for humanity to live on Chiron,” I tell her, my irises flaring purple to back up my point. “It’s possible to have a just society here. It’s possible to live without domes, and there are definite avenues of research that scientists and technology could be directed towards. But if you physically tear down these structures, you are going to hamper those efforts as well as hurt people that you should be helping to live in that new world.”

Louisa dials down her enthusiasm a bit. “If that’s the Stepdaughters of Chiron way, we can… we can give that a try.” I look past her, reading the mood of our audience. Some of them seem in complete agreement with Louisa, the ones who voiced support of her threats to burn down the miasma research clinic. But some of the others have been silent this whole time, and only now that I’ve argued against violence do they really tune in. The one with the knife stops throwing it, giving our conversation her full attention. Not everyone here wants to burn the dome to the ground, but this is the organization of Stepdaughters of Chiron sympathizers, so they have put up with the more extreme viewpoints. Everyone here has the same end goal, but the means by which they want to resist vary.

With Louisa’s fire dampened for now, I turn to more practical matters. “Cleve, the rover only has seats for four, but we can cram an extra person in, right? Is that just going to be uncomfortable, or is that going to cost us range?”

Cleve looks Louisa up and down and then turns to Takuto. “How big is Arx?” Takuto, of course, is willing to ride with the smaller Arx on his lap. No surprises there. “It won’t be comfortable, but it’s doable,” Cleve concludes. Under his breath, he grumbles about responsibilities, perhaps worried about having another supposedly unqualified teenager on hand?

“Great. You can just drop us off at one of the outlying locations, and I’ll give you a message to deliver on our behalf,” I tell Cleve, being deliberately vague about our final destination. There’s no need to name Data Haven here.

Cleve nods. “Assuming we all survive.”

“Yes. As always, assuming we survive what we’re about to do.”

“When I was fighting the robot, there was talk about how much more debt I was going into for every infraction,” Cleve says slowly, thinking aloud. “But it never said the value. How much could that be? Can we just buy Arx back?”

“With your hundred credits?” I ask, eyebrows raised.

“Well, no, all I have now is fifty credits and this chili powder,” Cleve says, pulling out the small bag and hefting it. “Maybe we just sell off a few things and can pay off the debt? Or will it be more than that?”

There’s a laugh from some of the teenagers in the room. “You could buy a day pass with that,” one of them scoffs. “And what’s chilly powder, anyway? It makes you cold?”

Cleve deflates a little, realizing how silly his plan sounds. “It’s a spice,” he says simply. Apparently those under the thumb of Morgan Industries have been living in a perpetual autumn, as far as Earth spices go, having access only to nutmeg. One of the teens complains that planetfallers put it in everything. This explains why Cor can’t stand what she called Earth food.

“So, what level of debt do you think people who get in trouble would have?” I ask our audience of troublemakers. 

“On my rap sheet I’ve got thousands of credits worth of ‘debt’ in their fictitious little system,” Louisa shares. “Really, it’s just a measure of how much effort they’re willing to go through to exile you or repossess everything you own.”

I’m still trying to nail down the scale of what we might be facing for Arx. “So, is that a few thousand credits because you smashed a window? Or because you burnt down a building?”

“Well, you start with smashing windows, and you work your way up to cutting the power to a building,” Louisa answers with pride.

“Arx’s only offense is assaulting a robot,” I point out.

“And then being arrested by a robot,” Cleve adds, having more personal experience of how debt can accrue. “And resisting arrest. Oh, and trespassing.”

“Wait, did you infiltrate Morgan Industries Headquarters?” Louisa asks, her excitement over direct action against Morgan derailing her from our interests. She lists a few other places where these robots operate, including the network node, but we don’t supply her with an answer. Instead, I drag her back on topic. Louisa figures that Arx would owe a year of medical experimentation, which is far more credits than we could supply. 

She suggests robbing a bank, which I flatly reject. “No, no we are not going to rob a bank. We’re going to go in, we’re going to try to figure out where specifically Arx is, and then we’re going to try to get them out.”

And that’s when the front door explodes.