Cleve lets Yushi and his crew disappear into the shroom forest—excuse me, forest—on the opposite bank before getting me moving. He leads us on a circuitous route back to where we parted ways with Corazon. Reunited with her, we continue on our way to the pass. I pull out my straight edge and clip another xenofungus to restore my boutonniere. Corazon shoots me a look. “Why did you do that?” she asks, more boggled than curious.
“Because I lost the other one,” I reply simply as I put the razor back away.
She shakes her head. “You’re weird,” she says under her breath.
“I hope it doesn’t make your clothes moldy,” Cleve comments from ahead.
“Yeah! It might eventually tear through your clothes. Who knows!”
I look down at myself. My boots and the bottom of my slacks are a muddy mess. I’ve protected my dress shirt and vest as much as I can, but I’ve been wearing them for a hundred thirty years. “Until we’re in civilization and can actually use a proper laundromat, we’re all at the mercy of the elements,” I point out.
“Yeah, but you don’t have to make it easy for them,” Corazon says. “Like, what if it gets in your blood?!”
“It’s on my blazer, it’s fine.”
Corazon stares at me. I stare right back. I don’t feel like I’m glaring, but something in my eyes must tell her to drop this, as she shakes her head with a muttered, “I’ll never get planetfallers,” and looks away. “I appreciate that you came here,” she says, resuming her hike, “but your ways are so strange.”
I shrug and let her go. If she wants to judge all planetfallers based on my quirks, that’s her choice. I adjust my boutonniere, grip my cane, and continue on my way as well.
“I bet there’s people in Data Haven who want to do stuff with that. I’ve heard there’s geneticists or xenobiologists there too,” Corazon calls over her shoulder.
Maybe I’ll actually know someone there. “Have you ever heard of a Dr. Deirdre Skye?” I ask her.
“Deirdre Skye? Of the Stepdaughters of Chiron?”
“Stepdaughters of Chiron?” I echo blankly. Cleve just shakes his head at her asking that kind of clarifying question given that we’ve just woken up.
“Yeah,” Corazon says. “They’re, like, ecoterrorists.”
I’m dumbfounded. “The Stepdaughters of Chiron are ecoterrorists?” Deirdre is? My lunchmate?
“Well, um, look, I’ve never encountered them in real life. But, I dunno, you see ads about it sometimes.”
Cleve looks around us at all the various mushrooms—and the occasional Earth plant. “What constitutes an ecoterrorist here?” he asks.
“Uh, like, blowing up a factory. Or just making a factory run worse,” Corazon says with some uncertainty. “Oh! Or trying to plug up the fossil fuel smokestacks.” I looked pointedly at her fungicide apparatus. She follows my eyes and then protests, “What? No, that’s not ecoterrorism. That’s cleaning up the environment.” Seeing my frown, she insists, “Humans can’t live in fungus, okay? Y’all came to this planet for humans to live here, right?”
“Yeah, but did they teach you what humans did to Earth?” I ask.
“Yeah! Y’all screwed it up!”
“By doing that,” I say, pointing to her extermination gear.
“No, no!” Corazon points back toward where we can still see the plumes from Morgan’s dome. “No, it was the crap done in factories. The, like, nuclear radiation. The horrible fallout.” Cleve has turned to face us now, and his eyebrows go up. It’s not like there was an apocalypse on Earth.
“But also deforestation,” I argue.
“Rapid deforestation, yes,” Corazon says. I swear she’s just going through some list she crammed for a final exam.
“The nuclear power was the least of our problems,” Cleve chimes in.
“This is for the xenofungus, not the forest,” Corazon tries to clarify. “You’d just chop down the forest; you wouldn’t need this,” she says, patting the fungicide gun. “Granted, Morgan’s also doing that, but… Look, I don’t think it’s good, but the fungus is in the way. What else are you going to do?”
“Question answered,” Cleve says.
“You’ve seen how hard it is to walk through that fungus. What do you expect us to do? Look, I don’t want to destroy the fungus, okay, but I’ve got to live somewhere, and there’s nobody living here right now. So I don’t think it’s that bad.”
I’ve made her all defensive again, and it makes me wonder if she’s ever been challenged this way before. Nobody living here? What about the wolf beetles and the translucent butterfly and the glowing jellyfish? And why come to an alien world to just remake it in the burning image of Earth? “I didn’t come to this planet to live in another LA,” I tell her.
“Whatever,” she shrugs. “I don’t know what LA was like. Did it have a dome?”
“It was a lot like this,” Cleve says, but his dry humor isn’t helping my point. Morgan’s efforts to simply claim the land and squeeze it dry has shaped Corazon’s upbringing, even if she’s pushed back against it some. I take some heart that she is not needlessly spraying fungicide about us as we hike, despite the xenofungus pulling at our legs. Data Haven is still a long ways off, so there will be plenty of time to educate her along the way.
“My father always said that there’s give and take with the land,” Cleve shares.
That resonates with Corazon. “Yeah! Just cut a few paths, right? Obviously you don’t want to mess around with a wolf beetle nest; that deserves to stay there.”
“Eh, could be good eating,” Cleve says, derailing Corazon. I swear he’s poking at her deliberately. That’s fine. It’s good for her to talk about how cuddly they are. She melts a bit when cooing over them. It makes her seem more like a kid just out of school than a fugitive murderer. There’s still a lot about what she’s told us so far that doesn’t quite all fit together. Who did she kill? Why? Under what circumstances did Morgan kill her parents? And what makes her think Data Haven will be any better?