Chronicles of Chiron: The Monsoon Jungle | Scene 14

Once everyone is patched up, we’re able to resume thinking about this facility and its ramifications. The Progenitors did something to that giant shimmering moth thing, and they did something to craws. That etched mural is proof enough that at least one Progenitor faction on this planet planned to turn Chiron’s capabilities against their enemies.

“There’s still one craw in there,” Cleve observes, tone sufficiently flat that I can’t tell what he’s getting at.

I mull this over for a moment. “Well, I don’t suggest that we wake it.”

“No,” Marina agrees. “But I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to put it out of its misery, so to speak, either. Presumably it’s in some form of suspended animation.”

“Maybe there’s a way to treat it,” I suggest. Even if human science has nothing to offer, I might be able to cleanse it somehow.

“There might be a way to reverse it, but that’s a long-term project. Maybe we can send out an official team to carefully recover it and bring it back to the Garden to study,” Marina says. “There’s a wealth of genetic engineering data here. Where the Progenitors went wrong, we can go right.”

Cleve wiggles his fingers at me, having understood my comment on a different level than Marina did. “You think you can do the purple thing?” he asks. “To fix it?”

I shrug. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I might make things worse by trying.” That craw is in pretty bad shape right now, but it’d be in a lot worse shape if it attacked us and Cleve shot it. Or if I drew a siege worm here.

Marina sucks in a breath. “That’s a high-risk endeavor. But on the other hand…” She is tempted by the potential knowledge to be gained.

Cleve approaches the problem pragmatically, reviewing the options. He allows that it would be dangerous to take the craw onwards with us in the rover, but he’s willing to try. However, the cylinder is too large to transport. We might possibly be able to cram the sedated craw in the back of the rover, but there’s no guarantee of keeping it quiescent if we remove it from that liquid.

“There are a limited number of vehicles available at the Garden,” Marina says. “It’s possible one of them might be able to transport the whole cylinder.”

I get up and walk over to the opening to check the weather. It’s still raining, and the clouds stretch on as far as the eye can see. There’s no sign this will let up any time soon. “Well, we’re not going anywhere for a while. We can give that room time to air out a bit more, and then we can go back in and see what there is. I need to find my cane, and the taser is somewhere.” Bluebell clacks an empty claw. “And Bluebell also lost her rod,” I add.

“Yeah, great. Then we can see if there’s any information on the craw,” Cleve agrees. “But there are two other bodies, if you want me to drag them out for you to investigate, Dr. Citali.”

“Oh, no, drag them out for me to investigate them!” I say excitedly. “If I can at least get a feel for if there was some condition there that I could soothe…”

Cleve gives me a nod, ties a bandana around his face, and heads back into the labs. I follow him, and Bluebell comes along to supervise. Once we get into the back room, though, she skitters off to rifle through the demon craws’ stash. One by one, Cleve and I drag out the bodies of our attackers. Some of the leaking fluids are corrosive. Maybe it’s just stomach acid, or maybe it was warped to be that way. We’re careful to keep our hands clear.

While Marina and I study the dead demon craws, Cleve excuses himself to go wash wolf beetle acid off his jacket and mend some tears to his pants. My poncho is a filthy mess from sliding across the floor, but I’ll have to take care of that later. Right now, my attention is needed here. Unfortunately, the new bioscanner is of no help, since the craws are dead. My miasma-vision runs into the same problem. When Cleve comes back, I report my failure. “Nothing’s circulating anymore,” I say with disappointment.

“Well, we have a live specimen,” he points out.

“That’s a higher risk, examining it.”

“The higher risk being that we have to fight it,” Cleve says, unfazed.

Marina agrees, “If it wakes up, if it gets out…”

“If it gets out and attacks us, it’s likely to die,” I say heatedly. Cleve is not shy with his rifle when native lifeforms come at us. “Right now it’s alive, but it’s just a pseudo-life.”

“Oh, you meant risk to it!” Cleve says with surprise. He’s always thinking of threats to us, not us being the threat.

Marina is against opening the tank and removing the craw, not because it’s dangerous to us, but because we are dangerous to it. Neither Cleve nor I dispute that point. “I don’t want to kill any more native life,” Marina says. “It’s bad enough I already shot at one.”

“But what the Progenitors did to it is also dangerous to it,” I argue, gesturing at the festering sores on the nearest corpse. Those far predate our arrival on the scene. “I’m not suggesting that we open the tank—”
“We can make a note of the location,” Marina tells me, interrupting to try to calm me down. “We’ll give it to the Stepdaughters of Chiron to investigate more fully.” Cleve offers a compromise of sorts. He’ll bring out the shimmering moth-creature corpse for Marina to take back as a sample. The more science the better, from Cleve’s perspective.

That’s good enough for Marina, but it’s not good enough for me. What happened to this now–demon craw it’s… it’s a form of pollution, an affront to Chiron. And we can’t just leave that poor craw trapped here all alone. Who knows who else might march on through here. There’s an army that’s headed this way and could potentially make it this far. We need to at least try to help this craw now, while we can, not just flag it on some map for maybe someday somebody to come back when it’s more convenient. While it’s unconscious and in its tank, I might be able to get a read on what’s wrong with it. But I’m not confident that it would remain sedated if we took it out of its fluid, and there’s also a risk that me checking it might rouse it. All these thoughts swirl around inside my head until they finally burst out. “We can’t just leave it here alone after it’s been mistreated this way!”

“It’s suspended, Mariah. It’s not going anywhere,” Marina says. “It’s essentially asleep.”

“All it took was one little shatter for that moth thing to come at us,” I point out. It’s not like this structure is terribly sound.

“We can try to close this place back up so that nothing accidentally gets in,” she suggests.

“Close it back up?!” I bark out a laugh laced with anxiety. “What, you think I’m just going to rebuild the mountain that was here?” I was not fully in control of what happened during the last terraforming incident; I’m not going to try another. That’s just as likely to crush this building as to hide it. Marina, though, looks like she’s seriously considering asking me to do exactly that. “No!” I state plainly.

“No, you’re right. That probably wouldn’t be good,” she agrees.

“As evidenced by the fact that there were already three craws loose, this is not a stable environment. That craw in there is sick and needs to be treated, not just forgotten about. She deserves our compassion!” Somewhere along the way in my internal struggle, that poor creature has gone from being it, a demon craw, to she, an abused craw.

“I’m willing to help you with this, Mariah,” Marina tells me, hefting her bioscanner. “You’re right. It deserves to live its life. And if you think—” She pauses, reconsidering her words. “I believe you, Mariah, when you say you have a good chance to heal this craw.” Relieved, I let out a long breath. Marina continues, elaborating on her position, “I was born here on Chiron, where we have a nice, pristine planet. But I know that on Earth there were a lot of things that needed to be cleaned up. This is something that needs to be cleaned up here. Being responsible isn’t just not making a mess in the first place; we also have to clean up the messes we find.”

My next request is to Cleve, that he stand ready with the taser, which Bluebell has recovered, rather than his rifle. If something goes wrong, we should subdue the sick craw, not kill her. Cleve is agreeable, but he’s also still open to other possibilities. Namely, what else might be around that could help us. An antidote? A sedative? Research notes? Giant rubber bands to secure claws? Who knows what was left behind. Finally, Cleve turns to Marina. “To be clear, we never did anything like this on Earth.”

“I’m sure there were some crazy GMO crabs on somebody’s dinner plate,” I mutter.

“Yeah, but not like that,” Cleve replies, indicating the remains of the craws we fought.