Chronicles of Chiron: Network Node | Scene 3

I catch Roze one day when they’re not busy. “Hey, Roze, you have access to the datalinks from the ship. Can you look up Sylvia Stanton for me? That was the dead body in our module.”

“You want to pull up information? Yeah, sure, that’s an easy thing.” They roll their chair over to a terminal and start typing, moving through system layers, and then ask for the spelling. “Uh… yeah. Looks like an older person… looks like—ooh, just at the cap. Sixty years old.”

“Does it say anything about what department or group she was affiliated with?”

“Looks like they won a raffle to be able to get a slot. A lottery kind of thing. Skills… ah, let’s see… Administrative assisting, customer service, retail, food preparation…”

“Oh, that must’ve been the raffle I kept losing,” I mutter as I lean in to take a look at the screen myself.

“Looks like it was someone who got a little bit—” Roze breaks off. “Well, I was about to say ‘got lucky,’ but they didn’t make it.” They shake their head at the unfortunate turn of events and let out a breath. Then they turn to me, fingers flat across the keyboard. “Yeah, I don’t have the full log of what happened to your pod, for example. What do you want?”

I straighten back up, giving them space. “If there are other people out there who are absent like Cleve was, there could be people like you missing them. With Cleve back now, they might wonder about other people who are missing. Whoever cared about Sylvia Stanton, we can at least tell them what happened to her.” Empathy, that’s why I’m asking. Roze was so happy and relieved to see Cleve again. Someone out there might think there’s a chance they’ll get that with Sylvia, but it is not going to happen.

Roze turns their attention back to the terminal and resumes typing. “It does list their planetside contact. Someone named Leyland Campos. Looks like Campos would have been in the colony pod that Morgan commandeered. There were several of those, you know. Morgan got one of them. I suspect the Stepdaughters of Chiron got another one. Of course, that was before they were properly formed. Anyway, you might try asking around about this Leyland Campos person, if you’re ever in a Morgan dome. Might still be around. Might be curious to know.”

I thank Roze for their help, and then we go round up Cleve so that the two of us can talk with Takuto, the sole survivor of the previous job at the network node. The teen is pretty fragile, so it’s best if we get in our questions all at once, rather than disturbing him multiple times. Roze hands us off to one of Dr. Citali’s nurses. Instead of advising us about his condition privately, they pick up the chart from the foot of his bed and announce right there, “You can stay and ask questions, but he needs to keep his energy levels up. There were some really nasty bruises on his arms when he got in. Those have healed by now, but we don’t want to stress him out too much.” Bad bedside manner seems to be all the rage here in Data Haven; I suppose that’s what happens when biologists are repurposed as nursing staff.

Takuto looks to be maybe sixteen. He’s very lanky, and the pajama scrubs he’s in make him look even skinnier. He’s propped up with pillows to a sitting position. Just looking at him, there’s nothing obviously wrong with him; the bruises he suffered have long since faded in the intervening month or so. His light brown skin looks wan, though, and there are dark smudges under his deep brown eyes. Each breath has a faint wheeze to it, the lasting effect of too much exposure to miasma, I expect. 

What would drive such a young person to take the risks he did, I wonder. Was it just for excitement? Roze craves excitement, but they don’t dare the miasma. Perhaps it is something more. Perhaps he is a true believer in the creed of Data Haven, that data wants to be free. I decide to base my approach on that assumption and see how things pan out. I introduce myself and Cleve and then begin, “Roze told us that Data Haven needs back the data spike that you were able to get into place so that the information can be freed from Morgan, brought back here, and freely distributed. Cleve and I haven’t had as much exposure to miasma as many other people, so it made sense for us to be the ones to go. And we’re happy to do this on behalf of Data Haven, out of gratitude for its hospitality to us. I understand it was not an easy job that you did, but anything that you can tell us that can give us an edge would be very helpful. And anything that you can tell us about what happened to your partner—” Takuto tenses up at the mention of the other teen. I catch myself, redirecting from what I was going to say in the light of his reaction. “We don’t know anything about what happened, Cleve and I. But if there’s any chance that your partner survived and ended up with Morgan and needs to be rescued… That’s also something that we can look into while we’re over there.”

Takuto takes a breath to respond, but a cough interrupts him. “Arx and I went. They…” He closes his eyes for a moment. “I couldn’t save them. There was…” He takes a breath, steeling himself, and continues, “We thought there’d be some security. We didn’t realize it’d be two, like, robotic killing machines with windmill arms.” He flails his arms about, and I wonder if blades were involved. Did he and Arx stumble into a blender? “It was like some kind of martial arts. They’re faster than you can believe. They may be not much taller than a child, but they are stronger than they look. And th-th-they try to grab you and rip you to pieces! Oh, yeah, they patrol and they’ll give you a warning, but they messed us up real good. They… they…” Takuto’s eyes drop to his lap, where his hands now wring each other. “I don’t think Arx made it.”

We give Takuto a moment, and he collects himself enough to provide some information on where we’ll be headed. The node itself is a small structure, made of some kind of chitinous material. Unlike Data Haven, Morgan Industries has been using local resources, not just salvaged plastics and metals. Takuto shares that the hut is locked, but he’s dismissive of it, so I figure I should be able to get it open. It’s just a physical lock, not even a keypad. “The lock is not that serious if you know what you’re doing,” Takuto says. “Or if you carry a gun.” The tap is inside the shed, and the way he speaks, it should be pretty easy to find. I’ll relay his description to Corazon, and I’m sure she’ll know what to do with that.

“So it’s really the robots that are the main concern?” I ask, just to be sure no one gets zapped when Corazon swaps out the tap. Or when I insert the data stick with the Stepdaughters of Chiron’s little virus.

Just mentioning the robots saps Takuto of energy. Seeing that, Cleve steers the conversation away from the target to the journey. No use learning more about the guards if we’re not even sure we can find them. “You two are planetfallers, right?” Takuto asks after telling us about our route. We nod and he continues, “The lunar cycle here is not like what you’re used to on Earth, I think.”

“Oh, there are moons?” I ask in surprise. We were only out under the night sky a few times, and nothing really stuck out separately from the many stars.

“Yeah. Plural. That’s the thing you have to be careful of. It’s really hard to predict if it’s going to be really bright out at night or really dark unless you’ve got a computer and all the astronomical knowledge. That wasn’t my forte. It just occurred to me that this might be useful information for you.” Takuto’s words are punctuated with yawns. We’re starting to wear him out. 

“Great to learn more about the night time,” Cleve tells him. “That’s when we’re going to be going.”

“We’re doing the hit at night? That’s your plan?” I ask.

“The miasma’s lighter at night,” Cleve responds. The delivery is smooth, as if he’s known this his whole life. He must have been getting a crash course in Chiron these past few days while I’ve been resting up. 

Turning from Cleve back to Takuto, I ask the youth, “Is there anything you need?”

“If you can find out what actually happened to Arx, it would mean a lot to me.” There is sorrow in his voice and longing. My heart breaks a little to hear it.

“Can you tell us anything about the last time you saw Arx?” I ask, my voice softer. There’s no way to soften the words themselves, though.

Takuto sits up straight and hammers a fist down on his leg. “A robot was viciously beating Arx!” he says. “We’d just managed to get the tap in place, and we thought we were going to make a clean getaway. But it caught us on the way out. Arx told me to go. Arx told me to go!” Tears are streaming down Takuto’s cheeks.

“You did the right thing,” I try to comfort Takuto. “You honored Arx’s wishes that you get out of there. But also, you enabled the data to get collected. Because you made it back here and have this information to share, you’re enabling us to get the data back here, too.” I had hoped that youth on Chiron would not face the same traumas as those on Earth, but once again, humanity has let me down here. I fish around for the right words. “I understand that what you experienced was horrible and you’re still dealing with that. And that you’ll carry that with you for a long time. But it wasn’t meaningless.”

Takuto jerks his shoulder away from my outstretched hand, refusing the reassuring pat that I would have wanted in his position. “Look, I appreciate what you’re saying, but I don’t deserve Arx. They were too good for me.” I don’t know if there was anything mutual between the two, but clearly Takuto was attracted to his partner in this endeavor. I realize now why he flinched at my use of that particular word earlier. He feels especially guilty because of who it was that he feels he failed.

“I… I asked Arx to come. I thought it’d be… fun.” Takuto’s voice has dropped to a whisper. There’s no way for me to know if Arx would have volunteered without Takuto’s prodding. Only Arx would know that, and they might not even get Takuto to believe it. Not with the amount of guilt he feels. All this just makes me resolve even more to find out what happened to Arx. They’re just kids. They deserve some happiness. Or at least a chance to learn whether they can give that to each other.