The day that we meet Corazon and the repo men ends with a long afternoon of hiking. The more distance we can put between us and Corazon’s pursuers, the better. I’m confident Yushi and his crew won’t come after us, but there’s no reason to take chances. Cleve keeps us moving in the right direction, and the target pass grows closer and closer as we trek higher and higher.
“That repossession squad… none of them had any sort of filter mask, and neither do you,” I mention to Corazon as we trail behind Cleve. “But you’ve mentioned several times that the miasma is dangerous and that living outside the domes is untenable for humanity. So why don’t any of you have masks, if it’s so bad to be out here in the air? Is the miasma bad to breathe? Or caustic to the skin? What’s the problem? We’ve only been out in it for a couple days, and I don’t feel any ill effects. You, Cleve?” He shakes his head, backing me up.
“The miasma is long-term dangerous,” Corazon explains. “You can only let so much of it build up in you and then you really need to stay inside. So I can’t go into really dense miasma. It’s like…” She takes a few seconds to think about it and then snaps her fingers suddenly. “Radiation! That’s what they say it’s sort of similar to, but I don’t know. There’s no radiation around here, so….” She shrugs.
“Ah, so maybe it’s a toxin that builds up in your tissues,” I hypothesize.
“Yeah, maybe. It’s real bad stuff. It’ll slowly weaken you over time. You can recover sometimes, but, yeah,” she hoists up the spray gun of her fungicide unit, “that’s why we have to clear out space. Xenofungus is super dense in miasma areas. Somehow they’re connected. The miasma might just be clouds of spores from them, but it could be something else, something more. It’s certainly not water vapor.”
As I mull this over, Corazon comments that outdoor activities such as camping aren’t really done. “As long as we stay out of thick miasma, we should be fine, though,” she insists. “We won’t be too debilitated. But really, the air’s just so much cleaner in the dome.” There’s a fondness in her voice, a wistfulness. She really doesn’t like being out here much.
Cleve asks some practical questions related to detecting and avoiding miasma. Corazon has never encountered dense miasma up close in person, but the thick fog of it should be obvious to anyone inside it. “If you’re in the dense fog of miasma, however, it’s probably already too late,” she warns.
I look around us. Xenofungus briars snatch at our legs and larger blue-green mushroom trees cast lengthening shadows in the lowering sunlight. “So if we are in any miasma at all right now, it’s just light miasma?”
“Yeah, there’s a constant low level of miasma anywhere outside of a clean zone, for sure,” Corazon says. Then, abruptly, she demands, “All right, my turn!” Over my laughter at her ferocity, she says, “You’re asking me about my planet, but what was your planet like?”
I lose some of my mirth. “Ugh. Filthy. Noisy. Smelly.”
“Is it true, Cleve? Was it all just a mess?”
Cleve looks over to me. “I mean, you’re from LA, right? The big city?” I nod. “Not in the mountains as much,” he tells Corazon.
“Fair enough. But then why did you leave if it was, you know, clean?”
“I didn’t say it was clean,” I mutter, but Corazon’s question was addressed to Cleve.
“We didn’t know about the miasma,” he tells her.
“I thought you were supposed to have long-range scans or something!”
“Yes,” I say, “long-range scans that could only say so much. They indicated water and oxygen.” I flip open my satchel to get my sketchbook.
“And the ecosystem was shot,” Cleve adds. “Not so bad, but…” he shrugs.
“Who screwed up the ecosystem?” Corazon asks.
“I mean… people,” Cleve answers plainly.
I show Corazon the sketches I made of artist interpretations of what experts thought plantlife here would be like. Not exactly accurate, as we now know. Corazon leans over, looking through the pages with me. “Where did they get ideas for these? Those look like a bunch of Earth plants.”
“Well, Earth plants were the only type of plants humans knew about,” I point out.
Cleve rifles through his own bag and pulls out a crumpled and well-creased sheet of paper. “Here’s the write up,” he says, holding it out to Corazon. “It’s a little out of date, but…”
Corazon begins reading it aloud with occasional asides, some shocked, others scoffing. “Earth is the past, but Alpha Centauri—Chiron?” She looks up at us questioningly, and I nod her on. “—holds the future! Be one of the select 100,000 colonists to a new world! Relax in our patented Peaceful Cryosleep pods and wake up to a planet of limitless possibilities!—Yeah, if only they knew…—But it’s a one-way trip, and cellular service is limited!—That ain’t the half of it!—Remote lifescans, however, show a pristine planet brimming with flora, fauna, fungi, and fun!—Fun?!—Perhaps you’d like to generously help fund the project, and thereby secure your place as a founding colonist.—Oh, that’s where they got the money.”
“I think that’s what your family did,” I tell her.
Corazon nods. “That would make sense.”
“And they hired me to help them,” Cleve adds. I say nothing of my own role here, given that I lack one.
“Or are you a driven scientist?—No.—Then there may be room for you in the Academy or Biogenetics modules.—There were different modules on your ship? Geez!—We want the best in many disciplines. There are many ways to join and contribute to Humanity’s—capital H, oh my goodness—greatest achievement! Competitive positions are limited, so act now!—Did Morgan write this?”
I chuckle. The reading was quite a performance. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Morgan had a hand in the copy for it,” I say.
Cleve shrugs. “I mean, Morgan wasn’t a big deal on Earth,” he tells Corazon, perhaps not wanting her to get spun up again.
But on this, I have to disagree with him. “You don’t know Morgan because you don’t know the workings of the company. Morgan was the head of HR. Among those building the project—”
“Sure, but the expedition was just a company,” Cleve says dismissively. I don’t think he realizes the scale of the undertaking. A whole generation worked on it, some who wouldn’t even live to see it successfully take off. More people were employed to get Unity off the ground than were allowed to benefit from it. I know; I was one of them.
“We were definitely in the utility pod,” Cleve continues while my thoughts are back on Earth.
“You didn’t get the Peaceful Cryosleep pod?” Corazon asks.
“I mean… we slept.” Cleve doesn’t sound impressed with that feat, us sleeping for a hundred thirty years and then waking up perfectly fine, despite the disruptions our module experienced.