Chronicles of Chiron: Network Node | Scene 20

When we part ways with Yushi and his underlings, we’re half a day behind Corazon. She may very well make it back to Data Haven before we find her. Cleve doesn’t retrace our winding steps here, choosing instead to bee-line it back across the wilderness to where he expects she’ll call it for the night. Once we are out of earshot of Morgan’s people, he chuckles, “Just wait until I show Roze that I earned a credit chit. Maybe we can get one of the hackers to pump up the value on these and just go buy the supplies they need!” He barely gets that all out before laughter overtakes him. Cleve is quite unimpressed with Yushi and the repo squad, seeing as they have failed at all the tasks we’re aware of. They did not locate Corazon, obviously, and they blithely added hours to their trek to the network node. “Guy’s not very good at his job,” Cleve says, shaking his head. “He didn’t find her the first time, didn’t find her the second time. And now he’s further away from his next mission than he should be!”

“I think it’s in everybody’s best interest for him not to be terribly good at his job,” I point out. Particularly with what happened to the fungicide factory.

“That’s what happens when you get them too young.”

“They have to start jobs young here if they’re going outside,” I observe. “Not that I’m supporting child labor—not after seeing what it did to Takuto.”

“But c’mon, really. We’re not even from this planet!” Cleve laughs again. “We just got here a week or so ago, and he trusted us to guide him through the forest! I mean, are we really that good?”

I don’t see what’s so funny. “I pride myself on my ability to make people trust me,” I tell Cleve. “I don’t think it’s that ridiculous that if you’re friendly to people, they appreciate it.”

Cleve’s laughter fades into a silent shaking of his shoulders, and I fall back, letting him lead the way while I follow silently, mulling over the events of the past couple days.

He glances over his shoulder at me. “Well, I’m telling you, if you convert him to the colony, we’re going to have to teach him some stuff.” 

After a couple hours, we come across some briar beast tracks. We follow them for a while, but then Cleve realizes they don’t belong to Cor. They’re from a real briar beast. “Nope!” Cleve says, holding up a hand for us to stop. He takes off his hat and wipes the sweat from his brow, thinking for a moment. “Should’ve paid more attention,” he quietly chastises himself. “At least we saw the tracks before the briar beast.”

“No, no, this is good!” I say. “People at Data Haven were complaining that they would need to find and train a new briar beast because we destroyed the one they had.”

Cleve sets his hat back on his head. “I mean… do you have briar beast training skill?” he asks.

I grin. “Maybe! I was able to form some kind of connection with the wolf beetle. We had some sort of friendly interaction. Maybe… maybe I can pied-piper a briar beast!”

“So we could lead it back?”

“I think we should at least get close enough for me to see if I can connect to it on some level,” I press.

“All right,” Cleve agrees, but there’s uncertainty in his voice.

The tracks lead into some mushroom brush. It obscures our vision, but after pushing through it a ways, we lay eyes on our target. The briar beast is… exercising? It’s moving through a routine of some kind, stretching a vine out this way, then another vine out another way. The tendrils move through a particular pattern and then repeat it. It seems unlike anything a natural animal would do, let alone a plant. “Maybe this is already a trained one,” I say quietly to Cleve as we watch the performance.

“Somebody trained it and just left it here?” he asks, unconvinced, but willing to bat around ideas.

“Maybe it’s guarding something?”

“Maybe it’s just meant to be an entertaining briar beast?”

“Or maybe it’s some sort of, I don’t know, mating dance?” Birds do that, preening and performing for each other. There could be a second briar beast somewhere nearby, watching just like we are. I glance around the area. On the opposite side of the briar beast, I catch movement. There’s a person over there, sneaking around. They’re coming toward the briar beast—or toward us.

Screw this sneaking thing, I’m heartsore. I’ve just blown up a factory, and my friendship with Yushi is founded on lies. I’d like to have some authentic connection with another person out here—one who views me as more than just a useful tool. A person who isn’t afraid of a briar beast seems a good place to start.

I step forward. “Hello there! Is this your briar beast?” I call out.

The other person emerges from the shadow of a mushroom tree. “Mariah!” It’s Dr. Citali.