I can hear Cleve and Cor, though I can’t see them yet. I stay back, giving them space for their private conversation.
“Hey, hey!” Corazon calls after Cleve. When she’s caught up to him, she asks, “You all right?”
“I’m fine,” Cleve replies, his words short and swift.
Corazon reads the unhappiness in his clipped tone. “Hey, almost no one knows how the wildlife here really works, okay? I didn’t know it was a wolf beetle nest. Mariah didn’t know it was a wolf beetle nest. None of us did.”
“We’ve been in a wolf beetle nest before!” Cleve erupts in a shout, but it’s clear that he’s mad at himself, not Cor.
“Did it look like that?” Corazon counters.
I’ve described to her the full-on dome structure where we first met wolf beetles. Cleve knows quite well how different that was to where we just made our blunder. But that’s not good enough for him. “I should have known,” he argues, not addressing Cor’s point. “We could have been killed!”
“What? Look, I don’t know if anyone has ever been killed by a wolf beetle.”
“We could have been the first,” Cleve insists stubbornly. I’m glad I hung back, so that he doesn’t have to see my grin of amusement at his sulking.
“Well, that would be humiliating,” Cor says.
“And it would be my fault!”
“Puh-lease! Look, you’re very valuable to the team, Cleve, but it wouldn’t be all your fault. You’ve seen another nest, so now you know the signs to look for better. You can’t just do something once and expect to know how to do it, right? I mean, I had to hack my way out of that room. I wasn’t just hanging out there; I was locked in, okay? I took a while—days. Once I knew what to do, then I could do it fast. It takes a few times to establish a pattern. One point does not make a pattern, Cleve, right?”
“Roze locked you in that room?” Cleve asks with a chuckle. His change in demeanor suggests Cor has gotten through to him. Even Cleve can’t deny that it was dark and we’re still very new to the wilderness. Everyone is kind of new to this wilderness, actually, far more than I would have expected after thirty years of settlement. But if they’re all staying locked away in domes and modules, they can’t be studying the native wildlife all that much. And with few ways to share knowledge, even if some groups are doing so, their information is slow to spread. Tonight is not just a learning experience for us, but something we need to make sure gets added to the communal knowledge banks. However, it’s too dark now, and anyway I’m too tired to jot down my observations, cool as they are. I resolve to do so when I have a chance, but we’ve got a job, and if we stay up much later, we’ll be worse for the wear tomorrow.
Up ahead, Cor describes her training experience to Cleve. “I don’t know if Roze knew the room was locked, and I could have given up—but I’m not going to give up, right? They put a problem in front of me, I’m going to solve it, no matter how long it takes,” she says with resolve. It’s a funny thought, Roze accidentally locking the door, Cor being too stubborn to point it out. “I tried picking the lock, but that didn’t work. But there was a terminal in there with some program to learn how to program. Honestly, it was a better teacher than I’ve had in most situations. Forget Morgan’s teachers. Up until I was ten, I actually had a private education, a reasonably good one. But most people in Morgan domes aren’t even that lucky.”
“Well, good, it’ll be useful,” Cleve says, his priorities clear.
“Good point. So, hey, do you work for Roze now or what?” Cor asks.
Cleve laughs. “No, we’re old friends.”
“That’s cool. So what are you going to do? Look, whatever my grandfather hired you for, you don’t have to keep doing that. I mean, I appreciate you being here—you’re super handy, but…”
“I’m still on retainer,” Cleve tells her.
“But, is that what you want to do, Cleve? Like, Morgan’s horrible indentured servitude—I don’t want you to have to be in that. I don’t want anyone to have to be in that.”
“Honestly, I’m here to help the colony, but if you have another job you want me to be doing, like I said, you do have me on retainer.”
“What colony? Cleve, I’m not your boss! I’m exactly one person’s boss: me. That’s the only boss I am.”
“All right,” Cleve says, and I can hear the smile in his voice. “Then I’m going to be here to make sure your boss doesn’t get killed.”
Corazon gives up. “All right,” she says, resigned to her fate. “Well, I appreciate it, Cleve.”
“Hopefully not by wolf beetles,” Cleve adds under his breath as I rejoin them.
“Find us a robot nest next,” Cor tells him.