Before Cleve can head back out into the strange wilderness of this new planet, he needs a working rifle. Roze sits with him in Data Haven’s basic machine shop as he wipes and brushes and scrubs. They advise him to keep the gun coated, and he asks for recommendations on miasma-resistant oil. He’s worried about taxing Data Haven’s limited supplies, but Roze assures him they have ample grease. Pretty much anything small and not intended for human consumption is readily available, partly because of the 3D printers.
Roze tells him that most oils that protect against rust will be pretty good against miasma, too. It does not cause rust exactly, but that’s the closest Earth-based problem they can relate it to. And unfortunately, miasma gunks up more than just iron. “It causes jams, it gets in the way. I mean, it might also cause rust, but I’m not a chemist. It’s bad for metal, it’s bad for plastic, it’s bad for wood. If you could make a gun out of a mushroom, then maybe it would be fine, I dunno.”
“A mushroom gun?” Cleve asks, beginning to consider the possibility.
“Look, I’m just spouting nonsense, okay?” Roze tells him. “That’s what I do.” Still, Cleve bats around a few ideas. Maybe there are mushroom stalks that, once hollowed out, can handle exploding gunpowder. “This is why I like you, Cleve,” Roze chuckles, “but it’s not really my kind of puzzle. If you get something working, though, definitely let me know.” They roll their chair across the workshop and snag a can of cosmoline for him. “This should protect your gun from miasma, but if it stays on too long, it will cake up and become just as annoying itself,” they warn Cleve. “Should be fine as long as you maintain it. As long as your gun doesn’t end up in storage for a hundred years.”
“Well, it just was. So probably good that I just took some time to clean it,” Cleve reflects.
His next priority is supplies for the upcoming trek. This is when he begins to see what Roze meant about not really being in charge around here. Although they clearly have sway, they can’t order anyone to help out, and they certainly don’t take Cleve to see a quartermaster. “We can see what we can get for you,” Roze says, sounding optimistic. “Now, I don’t personally have most of the stuff you’re going to be looking for. So we gotta talk to different people and, you know, see what we can get. But there’s going to be a little cajoling, a little—” they sigh, “—a little bit of elbow grease, a little bit of back-slapping.”
“I have faith,” Cleve says.
“Yeah, not a lot of that going around here, so that’s good,” Roze tells him.
“Faith in you!” Roze laughs to hear that. “I’m sure you’re real popular around here,” Cleve says.
“Well…. yes.” There’s a certain level of vanity that Roze cannot help but project.
Cleve is focused on the challenges that the terrain will present. He has climbing gear already, but Roze’s suggestion of a monocular is appealing. He is not daunted by the prospect of a little quid pro quo; having a job—any job—gives him purpose. Providing something useful in exchange for the equivalent is far more satisfying than just handing over cash.
Roze takes him to see Chloe, the closest thing to a survivalist that Data Haven has. She looks him up and down during the introductions and then gives Cleve a small nod in recognition of a kindred spirit. The first rifle he has seen in here other than his own is racked on her wall. She wears muted colors that would blend in well with the vegetation outside. Less so with the hackers inside.
Cleve asks her advice on the mission, but Chloe hasn’t been in that direction since she left Morgan’s domes a long time ago. And unfortunately her monocular is not available to borrow; she has a hunting trip planned when he will be heading out. She does have some useful advice about traveling in general though. Miasma tends to be lighter at night, so that’s the best time to traverse any high-miasma areas. Cleve thanks her and makes a note of Chloe as someone he might be able to work with on getting Data Haven larders better stocked.
Roze leads Cleve back out into the hall and continues on as though they have a destination in mind. They think dealing with the network node’s robot guard might require something more high tech than a rifle. “What about an electromagnetic pulse grenade? Eh? Eh?” Roze suggests.
“Will that be a problem for the thing?” Cleve asks.
“What thing? Oh! Yeah, don’t use it on the node! Use it on the robot.”
“Right. Good idea,” Cleve tells them with a smile.
Roze takes him to see Tenoch, a hardware-focused hacker. Their workshop is a mess of cables and wires, a far cry from the organized gadgets that Chloe had. Tenoch is busy soldering a circuit board when their guests arrive. They look up and in a creaky voice ask, “What are you interested in?” They look older than Roze, so definitely a planetfaller. Chloe… she might have been born here.
“Sounds like I might have to fight a robot,” Cleve explains. “Or avoid a robot.”
“I personally recommend the latter rather than the former,” Tenoch says.
“Did you hear anything about this robot that the kid Takuto was talking about?” Cleve asks.
“Some sort of Morgan security bot,” Roze adds.
“Only that there was a robot. Takuto’s a little shaky now, so we give him space. It’d be great to take a look at the robot…” Tenoch says. They think it might make a better guard than the briar beast above. That sounds fine to Cleve. He grew up on a family ranch where everyone pulled their own weight. The good of the group is what matters to him, and this is the group he has now. He has no designs on the robot himself—he can barely keep his gun working, what would he do with a robot? And Roze just thinks it would be cool to have one around; they’re not possessive about it. So Tenoch is as good a recipient for it as any.
Cleve pumps Tenoch for ideas on securing the robot. An EMP might be able to shut one down, but getting the robot to actually do what you want, that would involve some serious computer skills. Although the prospect of a robot toy is appealing to Tenoch, they need some convincing that it is worth giving up a precious EMP grenade. They pepper Cleve with questions about the expedition for a while and then finally judge him competent enough to entrust with the device. “But you have to bring back a robot that can work,” they insist. “That can be made to work. Repairable. If you blew it up with a conventional grenade, that would be useless. But with this,” Tenoch holds up the EMP grenade, “you should be able to bring me an almost-working robot. And bring me some other electronics, too. If you can tear something—not critical—out of the network node, I can find a use for it.”
“You got any drawings?” Cleve asks, feeling out of his element suddenly. “Descriptions of what might be good? Unless Corazon knows… well, or maybe Em knows…”
“Anything that looks like a fancy circuit board. Oh, or a data storage device. Those kinds of things might be in the network node.”
Cleve nods, accepts the grenade, and departs with Roze. “I have a feeling I’m going to be bringing back an armful of electronics and seeing how far that gets me,” he tells his friend. “I might have just started my first indebtedness on this planet.”
“Better to be indebted to Tenoch than to Morgan,” Roze says. But then they reassure Cleve, “Definitely bring back that robot, in whatever state. Don’t worry too much about Tenoch. And I know you, you’ll figure something out if you can’t get that robot. Say, how do you feel about cybermods to your own body? Tenoch’s been testing some stuff, but they never get enough volunteers. But don’t worry about it. I’m sure it won’t come to that.”
Cleve mulls that over for a moment. “You know, I’ve never thought about cybermods. That’s a thing for city folk.”
“Well, this is what passes for a city, Cleve,” Roze says, gesturing at the corridors of Data Haven.