Chronicles of Chiron: Planetfall | Scene 3

With Cleve up beside me, I finally take a moment to look around where we’ve escaped to. It’s illuminated by dappled sunlight, but I can’t really call this place a room. It’s more like… a nest. Branches, stems, vines, whatever these are, they are woven together around the small space. It reminds me of some of the sphere-type nests I’ve read about certain wrens weaving. I unsling my cane and push myself to my feet, eager to get a closer look at the walls of our enclosure. I pause for a moment before taking a step, though. There’s a throbbing in my right leg, and I just need to center myself to push past it. The pain subsides quickly, but there’s something off about it, something I cannot quite put my finger on. I’ve lived with this for twenty years, but whatever sensation I just felt was new. The feeling was fleeting, though, and I am once again back to the baseline discomfort that is just regular life for me. Transitions are always the worst, from start to stop or stop to start. Perhaps that’s all this was. Still, it makes me glad that I convinced my friend Deirdre in the science department to grant me access to some doses of Rhum. I don’t need any of the experimental drug right now, but just knowing I have it is a comfort.

I’ve read the initial reports from the long range scans of Chiron. We knew there would be life here, just not exactly what form it would take. When I get close enough to the wall, I reach my right hand out and feel the textures. Some of these branches seem woody, but others are more like mushroom stalks. Other details I can pick out also support the fungus hypothesis: ripples, waves, even some caps. It’s amazing. We could be up in a fungus tree! Or maybe some creature built this atop our section of the ship. There would have been ample time in the past three decades for that. “Wow,” I breathe out. “This is alien life. Right here. No one on Earth has ever seen this.”

Cleve’s priorities seem a little different from mine. His rifle is now out and ready. When I raise an eyebrow at this, he gripes, “We have a marauding HR person who is doing terrible exit interviews.” He glances around the area and seems to reach at least some of the same conclusions I did, as he adds, “Besides, being in a nest is also not a safe place.”

“Those are probably eggs of some kind,” I say, pointing my cane at some oblong forms in the middle. The stone-colored objects are each about the size of a loaf of bread. Deirdre and I spent many lunch breaks talking about what kind of animal life might be here, and she figured eggs were a pretty universal part of the reproductive process. Whether these are from birds or lizards or something entirely new still remains to be seen.

As fascinating as this nest is, an opening would be helpful. I start poking around, looking for where we might tease our way out. Cleve stays in the center at first, surveying the space. “Hey, is that my rope?” he growls. He traces the cord and loses it before he can find an end to pull. His eyes settle on something better, though: his rucksack. “Cleveland” is written on the canvas in bold, black marker. He goes to grab it, but something must yank it from outside the nest, because suddenly it’s gone. 

Rope and backpacks are not the only manufactured items lining this nest. I find pieces of what I can only describe as trash. That seems par for the course with humans. How long have they been on Chiron, and already there is litter? I was hoping we’d do better here than on Earth. In addition to pieces of plastic and fabric, a scrap of paper catches my eye. That flyer cannot have been here thirty years, not and still be in good enough shape to read. “Join Morgan Industries’ Fungus Removal Team,” I read out loud. “Now offering ten percent extra debt repayment ratio.” There’s a number to call, too. I carefully extract the flyer. I’m not sure what use it will have, but it is a tiny piece of the society that has developed here over the past thirty years. “This doesn’t look too old,” I tell Cleve, holding up the page, “and it’s got Morgan’s name on it. It sounds like he’s still active and running a company around here.”

Cleve clicks his tongue in disapproval. “Wonder what fungus removal means.”

“Well, did you read any of the copy on the expected life forms on this planet?” I ask, not getting his meaning. I tap my cane at a particularly mushroom-like outgrowth in the wall. “A lot of this stuff could be considered fungus of one form or another, potentially.”

“You think it’s literally fungus removal? Or similar to what he did to the captain?” Cleve rejoins. He stands up from where his rucksack vanished. All that is left behind is a small, handheld device. Maybe a radio of some kind. “This isn’t mine,” he says, looking it over.

“Maybe it was left for you by that Roze person?” I suggest.

“Right.” He hefts it. It is unusually light in his hand and cool to the touch. “Do you know what this thing is?” he asks me, holding it up. We meet in the middle of the nest, near the presumed eggs, and I inspect it. It looks metallic and there are buttons, but neither of us has seen anything like it before. “Roze is pretty smart, and who knows where it came from. Could just be some advanced phone, for all I know,” Cleve says. He decides it must be some sort of emitter or transceiver, but one without a port for the thumbdrive holding the data Roze sent him. He’s about to put it in a pocket, when he has second thoughts. “If this is a tracker, is that a good thing or a bad thing?” he wonders aloud.

“We’ve got to get back in touch with humans somehow,” I point out.

“Yeah,” he gives a swift nod and pockets it. “You said it’s been thirty years?”

“That’s what the clock on the computer in our room said.”

“So… this Morgan killed the captain—”

“Thirtyish years ago, I guess.”

“—and left us here for thirty frickin’ years?!”

“Apparently so did your associate Roze,” I point out.

“Roze left a voicemail under duress,” Cleve shoots back, defending his friend. “If there was any way for Roze to get us out of there, they would have.” He deflates a little. “But that was thirty years ago. Why didn’t anybody come for us?”

“Well, what we do know is that Morgan’s cryopod opened thirty years ago. He got out and went and did nefarious things while our pods stayed closed.”

“The captain was his first order of business?”

“I don’t know if that was his first order of business,” I say with a shrug. “He was not the best supervisor in terms of friendliness, but there was nothing overtly homicidal in his interactions with staff. I mean, he would yell sometimes, yes, but—” I lose the thread of conversation when a section of the nest wall parts, giving me get my first look at extraterrestrial creatures.