Alone on the surface, I sit down, stretching my aching leg out in front of me. I’m not worried, not really. Detox sounds severe, but Roze has a flair for the dramatic, so hopefully it won’t be too bad. I resume my sketch of the briar beast, and this occupies me until the elevator returns. I have enough notice just from the sound of it to rise and make myself as presentable as I can. I back away from the lift so as not to alarm anyone coming out. I’m expecting people in full-on hazmat suits from how Roze reacted to me.
Instead, three people in lab coats with briefcases emerge. The elevator closes behind them and descends back into the ground. The person in the lead says brusquely, “You must be Mariah, unless there’s someone else around here. I just want to make sure.”
“It’s just me,” I assure her.
She’s a woman of about my age with reddish-brown skin and solidly black hair. It’s probably fairly long, but right now it’s pulled back into a loose bun with some escaped curls hanging alongside her face. She must have been born here on Chiron, not recently thawed like me, since the next thing she says is, “I understand you just woke up.” There isn’t disbelief in her voice, but it is tinged with a little surprise.
“Yeah. Our cryopods opened three days ago,” I tell her. Her companions are opening cases and prepping equipment. She makes no move to introduce them, so I keep my attention on her.
“Was there something wrong with your cryopods, as far as you know?”
I mull over how to answer that, but only for a moment. This is a medical professional, and I really do need her help. Although my cough has died down, I haven’t shaken off the wheeze that accompanies each breath. And there’s that strange pain I’ve been feeling periodically in my leg, too. “One of the pods in our module failed early, and the person in it was just a skeleton when we woke up. Cleve’s pod had a green light on it, but mine was blinking yellow. Possible containment breach—just possible, not red. It was blinking yellow.” I probably sound defensive, but I don’t want her to write me off and send me on my way.
“Okay,” she says neutrally, making some notes. “I’m not here to judge, okay?” she assures me. “But I need to let you know that your overall spore levels are probably higher than one might expect for a person who has just woken up.”
“And what’s the situation with these spore levels?” I ask.
“Less is better. Up to a certain threshold, probably not noticeable. More than that…” She makes that sort of sighing sound that doctors do to modulate bad news. “Health starts declining rather rapidly.”
“Exilable offense? Like, not allowed to enter human settlements?”
“What? No! It’s just that your quality of life will degrade terribly.” She must realize at this point how alarmist Roze was, because her businesslike manner softens a bit. “I apologize. I’m Dr. Citali, and you’re Mariah Thorne, as I understand. These are my nurses,” she says, indicating her companions, but she does not offer their names. “Let’s get you checked out, shall we?”
I get a standard medical check-up, different from all the other ones in my life only in that I’m standing in a fungus forest rather than sitting on an exam table. One nurse takes a sample of my blood and begins an analysis while the other records blood pressure and body temperature. They also flash a penlight in my eyes, and then make a comment about them… not glowing purple? That seems an odd thing to measure.
Dr. Citali listens to my lungs and looks over the preliminary blood analysis, then confirms that my recently-acquired wheeze is indeed from miasma exposure. She holds up a syringe and says, “We can try this. It might hurt, but it’s better in the long term.” I notice that her hands are a little shaky. Maybe that’s why she has the nurses on hand to help with the delicate work. The shot goes into the muscle of my upper arm, and while it burns a bit, the pain barely registers on my scales. There’s no immediate change in my breathing, but maybe it just takes a while to kick in. “Miasma is really tenacious,” Dr. Citali says. “If you don’t know what you’re doing with it, it can take over when you don’t want it to.”
“Wait, what does that mean? Take over?” I ask, alarmed by her phrasing. Maybe some of the plants out here are alive in ways we haven’t considered. As far as I can tell, I’m still in full control of my faculties.
“Oh! Oh no, not like that!” she assures me. “Xenofungus and miasma can overrun places that humans are trying to live in.” She continues, aggrieved, “Because most people don’t take care of their environment.” From what Corazon has said, Morgan’s been trying to “take care” of the environment around his domes, but in the mafia sense, not the ecoconscious sense.
Dr. Citali assures me that she will be able to clear me for entry into Data Haven. What I’ve breathed in is bad for me, but even with how filthy my clothes are, I’m not a threat to anyone else. As I had begun to suspect, Roze was indeed overly-dramatic about my state. I’m not going to spread anything that the air filters below can’t handle.
I coax information out of Dr. CItali while she works, learning that her first name is Marina and that she is not from Data Haven herself. In a quiet voice, leaning in a bit, she shares, “I’m with the Stepdaughters of Chiron.”
I brighten up. “Do you know Deirdre Skye?”
“Yes, I know Dr. Skye. I know Deirdre. Wait, how do you know her? You said you just woke up.”
“Yes, but we both worked on the project.”
“You worked on the project…” she echoes pensively. She looks at me for a moment and then says, “Oh! That Mariah Thorne. That ‘nice boy from Sales.’” She throws her fingers up in air quotes around the moniker.
I’m quite surprised. “You know who I am?”
“Deirdre has mentioned that she had a friend in Sales, a nice curious young man. I’d asked her about Earth and what she did there. You left an impression on her.”
From my perspective, it’s only been a few weeks since I last met Deirdre for lunch, so of course I haven’t forgotten her. I smile widely, glad that she still thinks of me after thirty years by her reckoning. “Yes, I’m that Mariah Thorne. Is she here?”
“Not in Data Haven, no. We’re trying to see if it makes sense for our groups to work together. There are some places of agreement and some places of not. So what about you? What did you come to Chiron to do?”
I look all around us, taking in the taller blue-green mushroom shrubs nearby, the low-lying red-purple xenofungus, and the pristine peaks in the distance. It’s all amazing. “What did I come here to do? Just to be here.”
“That’s… good. But really, what was your official career?” She pulls some sort of gum from a pocket, pops it in her mouth, and starts chewing rapidly. This smooths out some of the tics I’ve noticed in her. And in junkies in my neighborhood. I wonder what it is she’s hooked on, but now isn’t the time to dig into that. We barely know each other.
“Whatever plans existed for me thirty years ago have been completely overtaken by events here,” I dissemble. There were no plans. I never thought that far. “I feel it’s irrelevant what I was supposed to do. What’s more important to me is the status of the world now and how I can contribute to making humanity’s presence here work. I don’t want to see this world destroyed like Earth was.” Corazon said the Stepdaughters of Chiron are a group of ecoterrorists, but I don’t have a lot of confidence in the education system in Morgan’s domes, not based on what I’ve heard of the economics in them. And so far to me, it looks like Morgan is an eco-problem himself, perhaps one in need of an eco-solution. So I’d really like to hear what one of the stepdaughters has to say from the other side.
I’ve said the right thing. Dr. Citali replies excitedly, “I think we might be able to work together then, Mariah. And you’re cleared for entry into Data Haven. Now let me see if I can get this stupid thing to work.” She tells her nurses to pack up and steps over to the terminal that Corazon had trouble with earlier.