Chronicles of Chiron: Network Node | Scene 22

Once the situation has calmed down enough that Cleve can be confident the doctor won’t attack Mariah, he leaves them to their medical talk. Something has caught his eye flitting among the tall mushroom stalks out here, and it is not another briar beast. “Rare, my ass,” he grumbles. He sees these shimmerflies everywhere! There was one at the campsite near the network node, carrying something just like this one is. When he closes the distance, he is surprised to see that it has his field journal clutched in its six legs. That journal was definitely on his person in his cryopod; he jotted down the muster information in it before going to sleep. It’s not something that went missing when his backpack did. “Must’ve dropped it,” he mutters.

He holds out his hand, intending to take it, but the shimmerfly shimmies a little, staying just out of reach. The light catches it in such interesting ways, but so much of it is translucent that the others probably don’t even see what Cleve is investigating. The wings gently flap, pulsating with light every now and then as it moves between shadows and sunbeams. Since he has previously seen shimmerflies with items, he decides to try offering it a trade. He goes with the first thing that comes to hand when he reaches into a pocket, the credit chit from Yushi.

Cleve holds it out to the shimmerfly, which comes in close enough to wrap one small leg around it. Then it flits around a bit more. Cleve loses track of it for a moment, but when he sees it again, it no longer has the credit chit. It’s still clutching his journal, though. Cleve pats down his pockets, looking for something else it might like, and discovers it has somehow returned the data stick to him without him even noticing. “Thanks,” he says. The wings flap so gently that he can barely feel air moving from their two-foot spread. The shimmerfly does a slow turn while Cleve considers his next move. Is this a person? A working animal like on the farm where he grew up? Is it sapient? He has no idea. “Can you understand me?” he whispers, a little self-conscious.

The shimmerfly flaps slowly, turning in the opposite direction as before. It is close enough to almost touch him as its wings beat forward and back. But it has so little mass that he barely feels it when it briefly brushes his arm. Cleve realizes what he did wrong. “I get it, I get it. She can’t be bought,” he says with a smile. He hands over a strip of blue ribbon. With another flap of the wings, one of the shimmerfly’s appendages extends to accept the ribbon, and it releases the journal to him. As he stuffs that away in his pack, it manipulates the ribbon with its now free limbs, tying it around one of them. The cloth knot is now the most visible part of the shimmerfly. “That’s right, can’t be bought,” he reiterates. “Pretty girl like you, she’s got class.”

The shimmerfly floats up to the top of a shroom tree nearby and lands on the cap. Cleve can only see the ribbon at this point. If he concentrates really hard, he can barely pick out the outline of the creature, but it is so delicate as to be virtually invisible. Next time he crosses paths with a shimmerfly, he will look for the ribbon. Maybe the same one has been following him this whole time.

Since Dr. Citali passed Corazon on her way to find me, Cleve suggests we simply retrace that route. The briar beast does the heavy lifting here, leading the way back for us. Cleve mentions its trail was how we came across Dr. Citali. She’s impressed that he can recognize and follow a briar beast trail. Most people can’t tell their tendrils from regular vines. Certainly that was the case with us the first time we encountered one.

“Don’t remind me,” Cleve says with a laugh. “I don’t see wolf beetles, I don’t see briar beasts.” He jokes that he’s likely to set us up in one of their nests to camp tonight. It’s good to see him making light of his earlier mistakes, rather than being grumpy about them. He seems to be in a good mood. Maybe it’s because we’re almost done with the job, and he’ll be delivering two robots instead of just the one he promised.

Dr. Citali spends a lot of the hike eyeing me or making notes on whatever she has just observed about me. I watch the briar beast with similar intensity. It’s pretty amazing, this plant that behaves like a trained animal. When I ask Dr. Citali about it again, she explains that it’s not really her project. It’s an outgrowth of work by another researcher with the Stepdaughters of Chiron. Then she back-pedals a bit, unsure of whether researcher is the right term for that person. It makes me wonder what kind of class hierarchy that group has. “They’re working on training animals,” Dr. Citali goes on. “I mean, technically this is a plant, but same principle. We’ve developed various pheromone-based training regimens to be able to put these creatures to work. Because they’re much better adapted to this world than we are.”

“Maybe that’s somehow related to what I can do, then,” I suggest, though I haven’t yet gone into much detail with her about the specifics.

“Maybe you have some natural or developed pheromonal response mechanism.”

I shrug. “Maybe. I got a wolf beetle cub to walk up to me and be chill.”

“A wild one? That is pretty impressive, actually.”

“Don’t tell her about my talent for angering them,” Cleve mutters from just ahead of us, but again, it is in jest, not sour, so I don’t hold back my laugh. 

We don’t catch up with Corazon until the next day. A couple miles from Data Haven, we find her exhaustedly dragging the two robots, too stubborn to have left them to go get help. No surprise there. Cleve and I take over for the final push, and then finally we are back, job complete, everyone intact, two robots on hand. Home sweet home. Or at least what passes for it for now.