Petrolea 4e

BackFirst

Feroza watched the Dragon breathe, considering. Why go back to Toledo, after all? Why extend his life and hers at the expense of so many other, equally deserving creatures? Why not fly out into the jungle and live there? Her life might be shorter than if she went back to Base, but wouldn’t it be richer?

No. As peaceful as might be the image of her own death at the heart of the Petrolean food web, Feroza knew Toledo would die cursing her name. In the grand scheme of nature, one naked ape hating another might count for nothing, but Feroza could not be so amoral. Toledo had saved her life, and Feroza had yet to return the favor.

She turned away from the Dragon to look down the slope of the forest-mountain. Below were the superconducting spires assembled by the Berg itself. Its flanks had been colonized by a dense underbrush of spinning windmill vanes and pinwheel leaves.

There was a theory that the mechanoids had originally been designed by somebody like Toledo. Self-replicating robots, sent to Titan to construct a massive tower of industry, a petrochemical distillery the size of a planet.

But nature had intervened. If the theory was true, then the robots’ programming had mutated. Mistakes multiplied, directed by the blind wisdom of natural selection. Over the course of silent eons, the machines had evolved.

The Berg no longer accumulated petroleum and oxygen for the benefit of some interstellar master. Instead, it served its own goal: reproduction. Feroza gave wide berth to the snout of an immature Rocket-seed, the blunt-tipped shaft thrusting up from the metallic ground, preparing to blast off and carry the Berg’s genetic legacy to some distant part of Titan.

And to think people like Toledo would undo all of this natural innovation. Chop off the inflorescence of mechanoid biology and reduce Titan back to a mining colony of dumb robots. It made Feroza sick in her heart.

When she tried to articulate the feeling to the engineer, however, he refused to understand.

Nonsense. Titan isn’t alive. It’s just covered by a bunch of self-replicating machinery.”

“So then what is a cow or a goat, but self-replicating meat?” she countered. “And what about you, Mr. Toledo. What are you, but meat?”

Something moved between the twirling leaves and Feroza froze. But it was just a Gob. The flying, squid-like colony of factors was much too small for a Dragon’s sustenance.

“Thinking meat? Dreaming meat?” He had a smile in his voice, but Feroza couldn’t guess why. She was getting too far from the Dragon, but there was no large prey for her to flush. What if she tried to attract some food, instead?

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