Data Haven makes a snug home, but my closet with a cot isn’t that much less spacious than what I had to call my own back in LA. And although there are concerns about how much food is left, the 3D printer can turn out a wide variety of smaller items. Someone had the foresight to include in their allotment from Earth the black market software patterns of designer clothes. While that might sound frivolous to some, I certainly don’t object. Cleve, Corazon, and I will be heading back out into the wilderness, and some fashionable jeans will be far more sensible than my trousers were. That’s the only clothing concession I make to practicality. My vest and blazer are coming, and my low-cut tan leather boots, too. It would be too much of a pain—both literally and figuratively—to get a more rugged pair made with the right kind of built-in brace.
We have a few days to rest and recover from our first overland trip before we head out on Roze’s job. I don’t see much of Corazon during that time; she’s getting some training in computer systems, I think. The network node we’re supposed to hit is deep in miasma-rich territory and on the border of Morgan-controlled land. Although the data transmission lines are underground, the node is on the surface. It’s a repeater station, designed to ensure that data makes it between domes without getting corrupted. On a planet with no wifi, this is how things have to be done. Sadly, there are no such connections between here and wherever Deirdre lives, or I’d have certainly been in touch with her. As it is, I need to complete my little side job for Dr. Citali before I have a hope of seeing my old friend again. Whether it’s a matter of proving my trustworthiness or demonstrating my commitment to her cause—or just a favor-based economy—that’s the price.
It’s in Dr. Citali’s best interest for me to be as healthy as I can for this job, and I want to get to know her better for my own purposes, so I pay another visit to her lab. Although my breathing has cleared up, I’m concerned about the gash from the wolf beetle. I’ve been feeling weird pains in my leg, and I’d like a medical professional’s opinion on whether the cut is infected. She finds me to be a new and interesting case; apparently wolf beetle bites are rather rare. “So, what are the conditions under which you provoked a wolf beetle?” Dr. Citali asks once I’m up on a table with my pants leg pulled up and the bandaging removed.
Just like with Corazon, there’s some victim blaming here, but I don’t take offense. Thanks to her, I know how wolf beetles fit into society here as pets. And I suppose Dr. Citali is more of a research scientist than a physician. She probably didn’t get much training in bedside manner. With all that in mind, I explain that there was a wolf beetle nest directly over our module, and we escaped into that space without knowing what it was. Dr. Citali tells me that normally wolf beetles don’t cause such injuries, and then she warns, “There’s more dangerous things out there, too. The briar beast you encountered, for example.”
She’s pretty calm about that. I think she’s got a brave streak to her. She’d need to, to brave the wilderness between here and wherever the Stepdaughters of Chiron are based. I ask her about what other dangers she faced on that journey, and she says, “Breathing the miasma is probably the most dangerous thing, but if you take the right precautions and respect the environment, then you can get through the Monsoon Jungle without too much trouble.” That’s what they call the wild expanse between here and the settlements of the Stepdaughters of Chiron.
“The shot that you provided to Corazon for our job, is that something you yourself personally tried when you crossed the Monsoon Jungle to get here?” I ask her. “Or is it something new that was developed here?”
“It wasn’t my design,” Dr. Citali admits, “but I tested it out personally on the way here. For a trip like that, it probably would have been okay without it, as long as one is cautious about going into miasma zones. But it needed to be tested.” I’m glad to hear that, because a firsthand account of the side effects would really help with keeping an eye on Corazon. Dr. Citali shares that she and her associates experienced what she calls “modestly realistic hallucinations.”
“Like what? Hearing things? Seeing things? Or are we talking LSD here?”
“No, not like LSD!” The way she answers, it’s obvious she’s done something like that before. Perhaps her drug problem runs deeper than whatever gum she keeps always on hand. “No no no. Rather, you’re likely to see someone that is not actually there.”
I drop my shaking head into my hands at the thought of what Corazon might conjure up from her brain. “I hope she doesn’t hallucinate Morgan,” I mutter.
“For example, I thought I saw Dr. Skye. She gave me words of encouragement. So, whatever that person thinks they’re going to see or is important to them, is probably what they’ll see. It’s pretty mild. Sure, it’s a little confusing, but when you know what to look for, it’ll probably be fine. Of course, it will vary for every person. What their level of miasma exposure has been, do they have anything else in their system… Things like that. Also, they might be a little drowsy.” I nod in acknowledgement. That all sounds reasonable. “Long-term side effects, though, we’re still investigating. But definitely it’s just a preventative. Once you have miasma in your system, it’s too late.”
“So the shot that you gave me, that you said might possibly help with miasma, what about that?”
“That’s something we’re trying,” Dr. Citali says. There’s not much excitement in her voice. Maybe those trials aren’t going so well. “That treats the symptoms, like the breathing issues. But there will still be an elevated level of miasma particles in the system. Oh! While we’re checking your leg—which looks like it’s healing up all right from what was a nasty bite—we should do some more detailed blood work on you.”
I look down at the new scabs obscuring all my old scars. “You think that looks completely normal for something that was slashed by sharp mandibles?”
“Yes. No signs of any acid burn. Just a nasty gash. Why? Are you feeling any unusual pain?”
“I’ve felt… like… a burning in my leg,” I tell her, and I get a detached hmmm in response. “But if you don’t see any signs of acid burn then maybe it was just… exposure of the wound to miasma?”
“It could be a regular infection… I’ll run a more detailed analysis on your blood.” There’s no need to bandage the wound anymore; it’s scabbed over enough to protect itself. As I straighten my pants leg back down, she tells me she should have some preliminary results before I leave but the full rundown probably won’t be ready until I’m back.