Chronicles of Chiron: The Monsoon Jungle | Scene 12

The silence following the death of the second demon craw is broken by two things, the muted patter of monsoon rain and a quiet hissing noise that I don’t remember hearing when we first entered this room. Wondering if more demon craws are about, I prop myself up on an elbow and whisper, “Do you hear any clacking sounds?”

“I’m going to sweep the room,” Cleve announces, still alert to threats. But Marina’s solitary flashlight is not enough for this large room. As I climb carefully to my feet, he pulls out his own, switches it on, and then secures it to the barrel of his rifle with some tape. After a quick check of the two bodies here, he stalks off, rifle up and casting a beam of light in front of him. Other than a couple nicks and a slight limp, he looks no worse for wear.

The light source here clatters to the ground as Marina collapses on her knees alongside Ayumu’s corpse. “I should take their things,” she mutters to herself, reaching a hand tentatively forward for the dog tags. They must be made of some chitinous material; if they’d been metal a craw would have walked off with them. Once Marina has the dog tags cradled in her hands, she looks down at them and begins to sob. “Why did you have to do this?” she says quietly through the tears. “This was all my fault!”

“Hey, hey,” I say softly, crouching down next to her and putting a consoling arm around her shoulders. “It’s not your fault that Ayumu was doing their job after dropping you off at Data Haven.”

“No, you don’t understand,” Marina protests, turning to me. “I didn’t—This would have been my ranger assignment if I had passed. So it is my fault!”

I can see she’s upset, but the logic of that… She’s many steps away from responsibility for what happened here. “Please, you need to respect that other people are also seeking the same knowledge for improving life on Chiron that you are, and that they’re also braving the dangers out here,” I tell her. “Any chance that you feel you should have taken, other people should be allowed to take too.” 

Marina’s brow crinkles a bit as she considers my words, and I press on before she can argue back. “You may have wanted to be a ranger, but you have a really strong passion for xenobotany. That’s already shown a lot of good avenues for improving things. So I personally am glad that it’s not your body we’re finding here. I don’t want to downplay Ayumu’s sacrifice, but it is a dangerous world—you keep telling me that. We can’t all just live in caves all the time. We need to take chances to find answers.” The twinkling miasma wall that kept us all safe—well, safer than otherwise—may have faded by now, but my eyes are still aglow with it, a reminder to her of the wonders of Chiron that still need to be analyzed and explored.

“You’re right, you’re right,” Marina says quietly. Resolve stiffens her posture as she wipes the tears off her cheeks, and I let go of her. “I need to gather their things. And there’s probably knowledge that they uncovered and… And what is… What is that sound?”

“There’s a gas leak,” Cleve reports, stepping up to us. “We need to get out of here. That’s releasing a poisonous miasma gas, I think,” he adds, pointing out a tank across the room. We gave all the filter masks to the strike teams since they’d be spending a lot of time outdoors, while we’d be inside the rover. Cleve’s probably regretting that right now. “We need to start opening closets,” he continues, “although first I’ll go try the door we came in.” Sotto voce, he adds, “I know it’s probably hopeless, but it would be dumb not to try.” Then, back to reporting mode, he says, “There’s also one more demon craw in the corner.” At our look of alarm, he quickly clarifies, “In a vat. Not awake.” His flashlight highlights where he found that.

“That door snapped shut behind me, but I don’t know how firmly it’s sealed,” I tell Cleve. “By all means, go check it out. But I think we should try to seal the gas leak. There still could be useful things to discover here. Maybe there’s something in the storage closets we could use to repair it.”

Cleve nods and heads over to the door we came in by. “If it’s a bioweapon, it might be too late for us anyway,” I hear him mutter. Bluebell skitters after him, eager to get out of here. She could escape on her own through one of the muddy cracks in the walls, but she wants to help us get out, too. She’s a good friend.

Personally, I’m not too concerned. If the gas is miasma based, I can probably just push it away. And besides, the compound itself might be important to get a sample of for someone to study. This is Progenitor science, and they were more advanced than humans, as far as this discipline goes. “If you’re coming along, stay close,” I tell Marina. On our way to the closet, we pass some piles of “collectibles” that the demon craws amassed from the lab’s offerings. There’s not much left in the closets. Whatever was small and shiny has long since been carried off by Shroomnuts or other scavengers. 

We find a slap-on repair patch lined with metallic tape. The seal on the package has been damaged, so it’s not as sticky as it once was, but it should do the trick, at least temporarily. Since the bullet went in and didn’t come out the other side, the tank has only the one hole. That’s good, as it means no sharp edges for us to contend with.

“I got the door, but I have to hold it open,” Cleve calls from across the room. Bluebell wanders away from him to look around the room for anything of interest, be they bits of worked metal or the wealth of handheld items we lost during that scuffle.

“We found something to seal up the puncture, so let us give it a try,” I call back.

I help Marina by training my flashlight on the spot and holding the patch in place with my other hand while she rubs down all the edges. I don’t feel any change in miasma levels, so at first I think Cleve must be mistaken about what is actually in this tank. The longer Marina takes to finish the job, though, the worse I feel. If miasma is a component of this gas, it’s gotten really warped. My problems start as just a twitching muscle here or there, but by the time Marina steps away from the tank, the tremors in my hands are so bad that the flashlight beam is jumping all over the place.

My leg muscles join in, and I stumble, dropping the flashlight from hands I can no longer control. My back hits the wall, and my shaking legs buckle. I slide down to sitting, eyes wide with panic. This is bad. Really bad. I can’t keep my hands still; I can’t trust my legs to hold me. “Mariah!” Dr. Citali cries out. My teeth are chattering so badly I can barely answer her questions about how I feel. She mutters something about a neurotoxin, which does not reassure me. Right, there was talk of gene splicing in that first room. ¡Ay! I hope whatever this is, is reversible.

“Get him over to the door to get some air,” Cleve calls out, unable to leave the doorframe without risking trapping us all in again. Bluebell comes rushing over, distressed, and the imagery I get from her is related to shelftop, the fungus my cane is made from. I try to reassure her that it’s okay she didn’t find it. I doubt I could walk even with it. The shelftop imagery continues, laced with concern, and I finally realize she’s addressing me. I’m Shelftop. She doesn’t know where my cane is, but she wants to help me walk.

So does Marina. She hoists my right arm over her shoulders and lifts. I do my best to get my own legs under me, and Bluebell stabilizes me from the left side. You know, I didn’t think she’d be able to help much, but she’s taller than I realized, and she’s determined to get us all safely out of the room. As we get closer to Cleve, she leaves me to lean entirely on Marina and scurries ahead. Bluebell ducks past Cleve into the first lab and promptly returns with a piece of rubble for him to lodge into the doorway. Once that’s taken care of, they all work together to get me through it and back to the garage.