Petrolea 5a

Chapter 5

“Almost done.” Victor hunched over his work, hands furiously air-typing as his slave-factors danced over the corpse of the Dragon.

“What did you say?” There was another “oof” of exertion from Dr. Merchant’s microphone and the distant sound of something shattering.

“I’ll have fresh air for you when you come back,” said Victor. “I decided it was easier to fabricate new oxygen canisters than design something that can mate with,” he was blushing again. “I mean ‘connect to,’ the ones we already have. Metal is not in short supply. And as for food…”

What had been the male Dragon’s abdominal cavity was now a still. The rib-like struts of the central torso cupped a hissing, burbling life-support system of rough steel cylinders, clusters of golden spheres, and black glass tubes, all of it held together with plastic cobwebs and copper wire. It no longer even remotely resembled the Dragonlets, currently sleeping on the other side of the hangar.

“I’ll bring more food for your beast,” Dr. Merchant grunted. “Have no fear.”

“More food for us,” Victor corrected her. “My next product is water and protein paste, but that will use up the hydrocarbon reserves of the, uh, father Dragon.” He cleared his throat. “We’ve been working on these wilderness survival programs for some time. This was the first field test, but I’m optimistic.”

He watched plastic bladders fill with something heavy and paste-like and thought about Dr. Merchant eating his food. Drinking his water. Bathing in it. Victor tried to remember what she looked like out of her environment suit.

Small, he remembered vaguely, and usually angry about something. There had been jokes back in Xanadu about her mustache and unibrow, but at the moment, Victor couldn’t visualize either feature. He queried his memory for more details, but couldn’t be sure whether what he got back was real recollection or hopeful fantasy.

He’d been quiet too long. “Uh. Everything okay down there?”

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, no problems at all.” A grunt and a crash, then more silence.

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