Chronicles of Chiron: The Monsoon Jungle | Scene 15

Now that we’re all agreed, we return to the large lab. Marina and I head straight to the craw, but Cleve does a walk around, looking for anything useful. What he finds is that the patch Marina and I made to the tank in the back wasn’t good enough. Toxic gas is leaking into the room again, though not as swiftly as before. Whatever I’m going to do, I need to be quick about it. 

Cleve does also find a sedative designed for use on the craws, which Marina loads into a syringe. Ready to administer, she asks me, “Are we releasing it from the tank? Or are you doing this from outside?”

It’s a reasonable question, since I told her that proximity makes healing easier. But I shake my head no. “I want to first take a read while she’s in the tank. Then, if we decide we need to move her,” I wave at the needle. “I doubt I’ll be able to fix decades or more of genetic engineering right away.”

Marina nods and begins to take readings with her scientific equipment. Cleve looks on with a scowl, taser in one hand, flashlight in the other. I place both my hands on the smooth glass of the tube, as close as I can get to the craw, and close my eyes. I know what Chiron feels like, so I try to sense what is foreign to that in the craw. Maybe there will be something that I can expel, like clearing miasma gunk from the robot.

A lot of the fluids running through this craw are not natural, not the same as what courses through Bluebell. The larger craw has been modified to produce a different set of hormones, including growth stimulants. There’ve been changes to her brain to make her more aggressive, and she’s been under the influence of these for a long time. ¡Dios mío! This craw is not the most recent offspring of an in-lab breeding program to generate larger, more aggressive craws. She’s wild-caught, a victim of Progenitor experiments. And I can’t just reverse them and shrink her back to her original size. Too much of what was done to her was one way. 

I can make a start at soothing away the pain and anger and terror, though. My head nods forward, so that my forehead is now resting on the glass as well. I get flashes, scenes, like the dreams and visions I’ve had of Chiron. Things this craw personally saw and experienced… The colors are oddly off; she must see in a different spectrum than I do. At first, she’s just hanging out enjoying her den entrance. It’s lined with shiny water-smoothed pebbles and hidden among flat mushroom tops speckled in alternating red and black. Then there’s a Progenitor, alive, in long robes, with tough purplish skin and fur on the back of their tusked head. They capture the craw, and in that moment, I feel the pain and terror. Then she’s in the tank. Her view is all blurry, due to the liquid and the curvature of the glass… but she was aware! Different chemicals get injected, different gasses bubble through. She witnesses the same horrors happening to other craws across the room.

I snap back to the here and now, and tears are pouring down my cheeks. I back away from the tank, wiping at my cheeks with the palm of my hand. My voice cracks as I say, “This was horrible, what they did. There’s…” I search around for how to put what I just experienced into words, and they come tumbling out in a rush. “There are hormonal imbalances that are more than I could fix without ongoing treatment,” I tell Marina, “and I don’t know what kind of resources you have at the Garden of Chiron. But we have the sedative here now, and we should take her with us.” 

My mind is racing through treatment options. On Earth, hormone replacement therapy was routinely available, but is that the case here on Chiron where resources are so limited? I’m not sure. The expedition roster included trans and nonbinary explorers, as well as those going through menopause, all cleared for travel with their specific prescriptions. But no one planned on the ship exploding and scattering compartments all across the planet’s surface. Marina didn’t tell me that her lost sibling was nonbinary, but since she used that term rather than a gendered one, I assumed they were. Not all nonbinary people use HRT, but many do, so there’s a chance the Garden of Chiron has the production capability. “Is HRT a common thing around here?” I ask Marina. “Do the Stepdaughters of Chiron have the facilities to generate artificial hormones?”

“Mariah, Mariah,” she says gently, “we can address all these things, all right? One step at a time.”

“Do you have the necessary resources? Can we commit to saving this craw if we take her with us?” I press her, wiping away new tears. Bluebell skitters over and places a claw reassuringly against me, trying to soothe away my distress.

“Mariah, it’s part of my professional duty to protect everything on this planet, especially the native life, which includes this craw that has been horribly, horribly damaged. I don’t know exactly what tools we have to address that, but we can definitely look into that. Right now, we need to figure out a way to get this craw to that treatment or to bring that treatment to this craw. Both of those are good approaches. But Mariah, this craw is not going to be alone here—” Bluebell clacks affirmatively, backing Marina up. “—because it is connected to the rest of Chiron through these resonance fields, as you’ve already shown by interacting with it.”

¡Vaya! That is an interesting spin on the interconnectivity of all life. Not just metaphor, but an actual, demonstrable scientific fact. Maybe there’s a chance someone who can view life that way won’t think I’m crazy if I share the vision-like nature of the communications I’ve experienced but so far kept quiet about.

Marina continues, “The best treatment we can get for… Did you get a sense of identity for what this craw goes by?” I describe the fungus growing around the craw’s den; she had a proprietary sense about it, and I think that was her identifier. “Ah, that’s the checkerboard fungus. So, yes, the best hope for Checkerboard is for people with the right supplies to bring the advanced treatment here.” She rushes to cut off any protest, saying, “I know you want to do the best thing, but we don’t have the tools for that. If I found you in your cryopod and I didn’t have a safe way to wake you up, I’d want to go and get help, to find someone who could.”

Into the silence that follows, while I sort out my feelings, Cleve says, “So, about the gas…”

There are multiple concerns on that front. It’s likely to hurt us if we stay in here much longer, for one. Marina thinks it’s a good thing that it’s leaking, since the gas is part of what’s damaging Checkerboard. As the gas leaks out, it will slowly lower the dose she’s getting, which Marina suggests might be a way to wean Checkerboard off any dependency. But I don’t think that it’s wise for her to come down off her toxic load without a doctor monitoring her. If the best thing for Checkerboard is to leave her here in stasis, then we shouldn’t mess with her medication and then just walk away. She needs to be as stable as she can until proper help arrives.

“All right,” Cleve says. “I’ll go see if I can patch it up better.” He walks off, as does Bluebell.

I turn back to Checkerboard, regarding her sadly. Marina puts a hand on my shoulder. “Let’s leave Checkerboard to rest,” she says. “I’ll mark this building so that we know how to find it again. We can check in on Checkerboard on our way back to Data Haven.” She gives my shoulder a squeeze. “Are you going to be okay, Mariah?”

“Yeah,” I assure her, surprised by the question. Why wouldn’t I be? I’m not the one all alone here in the dark, trapped and in pain. A shudder runs down my spine, and then I rub my fingers across my eyes, wiping them dry. When I open them again I see that Bluebell has returned with a gift for me—she’s found my cane. I smile at her and accept it gratefully.

Cleve also returns. He’s added a layer of some kind of rubber cement to the patch. It’s still not perfect, but it’s better. Bluebell points to the taser he still has and clacks her claw inquisitively. She’d like to keep it for protection, not just as a toy. She saw how effective it was in the fight earlier.

“Yeah, you bet,” Cleve says with a grin, holding it out to her. She looks questioningly at me, and I encourage her to take it. “Such a helpful little thing,” Cleve murmurs as he hands it over.

The last matter to address here at the Progenitor weapon research facility is how to handle the dead. When Cleve asks about it, Marina immediately thinks of Ayumu, whereas I’m so wrapped up in Checkerboard that I think of the poor craws we killed. “If we could bury Ayumu nearby, that would be best,” Marina says.

“Are we burying everybody? Do we bury the craws?” Cleve glances at Bluebell, but she’s not tracking the conversation, so he looks at me for an answer.

I suggest that Marina take some tissue samples, as that could help the scientists get a head start on treatments for Checkerboard. Realistically, we cannot take a complete body back with us. Aside from the size, the corrosive fluids would be an issue. “Yeah. It’ll be a big hole, but I don’t want to risk anything eating them. They could be poisonous because of how they’ve been treated. We don’t want these mutations spreading further.”

We remain at this location for another day and a half. It’s hard work digging a large grave in monsoon-soaked ground. Cleve laments giving up the excavator, though hopefully it is serving Tenoch’s team well as they close Miasma Pass. We’ve only got a small camping spade, which we take turns with. It’s exhausting work, but it’s also rather cleansing. It’s good to do something really physical to clear away emotional stress. I find that my left arm holds up well. It really is healing, though there’s a jagged scar from the break that seems to glitter purple now and then.

Since we’re here so long, Cleve periodically checks on the tank seal. I use my breaks from digging to work in my sketchbook. Going off Checkerboard’s memory, I draw a live Progenitor to accompany the skeleton I sketched in the prison. I also double check my copy of the motivational etching. And I make some more detailed diagrams of craws.

On the second day at the facility, Shroomnuts returns. She still doesn’t really want to go inside, but she’s here to support Bluebell. Marina may have been speaking philosophically when she said Checkerboard would not be alone here, but Bluebell has taken up the role of guardian. Armed with tasers, she and Shroomnuts will make sure Checkerboard is undisturbed until help arrives. When I explain their intentions to Marina, she presents them each with an armband fashioned from Ayumu’s uniform. “I can tell people back at the Garden that these are two craws they can trust,” she explains as she ties on the ranger patches.

And so, yeah, that’s how we pass our stay at the creepy Progenitor genetics lab. We dig, and we rest, and we enjoy some companionship. I make more notes on craws, including their diet. They eat a mix of vegetation and small insects. Sometimes they even dig for grubs. As for me, I think I will be sticking with plants and fungus from now on.