“Perhaps there is a way you can help me,” Shu-Fen tells me and Cleve. “The cryopods are in the way of what we really want. Now, you may not have heard of this, but there’s some Progenitor chamber underneath the cryopods.”
I feign ignorance, but what she’s saying sounds remarkable. “What’s that word mean?”
“There’s an alien room under this module?!”
“Yes. Now…” Shu-Fen throws a glance behind her, making sure none of her coworkers are within earshot. It’s unnecessary paranoia, given how far down the hillside they are. “I was given orders not to disturb that. But they didn’t say anything about you. So, if you go in there, find whatever there is to find, and report back to me, then I don’t have any problem giving you the things we’ve already extracted from the cryopods.”
Now that is news to me. “You’ve already found our cryopods?”
“Yes. They’re not very hidden.”
“Well, they were very collapsed last time we saw them,” I comment.
“I’m aware,” Shu-Fen says simply. “So, do this, and then I won’t ask questions about where you got this rover from… or why you care so much about your cryopods.”
Excellent. Those are topics we don’t want to discuss with her. “So, your workers down there are not supposed to know anything about what’s in that Progenitor chamber?” I ask, waving vaguely toward the camp.
“We’re not supposed to dig through it. But it’s in the way of the actual ores that we want to get out of this effort. Excavating around it is a huge headache and a constant threat.”
Shu-Fen’s story that the Progenitor chamber is an inconvenience rings a bit hollow. It seems to me like she wants to know about what’s inside. But is that just so she can impress the higher-ups? Or is she genuinely curious about it? I press her with questions on what she knows about Progenitors. That may sound like savvy manipulation, but no. I’m legitimately curious about this, myself. There could be new things down there completely unlike anything we’ve seen before. All we know of Progenitors so far is one small handheld device, and that’s certainly a shaky basis for judging a whole civilization by. “Have you encountered other Progenitor stuff?” I ask. “Do you just want to know what’s in there? Or do you want us to sneak some stuff out for you?” Yeah, I’m showing cards here, which is sloppy work. I’ve started just enjoying the conversation, and my enthusiasm on this matter has given her screws to turn on me, should she wish to.
But as it turns out, she doesn’t. Shu-Fen finds alien technology alluring. She grew up on this planet, so Chiron’s wonders are all matter-of-fact to her. But the Progenitors are a complete unknown. “There could be anything down there,” she says, scorn giving way finally to enthusiasm. “We know so little about Progenitors. This is the first possibly intact find, whatever it is. I want to know what’s inside.” She glances over her shoulder again, nervous about her illicit deal being discovered. “Anything you could reasonably hide on a person, I want brought back to me. As for any information, I’d be happy to share a copy with you.” I agree to that, and we both look to Cleve, as she needs his buy-in too.
“Throw in a multitool, and you have a deal,” he says. She nods.
Shu-Fen can grant us access to our cryopod chamber, and from there we’ll be able to get into the Progenitor space. But she needs us to handle all this in the next twenty-minute drill cool-down window, when none of her workers will see us entering or exiting.
This is the sticky web of favors. You do this for me, I do this for you… it never ends there. We’re on better terms now than we were ten minutes ago, but when this is all said and done, I will have leverage on her—I know she’s wormed around the orders she got on Progenitor finds. At this point, I have no intention of using that against her, but I could. The only way to obviate this threat is to actually become friends, but only time will tell whether that’s possible.