Dr. Citali takes me to her lab rather than guiding me to living quarters, so that hot shower has to wait a little longer. Ostensibly, it’s to tell me about the experimental treatment that will let Corazon come with us.
Given that her organization is rumored to be ecoterrorists, I’m not sure how gray Dr. Citali’s ethics are. “That experimental treatment, that would have to get Corazon’s informed consent,” I tell her.
“Yes, of course!” Dr. Citali says, her tone indicating that doing otherwise would be improper. “We’re not going to force it on her.” With that assurance, the plan sounds fine to me.
Dr. Citali then brings up what I can do for her and the Stepdaughters of Chiron. “You’re going to be putting some computer device into Morgan’s system. There’s an extra little package you can put in there for me. And I can try to get in touch with Deirdre.”
“I have no qualms about installing an additional computer program as long as it doesn’t compromise whatever Roze is doing,” I tell her.
“It’s going to compromise some of Morgan’s factories. Are you okay with that?” she asks.
“I don’t understand. How is some sort of computer program going to take down factories?” As I try to puzzle through this, I think aloud, “Oh, if it’s going to do something to the systems, like trigger something in them, is that going to be catastrophic? Are people going to get hurt?” I’m not prepared to blow up factories with people inside them. There must be something we can do that is effective but won’t hurt people. Dr. Citali looks uncomfortable, and I press my point. “The damage that Morgan’s factories are doing to the environment here is one thing, but I don’t want to jeopardize the lives of any workers. Those people don’t have a lot of choices based on what Corazon has said. And none of them signed up to put their life on the line for Morgan. Imagine yourself as somebody under Morgan’s thumb who has to work in that factory,” I say, trying to get her to empathize with the potential collateral damage. “You don’t want to be there any more than the next person. And you don’t even want the factories doing what they are, you’re just under this weight of debt. And then you go in one day, and the whole thing explodes.”
Visualizing that scenario, Dr. Citali visibly tenses up. She pops another stick of her gum, and it seems to help her relax, but the way her voice then speeds up, I suspect there’s some stimulant in her drug cocktail, too. “Look, it’s going to shut down the factory, okay? If Morgan has unsafe working conditions, there’s nothing we can do about that. Long term, shutting down the factory is safer for everyone. It’s a computer virus, okay? It can’t cause an explosion itself. Only Morgan’s factories can cause explosions if they’re not set up safely.”
I nod. She’s deflecting my concerns, pushing the responsibility off onto Morgan. But she’s also right. This is a reasonable rebuttal, and a far more palatable one than if she’d just outright dismissed the lives of the workers.
“Morgan’s been doing terrible things. This action will both start to slow him down and help get this place,” she gestures around us, “up and running. And Data Haven is going to help us get the information we need to finally make us a little more habitable to this planet.”
It’s a strange reversal of terminology, as if Chiron were living on humans, but I think I get what she is saying. “Are you talking about adapting humans genetically?”
“If that’s the way we can do it.”
“Is the problem more than just this miasma?” I ask. “It sounded to me like the miasma was just localized. Are you saying there are some planetwide issues that make Chiron incompatible with humans? Can the explorers not thrive outside their domes?” I’m not grilling her; this is honest curiosity. Did humanity invest so much in Unity just to find that Alpha Centauri is a dead end?
“People built their domes, like Morgan’s doing. Other people are living underground. But it takes a lot—a lot—of work to try to make this place like Earth.”
“Not everybody’s goal was to make this place like Earth, though,” I point out.
“Yes, yes exactly. If we can just change ourselves, it will be a lot healthier for everyone, the planet included.”
“So then you are talking about molecular-level changes to humanity.”
“Whatever it takes, right? If I can find a genetic solution so that we can just live here… If there’s a drug we can take that makes it habitable to us… If there’s some technological, chemical, or physical approach, like some better filtering technology we can develop… Whatever it takes. Right? Earth is lost, it’s screwed up, there’s no hope there. So we’ve got to try to make our go of it here.” Dr. Citali’s tone is urgent. It’s not just an upper making her hyper—the prospect of discovery and its ramifications excite her.
“So what is it that Data Haven has? Is it the computational power of the computers here?” I ask. Dr. Citali points to her head. “Or is it just that people are smart?”
“It’s the brainpower. They have a high concentration of people with the appropriate type of neurodivergence to work extremely hard on our problem. Once they get directed on it, that is—directing them is a very difficult task. And yes, they have the computing power to do this. The Stepdaughters of Chiron have, I think, the insight—the vision, if you will—to direct their efforts a little more carefully.”
“I see. All right, this all sounds reasonable, and I’m onboard. I would love to hear more about what the Stepdaughters of Chiron are thinking about and anything you know about what Deirdre’s been up to. But!” I look down at the mess that my clothes are. “I’m still dripping in this fungus, in this planet that is dangerous. I need to get cleaned up.” My energy is really flagging, and I need to get off my feet.
Dr. Citali smiles in understanding. She instructs me on where to go, but before I take my leave, she gives me a handmade zine on the wildlife and plants of Chiron. This is a pleasant surprise, and I brighten up. Although I still really want that break, I quickly flip through it looking for the jellyfish-type thing I saw. It’s actually part of the life cycle of the shimmerfly! The xenofungus is also featured in the zine, complete with heading, “Xenofungus is not the enemy!”