Petrolea 5e

BackFirst

The Gob’s component factors wrapped around its central processor and re-assembled its little engines. The swarm assumed its streamlined flight-shape and zipped away from the still and circled the hangar until one of the Dragonlets woke up and snapped it out of the air.

But there were more Gobs buzzing around them or oozing along the walls. And what were those things that moved in the shadows of the hangar? Victor tried to calculate how much paste he would need to cover the whole still. “We will need to hunt more to replace this,” he said. “And now will I have to smear this stuff on myself, too?”

“Hopefully not,” said Dr. Merchant. “Your suit has a distasteful coating already, although that’s becoming less effective as time goes on. And I have never seen Gobs try to attack people. Do not worry.” She huffed as if lifting something heavy. “I have bagged enough game to repel bugs and feed ourselves.”

Victor sighed with relief. He’d half believed she would abandon him up here. “I’m glad you’ve decided life is worth living.”

“Yes,” she said. “Well. I suppose feeding two people is a rather different situation from strip-mining an entire planet.”

Was that a concession? A compromise? Victor tried to meet her halfway. “You know,” he said, “I would not want to be…the sort of person who would strip-mine a planet.”

A puffing of breath. “I am surprised and gratified to hear you say that.”

Surprised and gratified. God, it was like she’d dipped her hand in chocolate and slapped him. Like she was the strict headmistress of an expensive boarding school about to take off her glasses and administer discipline.

Victor licked his lips with a dry tongue. On the other side of the hangar, a Dragonlet called out in hunger.

A sultry huff of air in his earphones. “All right. I have denuded this patch of jungle enough. We are flying back.”

“Hurry home.”

The Dragonlet called again and Victor reached for the pile of bones he’d saved from its father’s corpse. There was nothing left but the head. Or skull or cockpit or whatever the preferred term was. The thing was the size of Victor’s torso, if not its mass, and even in the light gravity it took some awkward effort to lift the thing.

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