“So what do you know about this area?” Cleve asks Corazon as he leads us through the mushroom undergrowth higher up into the hills.
“This area? It’s scheduled for fungus removal and mining development,” Corazon says. “Supposedly there’s some valuable ore in these hills.”
Cleve doesn’t care about geological features. “Do you know if any of this stuff is poisonous?” He gestures at everything around us. “Or what other dangers we might encounter? Anything?”
“Well don’t eat the xenofungus, obviously,” she says, rolling her eyes. “That’s going to be a real bad time.”
“We weren’t going to eat any of the fungus,” Cleve assures her.
“Most of the Earth plants are safe. They taste awful, though. I don’t know how anyone could eat that,” she adds, pointing at a patch of wineberries.
I found those to be sweet and refreshing, personally. “What were you intending to eat out here in the wild?” I ask her.
“Rations packs.” There’s an unspoken duh.
“So how equipped are you?” Cleve asks, ever practical.
Corazon has the fungus spray, a few days of ration packs, and a water filtration kit. She is equipped to be in the field as a professional fungus remover, but not as a camper. She also has whatever passes for a datapad these days. And, surprisingly, she has a knife. A real, honest-to-goodness switchblade.
“Excellent,” Cleve says. This is one of the few times I’ve heard him sound pleased. “Do you know how to use your knife?” Corazon flicks it out and back closed, twirls it around some. She is quick with it. I was not expecting the first person we met out here to be a street tough, but that’s the image she conjures up.
“So can you fill us in on who runs in the dome?” I ask, testing the waters. “Is this a personal issue you have with Morgan, or is your whole gang in on it?” Corazon raises an eyebrow and looks me up and down. Her eyes settle on the cane and particularly on the recent damage it took being wielded as a weapon. There’s a look of approval in her eyes, and I can tell I’ve been clocked. I may dress myself up pretty, but what’s the old saying? You can take the boy out of the barrio, but you can’t take the barrio out of the boy.
“There is no gang. Morgan Industries runs everything. They run Morgan Industries, Morgan Consolidated, Morgan Mining. It’s his own little empire or whatever. Technically there’s a government, but it doesn’t matter.”
“His HR department must be killer,” Cleve comments dryly. I can’t help but chuckle.
“Yeah, you could say that,” Corazon agrees, not getting the whole joke. For once she’s lacking context, not us. “Morgan ruined my family. He has a total lockdown, more or less, on his cities.” She nods in the direction of the dome we saw near the water’s edge. Its name is—unbelievably—Morgan Industries Headquarters. That’s the city’s name! Once again, I laugh. Thirty years, and no organic name has taken shape. And what hubris, naming everything after himself! And so unimaginative! “What do you want us to call it?” Corazon asks, not seeing what I find so funny. “The Home Dome? Whatever.”
“Home Dome.” Cleve snickers now, too. “That’s got a ring to it.”
“That’s one of the reasons I’d rather go to Data Haven,” Corazon shares. She is through with being around Morgan-this, Morgan-that, Morgan-everything. She’s even labeled with him right now; her uniform jumpsuit is branded Morgan Industries Fungus Removal Team.
“What about your parents? And the rest of the Santiago clan?” Cleve asks.
“They tried to make it. Maybe they just didn’t have what it takes to make it here. They ran through their funds. I heard that Grandpa was good with this stuff, but on this world, Morgan was able to get the upper hand way too quick. So he runs that place. Unfortunately we landed at the same place back at planetfall. I dunno, that’s just what they teach in school, but half of what they teach in school is BS, anyway,” she seethes. “Morgan did not save our module. No way he could have done that.”
“Well, it would have been nice if he would have helped us when he was leaving,” Cleve grouses.
“Oh, you must have been in one of the modules that separated from the main colony pods,” Corazon realizes.
“Morgan was in our module before he woke up,” I clarify.
“Morgan was in your module?! That bastard!”
“He definitely had an assigned bed in the same compartment as us. Maybe he somehow got his pod to open early, earlier than it was even supposed to?” The thought forms as I voice it. If Morgan was awake on Unity before anyone else was, he could have positioned himself to enact some scheme.
“Is that how he killed the captain?” Corazon asks.
“I don’t know how he killed the captain,” I say calmly, hoping she’ll settle down some. “I was asleep.”
It’s hard getting non-Morgan-oriented information out of Corazon. She’s awfully young to be so bitter, but she is fixated on getting her revenge. Eventually, she does tell us about some other contacts back at the dome. I’m not sure we’ll be this way again, but I’m at my best the larger my network is, so I take whatever she’s willing to give. There’s a Professor Zakharov who is there sometimes. Corazon thinks his main residence is at a university in another station across the water, one Morgan likely doesn’t control, as what profit is there in education? (Corazon has obviously never seen the bill from a bursar’s office back on Earth.)
The other name Corazon gives us is Morris. She doesn’t have much to say about this contact, just that he was able to give her some information about Data Haven. And that he stayed behind to try to organize the workers, though she doesn’t think he’ll have much luck with that. Corazon thinks he’ll end up shot.
Into the silence that follows this declaration, Cleve asks, “But the fur beetles, you can eat those, right?”
“The wolf beetles?! Oh my gosh, you would eat them? What is wrong with you? How could you eat that?”
Cleve seems to have found the one topic that can take Corazon’s mind off Morgan. He just cares about what is edible, not how cute something is. “What else would you eat?” he asks. “Siege worm seems dangerous.” Corazon boggles at the idea that he would consider going after one, as that’s a good way to have your leg ripped off. “Well, we haven’t encountered the siege worm, just the hole,” he admits. “Mainly we’ve encountered mushrooms.”
“Well, there’s shroomnuts. Everyone eats those. Those go in everything, right?”
Corazon seems to keep forgetting that we have one day’s experience of this planet. I start to ask her to clarify about the different plants, but I don’t get far. “So, the xenofungus you said no—”
“Ugh! No, you can’t eat xenofungus! Ick! One, it tastes awful. Two, it never seems like it’s totally dead, no matter how much you fry it. I ate one on a dare once.”
“Which one of these things is a xenofungus?” I ask, gesturing at everything around us. “I thought you were just using it as a term that meant mushroom from this planet.”
“That’s a good point, I guess we should just call it fungus, since it’s here. But whatever! Xenofungus is what people say, right?”
“But which one of these is it?” I ask again, prodding her back on topic.
“The reddish-hued ones that make up the dense undergrowth. You’re wearing it!” She clearly disapproves.
“I’m not eating it,” I point out.
“Well, I hope it doesn’t latch onto you and suck you dry.”
“Wait, it can do that?” Cleve asks, suddenly alarmed.
“I don’t know, but it’s almost impossible to remove. That’s why you need this super-expensive spray.”
I shrug, unthreatened. “It’s just a sprig.”
“Will it grow into his clothes?” Cleve asks Corazon.
“It’s cleanly cut,” I protest, pulling the little stalk out of my blazer’s buttonhole. To my surprise, there is a little bit of growth along the bottom. “Hunh! Wow, it did that in just a day,” I marvel. “Guess it needs a daily shave, too.” I clip off the new tendrils with my straight edge and affix it back to my lapel.
“But it’s not poisonous? Just disgusting?” Cleve presses, focused on less aesthetic matters.
“Well, it’s not good for you.”
“Fine. Tell me more about the shroomnuts, then.” Corazon says those get roasted and are a good source of protein, but she doesn’t sound too confident. She’s probably just remembering what she learned in school, whereas Cleve would prefer she’d studied up before her little excursion. “Might be better to stick to wineberries,” he mutters. There are no shroomnuts around us for her to point out right now, anyway, since they grow at lower elevations along the damp edges of rivers.
Our pace is slow enough that I sheathe my cane and take out my sketchbook. The drawings in it are all hand copies I’ve made of what might be on Chiron. It’s time to start adding what actually is. I do a simple sketch of the so-called xenofungus, now that I know the local name with which to label it.
Corazon is amused that Cleve and I both have such an interest in what seems mundane to her. And yet she is horrified at the thought of eating wolf beetles, as if they were a dog or cat. She has a real soft spot for them. Cleve presses her on that topic, and we’re surprised to learn that some people keep wolf beetles as pets. It sounds like the domesticated ones are smaller than those that tore into us, though. Corazon insists they are intelligent creatures.
“Wait, are they people?” Cleve asks, suddenly alarmed that we might have set off an interplanetary incident by killing the local residents’ queen.
“No, they’re not people!” Corazon tells him. There’s an unstated you idiot there, but I find I prefer her treating us as daft planetfallers to her railing about Morgan’s injustices. It gives her a chance to relax a bit, I think.
“I wouldn’t be so down on eating these wolf beetles if I were you,” Cleve cautions her. “We may have to do that before we’re done.”
“Wait a moment,” I say, looking up from my sketch. “Are there any other sapient beings here? Actual alien people?”
“Oh! You definitely wouldn’t have known this. We’ve never found anyone alive, but there’s some tech that we find scattered about occasionally. Definitely artificial.”
“There were already manufactured items on this planet?”
“Yeah. It’s super lucky to find something like that. You never know what it’s going to be. And good luck getting it to do anything!”
“Wow.” The word is starting to get overused, I fear, but it’s all I have to express how amazing it is to be here among all this newness.
“I bet you they know what to do with Progenitor tech in Data Haven. Morgan? Not interested in it. At least from what I can see. He’s just clearing out these parcels one by one.”
“To what end?” I ask.
Corazon clears her throat and then does a pretty good Nwabudike Morgan impersonation. Definitely recognizable. “Resources exist to be consumed, and consumed they will be. If not by our generation, then the next.” That certainly sounds like something he would say. If anything, it sounds haughtier than I remember. The man was a capitalist to the core. Manager of human resources, indeed. “There’s some, what, six billion years of fossil fuels on this planet,” Corazon goes on after finishing the quote, “and, I dunno, a few million people? Morgan literally said, ‘We’re going to be rich.’ Except by we, he meant only him.”
“Wait, a few million?” Cleve asks. “Did they send more ships?” The number seems high to me, too. In the literature we advertised a hundred thousand positions. People would have to have been really active for that to have increased tenfold in thirty years. Corazon might be wrong about those numbers. “That’s a lot of children,” Cleve murmurs.
“There are a lot of places to live!” Corazon counters. “Well, if you live outside the domes, anyway. But who knows what this miasma is doing to us.”
“What miasma?” I ask.
“All the haze everywhere. It’s xenofungus spores,” Corazon says. I glance down at my lapel, but the boutonniere still looks benign to me. “Yeah, don’t bring that in a dome,” she warns me.
“I’ve never lived on a planet where there wasn’t a haze,” Cleve observes.
“Yeah, the air here seems cleaner than in LA,” I agree.
“The miasma!” Corazon says again, as though we should have known its name. “That’s why radios don’t work outside cities.” She looks back and forth at me and Cleve, looking for a sign of recognition that she does not find. “Right, right. Planetfallers.”
“Yeah, and our planetfall was very hard,” Cleve says.
“Look, everyone crashed, I guess,” Corazon says with a shrug.
“Is that what happened?” Cleve asks.
“Yeah, what are you taught in school about the landing?” I chime in.
That inadvertently gets her riled up again. “What are we taught in school?! That the captain died, and Morgan valiantly saved as many people as he could, directing the colony module to a safe place in order to reforge human society for the benefit of all.” Each phrase is laced with disdain. “And that there may have been other scattered groups. One day we can hope to reconnect with them.”
“Oh, so our module might not have been the only one that broke off,” I realize.
“But your module didn’t open up right away,” Corazon points out. “It was supposed to open. That’s what we were taught.”
“I have no explanation for that,” I admit, “other than that parts of it were compromised. But that could have been upon landing.” Unless Morgan compromised it somehow before he left, but why would he have bothered? Was Sylvia Stanton someone important? Probably not if she had a pod down where the spares were kept. Was there something else damning in our module? We won’t know unless we can find someone with heavy excavation equipment who’s willing to drag it back there, someone invested in doing so.