Petrolea 1i


Victor took a tentative step forward, put his hand on the Dragon’s neck. It shivered and bowed as new windows opened on his visor.

“What do you propose we should do now?” Dr. Merchant demanded. “What possible good can it do you to hack a Dragon?”

“Well,” said Toledo, “If my Dragon attacked the others…”

“It would be torn to shreds along with everybody else.” But Dr. Merchant stood beside him, so she must have some confidence in him. Or some other plan.

“Yes?” Victor said.

“You fly that thing to Xanadu Base and tell them. Try to mount a rescue if you think it will do any good.”

It wouldn’t. Most of the other Dragons were ripping at the remains of the harvester, but Victor could see another of the giant predators slithering toward them on its caterpillar-tread belly.

“Um. I don’t think I can actually tell this thing where to go.” Victor scrambled up the Dragon’s flank anyway, over its folded wings. The beginnings of a plan crystallized under the pressure of his fear. “Hey, you’ve worked with Punishers. The somatic programming is very similar…”

“The emergent behavior is entirely different, however.” Dr. Merchant took his hand and scrambled up after him onto the Dragon’s back. “Look for the reward complex connected to its hunting instinct. That should lead to a command to tell the satiated animal to fly home.”

“Fly home.” Even as he repeated her words, summary of the Dragon’s runtime environment flashed in Victor’s visor. “Got it,” he said, and air-typed commands into the mechanoid’s brain. EndProcess:Feeding.

Instinctive responses cascaded out from that simple instruction. The wings unfolded, angled down for vertical take-off. The jet intakes spun up and the mechanoid’s long neck retracted. Its puffy, feathered outline smoothed out, condensing and stiffening as the factors that made up its body held each other close, preparing for flight.

The other Dragons and various associated monsters did not try to stop Feroza and Victor’s lift-off. They had enough to eat as it was. Predators and parasites gamboled and capered in the red light that shone from the Leviathan’s munching proboscis. Most of the other people were gone, fled into the jungle where, Victor hoped, they would have enough oxygen to get home.

“I’m sorry for what we are about to do to you,” said Doctor Merchant.

Victor wasn’t. He clenched his fist within his gauntlet and the rain vanished into the blur of acceleration.


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