Chronicles of Chiron: Whatever It Takes | Scene 3

Everything in the simple farmhouse is handbuilt, but with care and skill, unlike in Data Haven, where most things are cobbled together from scrap and very much look it. This is the kind of work that would be labeled artisan in a shop on Earth. Just the three of them live here, the eight year old, Bim, and the adults he refers to as Mom and Dad, Stef and Jes. In addition to the house in which we’re all sitting down around a shelftop table, there’s the other building that Cleve parked alongside, which serves as a workshop and shed.

Over tea, Stef fills us in on the latest news. The rains have been good this year. There was a bit of a dry spell lately, but after a fierce storm the other day, their cisterns and retention ponds are full again. Cleve is delighted to talk with her all about her experiences farming on Chiron, so for a while the conversation tends in that direction. The crops they grow here are adapted from the jungle. This area has a drier climate than the middle of the Monsoon Jungle, but with some careful water management, those plants grow well here. They’re not all mushrooms, either. It’s a carefully selected mix of several types of flora. The nomenclature is pretty sloppy, since many things are named based on what Earth life they are similar to, rather than a Chiron taxonomy. But anyway, the basic approach is controlled chaos. Shroom trees and the local shelftop for shade, banana mushrooms below the canopy, several other edible plants closer to the ground.

“What other plants do you have where you’re from?” Stef asks. “How’s the soil quality?”

“We haven’t really figured out farming in Data Haven,” Cleve admits. “There’s not that many of us, and there’s a lot of miasma around there. A couple of us did try to farm bush bugs.” At Stef’s look of confused interest, he provides a description that includes how wily and hard to contain they are. Bush bugs aren’t found in these parts.

“So what do you eat then?” she asks.

“Mostly rations from Unity and whatever our survivalists hunt.”

Stef is appalled. “A hundred and thirty–year-old rations!?”

“I didn’t say they were great,” Cleve tells her with a chuckle. Of far more interest to her is the well-aged spices from Earth that Cleve’s got packed in the trunk of the rover. Stef has never tasted chili powder, and it is an eye-opening experience for her.

“Whoa! Wow! That really clears things up,” she gasps, sniffling and blinking. “I’ll have to try some of that next time I get miasma cough.” Cleve recommends using it with meat or savory dishes, so she experiments with adding some to the mushroom soup that’s currently simmering on the stove.

“Aren’t you a plant doctor?” Cleve says to Marina. “You might have some ideas about stuff for this farm. You should talk with her, Stef,” he calls to our host. “She’s a real smart lady, this one.”

Marina shares ideas for how to control xenofungus without fungicide—and without me. Some other type of plant competes well with it in the conditions here. Growing hedges of that should reduce the amount of hatchet work that Jes and Stef have to deal with. Stef, for her part, suggests a plant from their complement that could grow well in Data Haven’s conditions.

Though I spare some of my attention for that whole conversation, farming is not really of interest to me. I engage our younger host in a discussion of the local animal life. “Do you have craws around here?” I ask Bim.

“Sometimes I see them, but we don’t see a lot on the farm.” He lets out a sigh and glances toward the front door, then continues more subdued. “Dad says that they’ve been taking his tools.”

“He’s probably right,” I whisper back at the same level.

“He says that one even broke his tractor.”

I nod. “There was probably a particularly alluring piece of metal.”

“I know! They just don’t understand!”

“If that happens again, you just need to offer them a better deal,” I tell Bim.

“What’s a better deal?”

“Well, they like shiny rocks,” I say. Bim knows where to find some in a nearby river, so that’s a start. “Maybe build up a stockpile of those, and then next time you encounter a craw, you can offer them a few and see which ones they’re interested in.”

“And then… maybe they’ll have our tools or something?”

“It’s possible. Craws have returned things to us when we’ve given them something nicer.”

Bim considers that for a moment. He’s gotten close enough to craws to be poked in the past—perhaps when a craw was seeking such an exchange. From his description, the ones around here are about Bluebell’s size, not the small ones like near the Morgan domes.

“We met some craws like yours, and they were quite amenable to making deals,” I tell him.

“Oh! What did you give them?” Bim asks.

I skip over the first two answers that immediately come to mind. Weapons. Jobs. “We gave them something shiny and sparkly,” I say, thinking of the tasers. “And they gave Dr. Citali a bioscanner. It was a good trade!”

“How did a craw get a bioscanner?!”

“There’s a lot to find out there,” I tell Bim with a smile.

At that point, we hear cursing outside. Jes comes in, grumbling about craws and tractors. He’s got the standard farmer look of utilitarian overalls—though no hat since he doesn’t work under a blazing sun. Following a round of introductions, I ask, “Do you need help fixing the tractor? Is it just miasma gunk or is there a mechanical problem?”

“We just don’t have the right tools, that’s the trouble,” Jes laments.

“Well, when we parked we had a bunch of tools,” Cleve says, happy to lend a hand.

I laugh. “Yeah, as long as no craws have gotten into the trunk, they should still be there.”

“I mean, that’s partly why we got this wolf beetle, but craws are too smart,” Jes says, shaking his head. “You’ll see one of them catch the wolf beetle’s attention, and the other one will walk off with something.”

“Sounds about right,” I agree, far less despondent about the situation than Jes is.

“We’ve encountered that, sir,” Cleve says. 

“Oh, don’t sir me,” Jes says, begging off such a formal term of address. I inquire after what is used around these parts, but he sticks with just his name. “I know I look a little older than some of the planetfallers, but I’m not that old. I’m only twenty-five.” I’m surprised to hear that he’s younger than me, given his gray hair and lined features. I suppose this is a rough environment, though. Perhaps the increased miasma exposure has aged him.