Petrolea 3b

BackFirst

Victor blinked and rolled his eyes to select a command from the menu in his eye-tracking interface. His factors relaxed, and he tumbled to the floor. He tried to flip over and got a shove on his back for his trouble.

“Stay down.” Merchant had stopped propitiating the Dragon and thrown herself over his back. “Try to look serpentine.”

“What?”

“Like a snake, man. Like a Dragonlet.”

Victor tried to squirm.

“Good, good,” said Merchant, although whether to him or the Dragon, Victor didn’t know. “Now you listen here, you utter fool.” That was definitely to him. “Do you realize how close you came to being eaten by the father Dragon? You are quite unequipped to survive out here. So respect my orders without question, and do nothing without my permission.”

Said the woman who’d been trying to milk oxygen from a Dragon. Said the woman who’d nearly gotten him killed. Who had almost certainly gotten all those people killed in the jungle. This sneering, privileged academic princess deserved to suffocate here and be eaten by her adopted robo-parents.

Victor would do the right thing and save her, but he certainly wasn’t going to let her ego interfere with his efforts to save both their lives. Silently, he activated his handshake gauntlet.

His factors were still inside the body of the Dragon. Now they tapped into its behavioral processor. He froze the mechanioid in place. In order to infiltrate the somatic processors, Victor had to command his factors to physically relocate, then set up a network to synchronize their execution. It was a tricky bit of work, but at least he didn’t have to write the program for them to execute. This was something he’d been playing with at the base, though on smaller animals. The executable’s name was “smellsBadontheOutside.”

“What are you doing?” asked Merchant. “What do you propose to in order to get the oxygen we need?”

“This,” said Victor, and executed the program.

The Dragon’s body burst open. The head struck the ground and bounced, throwing the beams from its dying headlights across rib-like structural supports and glistening fabricators, now open to the air. Steam puffed from the inner recesses of what had once been the animal’s body, and was now Victor’s life-support module.

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