Chronicles of Chiron: Excising Arx | Scene 8

Louisa is less awed with me than the rest of her group. Or she has at least composed herself to conceal it. She gets down to business, guiding us through the open toll plaza and down the boulevard, trusting the crowds to keep us concealed from any repo squad associates who may try to pick up our trail. She pauses by a hat vendor and advises Cleve to pick a new one. He gives a shake of the head and takes matters into his own hands—literally. He ducks into one of the alleys leading back to the barrios and pulls out his utility knife. Grabbing a chunk of hair, he hacks it off. In a few moments, his shaggy short hair becomes a messy crew cut, which honestly, fits his casual-chic vibe. Louisa suggests the beard go as well, and when it becomes apparent that he’s going to use the same technique, I offer him my mirror so he can at least see what he’s doing this time. With a quick pass, Cleve scrapes his facial hair down to just rough stubble. Everything goes, even the mustache. As a final touch, he takes off his jacket and crams it into his rucksack. It’s a different look than he had before and will hopefully be enough to not draw the attention of any repo squad associates from a distance at least. He’s the one they’re tracking, so that should be sufficient.

With that taken care of, we resume our hurried walk toward the medical center. Our route takes us past Morgan Industries Headquarters as fanfares start to sound. We get the beginning of Morgan’s speech from amplifiers along the boulevard, but once we reach the headquarters building itself, we can see my old boss—literally old now—on a giant jumbotron screen.

“And now, a special speech by CEO Nwabudike Morgan to commemorate Planetfall Day!” The introduction is met with applause and cheers, as people pause in the boulevard and give their full attention.

A grayer, graver Morgan starts by wishing everyone a happy thirtieth anniversary of planetfall. “This is a glorious day, one where we rededicate ourselves to making this world prosperous to humanity. We will clean this world for humanity, enriching all ourselves in the process. Today, we recommit ourselves to clearing xenofungus and miasma, to building more domes for more people, as our greatness expands across the peninsula. We will spread eastward with our new terraforming subsidiary, We Move the Earth.”

I don’t like the sound of that. With Data Haven east of here, that could cause problems above and beyond the ecological ones. I assume they’ll have to go through Miasma Pass, but beyond that, I’m not sure—my mind only holds a loose metro map of important places I’ve been so far. I shake my head in despair. This day just gets worse and worse. 

Then Morgan continues, “But today is not only a day for celebration. We also memorialize those who have been lost.” I expect him to speak of those who have died from lung failure over the years, but no. “You will all have heard by now of the recent attack,” Morgan says, and then he reads off five names. I stop in my tracks. These are the five people whose deaths are my fault. “They were killed in a brutal attack. Have no doubt: this was an act of war. What we previously thought were terrorists, the Stepdaughters of Chiron—they are planning to invade and wipe us off this planet. We have to defend ourselves, and for that reason I am commissioning the Planetary Security Force.”

To the cheers of everyone, the front doors of Morgan Industries HQ open to reveal armored transports. They look like hatchback humvees, except with treads like tanks instead of wheels. They roll out into the square and park for a demonstration. The hiss of pressurized gas being released sounds across the plaza as the sealed units open and fungicide squads emerge. Gone are the dopey coveralls and unwieldy backpack Cor was saddled with. These are military grade, reinforced uniforms and slimmer fungicide spray guns. Some of the troops also have traditional small arms, but more serious-looking than repo squad pistols. There’s no doubt about it—this is a small military parade. 

Data Haven may be safe, or it may not be, depending on if it gets noticed. But from the sounds of this decree, Morgan knows where the Stepdaughters of Chiron are based, which could be disastrous. All eyes are fixed on Morgan’s display. I tear mine away and hasten along, eager to get away from this nightmare. We’ve got to get Arx and get out of here, get back and warn everyone of this… this war I’ve started.

I walk on in a cloud of misery. Takuto is anxious—about Arx, not about this. Louisa looks angry but not surprised. I hear her grumbling under her breath, “Typical, typical.” For his part, Cleve looks pensive. He scans the show of force, tallying up what’s there, getting numbers for Roze. There’s a hundred or so soldiers, which may not sound like a lot on Earth, but that’s certainly more than the population of Data Haven. And they’re backed by Morgan Autonomous Security-Trons, two for every three soldiers. 

Cleve shares all these observations and his analysis as he scribbles them down in his journal. If they’re going overland, it’s still going to take them a while before they can really threaten anyone. There’s the pass to get through, which could take as much as a month. They’ll need to clear out xenofungus as they go, which means traveling at the speed of foot through the denser areas. And they can’t drag all the fungicide they’ll need along with them, so that means developing a supply line. For that, they may even need to build an actual road. Once they’ve passed through the area around Data Haven, there’s still the Monsoon Jungle. Morgan has declared his vendetta against the Stepdaughters of Chiron, but it will take the Planetary Security Force months to enact it.

“We can share this with Dr. Citali. The Stepdaughters will need to prepare themselves in some way,” I say.

“Could be good for diplomacy,” Cleve agrees. “That’s more your thing, I think.”

I scoff at that. “Diplomacy’s my thing, and yet I’ve started a war.” What a mess I’ve made of this all! In my rush to forge connections on this planet, I overstepped myself, agreeing too readily to help Marina out, just for the chance of getting back in touch with Deirdre. I did something I didn’t fully understand, and five people are dead—so far—because of it. We’re leaving the plaza behind at our quick walking pace, but I’m still there in my mind, and it’s spiraling out of control. “All of this is my fault! Deirdre, the whole Stepdaughters of Chiron, none of them know this is coming. None of them even did that! That was just Marina and me. And Data Haven’s going to get caught in the middle!”

“Isn’t that one of the things that starts wars, diplomacy?” Cleve offers an insightful observation, but it doesn’t make me feel better. He continues, “Look, this guy was going to deploy these anyway. We know these soldiers were in the works before anything happened at the network node. He was just looking for an excuse. Morgan was always going to do this, and he was going to blame it on the Stepdaughters no matter what happened. I’ll admit it, he’s smarter than I was giving him credit for. Just an HR guy? No, he’s taking advantage of the opportunity here. This is a clever way to play it. But hey, that’s how governments work. Of course he’s going to blame it on the factory. If I didn’t know about the virus already, I’d think Morgan staged the explosion just for a reason to trot out these new troops.” I open my mouth to respond, but Cleve isn’t done yet. “We need to focus, because now we have intel that can help them, and we need to get it back. Let’s get Arx and get out of here.”

Takuto, of course, is onboard with this. “Yes, finally, thank you.” He tightens his grip on his backpack straps, eager and anxious all at once.

“We have the data, we have all the important stuff except Arx. Let’s get out of here as soon as we can,” Cleve concludes. “It’s fine. It’s not your fault. Let’s go.” He turns forward and picks up the pace, done with the pep talk.

I nod and let out a breath. There’s still someone in jeopardy who we can help. Regardless of all that has happened since we got here, I need to focus on the job at hand. Get in. Get Arx. Get out. Get the warning back to Data Haven.