Once I’m in the elevator myself, I immediately recognize it as part of Unity. Like our module, this one is also embedded in the ground, just with trained briar beasts above it instead of wild wolf beetles. Everything is just slightly canted, probably enough to make wheeled chairs annoying, but not enough to otherwise interfere with daily life.
The elevator opens into a broad corridor. While it’s in better shape than my trousers and boots, it’s not clean, and it is not orderly. Crates are scattered here and there, some open, some not. They don’t seem organized by type, either. Data Haven must be in one of Unity’s supply modules.
The nurses depart, but Dr. Citali keeps me there by the elevator for a moment as she enters something on a datapad. I wonder if there’s wifi in here. Maybe Roze was worried about my miasmatic presence interfering with their signals. I can hear their animated voice coming from an open doorway just down the hall. “We found this place, and several of us managed to get it running again. But we’re just living off the supplies of the ship. We can’t farm out there. We’d need the right equipment to do that, and we don’t have it.”
“Right,” Cleve’s quieter voice acknowledges.
“We only have so many supplies, Cleve, and we’ve been going for a while on this.”
Cleve describes some of the utilities stored in our module, as well as its general location. “I could probably take you there, maybe,” he offers, somewhat uncertainly. “I don’t really know what’s over there though. It wasn’t first class or anything.”
Roze is most interested in ration packs and computer equipment. “And if there’s terraforming equipment, woo! I’d like that, please. But I don’t think there would be. I know Morgan’s got terraforming equipment. If we could get our hands on that, we could get a proper colony going. But what are you up to here, Cleve? I can’t make you do anything.”
Cleve is at loose ends, it seems. Other than finding Roze, he has no real plans. Corazon’s grandfather originally hired him, so it made sense to him to guide her here safely. It’s at this point that Roze realizes who Corazon actually is, one of the heirs of the Santiago conglomerate, for all that’s worth these days. “I don’t know exactly what happened,” Cleve tells them. “She maybe killed somebody. And something with her parents getting killed.”
“Hey, I don’t judge, you know?” Roze says. “Did whoever she killed deserve it?” Cleve begs off the question. We didn’t get any real details on that. Roze lets it go there.
“So, what, you need some equipment?” Cleve asks, itching for another task. “Is that what we need to do?” Roze sighs, maybe reluctant to issue orders, and Cleve tells them, “I’m between jobs, Roze.” There’s laughter in his voice, but also some desperation. “I don’t really have a plan.”
“You said you just woke up?”
“Yeah, two days ago.”
“And your friend, too? The one who’s got way too high… something.”
“Yeah, who took a tumble in the miasma.”
There’s a pause in their conversation, and then Roze rolls out into the hallway in a desk chair. They have a datapad too, and I wonder if Dr. Citali was messaging them my lab results. “Hey, uh, Mariah!” Roze glances over at Dr. Citali, then. “He’s clear, right?” they ask, needing to hear it aloud, apparently.
“Yes, of course,” Dr. Citali assures them.
“Can I talk to you, Mariah? I’ve got a proposition. And bring your other associate, Corazon Santiago.” The surname is said with an almost mocking level of fake sophistication. Roze taps something on their tablet and another door slides open along the corridor, revealing the room that Corazon’s been having a meeting in. She looks agitated. Not like they’ve been giving her a hard time, but like she’s thinking about gutting Morgan.
Once we’re all gathered, including Dr. Citali, who quietly hovers in the background, Roze presents the situation. “There’s a little something I think you two especially can do for me.”
“Sure, you name it,” Cleve says without any need for consideration. They must be really close.
“And then the question is, what can I do for you?” Roze asks.
“Well, my question is, what is the job?” I ask back.
“Fair enough. Yeah, we’ve got a job closer to—but not fully in—Morgan territory that we could use some help with. The problem is, it’s in an area of a sort of constant, uh, what you might call, miasma level. So, it’s not really safe for anyone who’s been around long to go through. But you two,” they nod at me and Cleve, “haven’t been around.”
Despite all Roze’s earlier theatrics about exposure to xenofungus, here I am, still a mess but inside Data Haven. I press my lips together in annoyance and fold my arms. “Not half an hour ago, exposure to miasma was a reason to block somebody entry to this location and back away from them in alarm. And now you’re saying you want to purposely send us into it? That’s a big, big ask, given the concern that you yourself just demonstrated about this danger. That’s going to cost a lot.”
Roze looks down at their datapad and starts tapping at it. “Mariah Thorne…” they say slowly, still looking down at the tablet. They flick a finger across the screen, scrolling through whatever is displayed there. “Mariah Thorne… How do you spell that?”
Of course. We’re on a section of the ship here, and Roze has access to the datalinks. They’re looking for my name, and it’s not going to show up. Dr. Citali has probably already reached that same conclusion—Deirdre would have reminisced about me as someone she left behind on Earth—so there’s no risk to that fledgling relationship if my status of stowaway becomes open knowledge. “It’s Thorne with an E, but you’re not going to find it on that list,” I say levelly.
“And that’s not because you’re some kind of black ops superspy, now is it?” Roze asks, looking up at me now with a sly half-grin, like they’ve caught me in a trap.
“No,” I admit, “but I think the statute of limitations for stowing away has got to be less than thirty years.”
Roze smiles full-on now. “I like you,” they say, nodding as they chuckle. “I like that.” Seems that breaking rules is fine, as long as one doesn’t get caught. “I think we can come to a pretty nice agreement here. I also think we’re going to get along real well. Now, it’s not a hard job. It’s just a matter of we need you two to do it because it’s not safe for anyone who’s been around to go. And last time, some younger folks, just teens, volunteered.” The mirth drains from Roze’s face. “I didn’t want to send them, but I did. Only one of them made it back. Now, that wasn’t from miasma, but I won’t send out a kid again. This is a unique opportunity that we can take here to get into Morgan’s network.”
“So what’s the actual danger here?” Cleve asks. He may not want to negotiate for any sort of benefit from this arrangement, but he definitely wants to know what we’ll be walking into. If it wasn’t the miasma that took out those teenagers, what was it?
“The Morgan network node is deep in the miasma because Morgan doesn’t care about sending kids out to deal with it. We have a tap on the network there. We need to pull the tap and put a new one in. And physically pull that data back.”
“So this is an information extraction job? Something’s loaded, you want it back, and you want an empty put in?” I ask, summarizing the points to make sure I understand.
Roze nods, and Cleve asks, “What dangers are we looking at, Roze? Other than the miasma and the creatures, what else is out there? Will there be Morgan security forces there? We saw a repo squad, but does Morgan have anything more militant? Or a police force?”
“There’s rumors of a new Morgan autonomous security robot,” Roze tells us. They don’t know what it’s armed with, but that’s the only thing that can roam around in the clouds of spores. The one teenager who made it back is not in great shape, having been through quite a traumatic experience. That’s the source of the rumors.
I nod to myself. “Ah, okay, that makes sense.”
Cleve looks at me in surprise. “It does?”
“If the environment is caustic to human beings, it makes sense that they would have some sort of robot. And since Corazon said that wifi doesn’t work here, it would have to be autonomous. Nobody could be controlling it remotely. It’s not going to be dragging miles of cable behind it.”
Even though Cleve and I have had less exposure to miasma than most people around here, we still need some protection on this outing. Certainly breathing masks of some kind, at the very least. Corazon has been awfully quiet this whole time, perhaps just silently fuming at Morgan. I draw her into the discussion now directly. “Do you know enough about the computer systems in the Morgan domes that you’d know how to deal with what we’ll have to swap out? We might have to do a dry run on this before we go. I’m not a computer guy, and,” I look to Cleve, who is shaking his head, “neither is Cleve. If we need to get in and out quickly, we need practice at what we’ll be doing.” Corazon is onboard to help any way she can. However, despite a life mostly in domes, her exposure levels are too high to waltz in the way Roze expects me and Cleve to.
But I still don’t think I’ve made clear to Roze the level of my demands. “Cleve, you may be lifelong friends with Roze,” I acknowledge, “but I’ve got nothing but the clothes on my back. And they’re a complete muddy mess. And fungus-y mess, apparently.”
“So, dry-cleaning service?” Roze asks wryly.
“That’d be a start. But seriously, we need whatever it takes to get set up in this world. Like, you know my name’s not on that list,” I say, gesturing at Roze’s tablet, “but does that matter? Morgan is tracking debt for people. What’s Data Haven doing? What kind of ID cards exist here?” That earns a guffaw from Roze, the thought that there would be ID cards here. “You were checking logs,” I point out. “Apparently some records matter.”
“Yeah, I got the Unity logs. Who was and was not a passenger. You ain’t.”
“So can you legitimize me and Cleve into ‘now’? We need to become part of society again.”
I’ve been keeping an eye on Dr. Citali during this conversation, monitoring her reactions to what we’ve been discussing. We’ve made eye contact a couple times, and as far as I can tell, I don’t seem to be upsetting her. She steps in now on my behalf. “These all sound like reasonable requests,” she says. “I think we can get these two outfitted right. I can see what we can put together as far as filtration goes.” Then she looks pensively at Corazon for a moment. “We might have something that can assist you, too.” She turns to Roze and speaks to them as an equal. “I’ll sort out that end, you sort out your end. And I’ll work with Mariah. I’m sure we can find him the accommodations he’s looking for.”
Roze nods. They’ve had their fun haggling, but they’re done now. “We can give you a space here. It won’t be an especially nice spot, but it’s a bed. And we have rations you can eat. As long as we have rations, that is,” they add as an afterthought. Another condition is learning how to use the terminal for getting into Data Haven itself. “There’s no ID cards to get into Data Haven. That is how you show you can enter.” They look over at Cleve. “That’s both of you. And I ain’t making a back door.”
Cleve jokes about taking over Morgan’s robot and using it to beat his way back into Data Haven after the job. Roze’s eyes brighten at the possibilities. “If you can get your hands on that robot—without getting yourself killed, Cleve!—and bring it back, that would be extremely valuable.”
“You want anything from the Tim Hortons while I’m on my way back?” Cleve asks dryly.
Roze lets out a long breath, then shakes their head with a broad smile. “That cuts deep, Cleve, that cuts deep.” He laughs now, pleased at how his teasing hit home. “Glad you haven’t changed at all,” Roze tells him.
“So, a robot, a data stick, and probably a bag of shroom nuts?” Cleve sums up, as if taking an order at a drive-thru.
Roze tells us to all go get cleaned up and then we can be free to hang out in the community room. I am delighted to hear that there are hot showers here. Heat is easy for Data Haven, and water is a plentiful resource. Cleve’s mind is still on practical matters like hunting and supply procurement. As I leave the room with Dr. Citali, the sound of Roze trying to rein him in follows us into the hall. “Cleve, Cleve, Cleve! You know how I always say you need to relax, right? It’s an important part of selfcare, right? Selfcare.”
“I’ve been asleep for a hundred and thirty years!” Cleve protests. “I’m not doing anybody any good asleep, I can tell you that much.”
“I dunno, it’s helping me out quite a bit to get that message back, so I appreciate you waking up right now.”