Fuming, Feroza tromped through the forest, flushing up nothing but arrowhead-shaped Gobs, stray factors, and families of Helicopter Butterflies. Finally, she found a likely clear spot at the base of a superconductor spire where the Berg’s oil-lines came close enough to the surface for her to breach one with her shovel.
Black hydrocarbon slurry bubbled in the light of her torch, spilling down the slope in a river of nutritious and tempting food.
It wasn’t long before something moved among the windmill leaves and hopped down to investigate. A laterally compressed body topped by a swiveling turret of sensors. Its powerful legs folded, its undercarriage a-bristle with piercing and cutting tubes, pipes, and sponges. It looked like a metal flea the size of a motorcycle.
“There you are, finally.”
“What did you say?”
Feroza wasn’t aware she’d spoken aloud.
“A Bounder,” she said.
“Ah,” Toledo sounded embarrassed. “That’s good, yes? Why is that good?”
“I have prey for the Dragon.”
“Are you sure you can handle it? I thought Bounders were dangerous parasites.”
“Yes,” said Feroza. “Just like the organization you work for.”
He sighed. “You know, we aren’t just dumping the petroleum into the sun. We aren’t wasting it. The fuel and plastics and hydrocarbon feedstock…they keep people alive in space stations and habitats all the way back to Luna. We need Petrolea.”
The Bounder dragged its head back and forth, scooping up food. It was almost close enough. “We need Petrolea like a child needs his ice-lolly.”
“So let him have his damn ice-lolly.”
A camera twitched in her direction and Feroza held her breath.