Chronicles of Chiron: Whatever It Takes | Scene 2

We pile back into the rover, and Cleve takes us down to the farm as twilight sets in. There’s no fence to mark the edges of the property, and he asks, “Hey Marina, where should we park this thing?”

“Just not on some crops,” she says.

Cleve nods at that, but I laugh. “Like we can tell what’s a crop here?”

“Does it look like it’s planted intentionally? If so, it’s a crop.”

In the gloam, the mix of plants and fungus before us looks just as unplanned to me as the jungle did. Cleve drives on confidently though. I may have grown up in a city, but he spent his youth on a farm. “Looks wild to me,” he says, picking a spot under a shroom tree.

A tractor is already moving through the fields, driven by a middle-aged man. The light is getting low, but I estimate mid-forties. The youngest explorers on Unity were about sixteen years old; you had to reach a certain stage of puberty before they were willing to put you in a cryopod. When we get out of the rover, we can hear the tractor wheels crunching over the ground, though there’s no engine noises since it’s electric just like the rover. Closer to the farmhouse, a middle-aged woman holds the collar of a wolf beetle, brushing the creature down. And running around, without any clearly assigned task, is a young child, probably preteen. I think this is the first solid family unit I’ve observed since waking up on Chiron.

The woman looks up at us as the wolf beetle starts howling. She maintains a tight grip on its collar, keeping it from charging at us. “Ahoy there,” she calls out at us. The tone is not exactly friendly. “What are you doing out here?”

“Ahoy to you, too,” I reply. “We’re from a settlement on the other side of the jungle. We have one of your people with us as a guide.” The farmer’s eyes narrow, but she doesn’t say anything. I indicate Marina to illustrate my point and then nudge her to speak up.

“Ah, yes, I’m Dr. Marina Citali. Um, I don’t think I passed by your farm on the way out…” Marina says a little nervously.

There’s no need for us to be shouting this across a field. “And I’m Mariah, and this is Cleve. Can we approach closer?” I ask.

“Yes, but can you move your car off of our crops?”

“I’m so sorry,” Cleve immediately apologizes. He drops his head and shakes it at himself. “Of course I parked on them…” he mutters.

“Those banana shrooms are being shaded by—”

“Understood, understood,” Cleve says, not needing any convincing to move the rover. The woman, Stef, points him towards a shed that looks to be made of a local variety of shelftop. Cleve takes care of reparking, while Marina and I walk over to join Stef. 

The kid runs up to us and says to me, “Oh! You have really funny clothes!” Like the woman here, he wears a tunic and rugged trousers made from a simple woven material. It looks like a heavy linen, but of course it isn’t since no flax grows on this planet. Maybe they use something similar, though. The cloth is a multicolored plaid. It’s well worn, with visible patches and mends that are done with intentionality, livened up rather than concealed.

“What about my clothes are funny?” I ask the kid, crouching down to his level. “Do you not wear vests around here? Or do you not like the pattern on it?” I brush my hand along the embroidered whorls of blues and deep purples on my chest that decorate the underlying charcoal gray.

“Vests?” he says, like he’s never heard the word before. “No!” He reaches out a hand to touch the fabric, but Stef swiftly steps up and catches his arm.

“Don’t touch the man with your dirty hands,” she chides him. “Sorry,” she apologizes. Then she asks us more about where we’re from. “Another settlement, you said? Are you from a farm? Is there another one west of here? I thought we were the farthest out.”

“From a farm? I wish,” Cleve murmurs under his breath as he joins us. “If we could just get the bush bugs going…”

I clarify for Stef that we’re from the other side of the Monsoon Jungle, not a Stepdaughters of Chiron settlement. Her eyes go wide when she hears this. I rush to assure her that there’s no cause for alarm, that Dr. Citali was sent on a diplomatic mission to treat with that settlement. 

“Oh, are you a group of rangers, then?” Stef asks, trying to fit us into the only box she has for people who brave the jungle.

“Well, Cleve’s title is actually Datajack Prime,” I say.

“But, sure? We’re rangers, I guess,” Cleve tells her, willing to work within her frame of reference.

Lest she get too confused, I step up my game, smoothing over all this social awkwardness. “Were you born here, or are you from Earth?” I ask. Her apparent age, like Cleve’s, falls into that gap that no one should occupy here on Chiron, thirties and early forties.

“I was born here, of course,” she says. “Weren’t you? Well, not here here, but there here.”

I deftly sidestep that question. “You may have learned,” I remind her, “that the ship, Unity, broke apart into different sections on arrival. Some of those sections landed on the other side of the Monsoon Jungle. A ranger from your Stepdaughters of Chiron escorted Dr. Citali over there to form connections with other groups.”

“Isn’t there some… Morgan Something over that way?”

“Morgan Industries is,” I confirm. “But that’s not where we’re from. We’re from a place called Data Haven.”

“I’ve never heard of that before.”

“It’s small, it’s obscure. I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of it. Cleve here is one of the people in charge of Data Haven. So he’s come across this way to talk with the leaders of your Stepdaughters of Chiron here to form connections and make exchanges.” This finally achieves my desired goal of moving us from inconvenient strangers who have crushed important plants to impressive dignitaries who are invited to spend the night. 

Before Stef fawns over him too much, Cleve insists that she not address him by a title. “I mean, if I’m going to park on your crops, you can call me Cleve,” he says with a self-deprecating chuckle.

“Well, if we’re going to host foreign dignitaries, we’re going to do it right.” Stef sends the child, inside to set the table. She tells us her partner will take a break in a few hours when the tractor needs recharging, so we’ll meet him then. “And don’t worry about this,” she says, patting the wolf beetle she’s been holding at bay this whole time. “I’ll tie him up.”

“Does he not like strangers?” I ask.

“No, no he doesn’t. That’s by design,” Stef says. “You haven’t been around wolf beetles much, have you?”

“I’ve been around many wolf beetles, and they’ve all behaved differently from each other, so…” I shrug.

“Does he do farm work?” Cleve asks. “Or just guarding?”

“Wards off predators,” Stef tells him. “Sometimes the odd briar beast will try to snack on something. Or other little critters.” As we head inside, I wonder if that includes craws.