When he turned, he saw one of the Dragonlets had crawled to within arm’s reach. Jaw’s reach. “Really,” Victor said. “Hurry. The Dragonlets are hungry and I’ve run out of food.”
“Well, get down on your knees,” ordered Dr. Merchant. “We can solve this problem behaviorally. There is no need for you to enslave the baby, Victor.”
As if he could enslave it. Victor didn’t have enough slave factors to hack the baby. The giant metal maggot could easily kill him, either by attacking him or just knocking over the still.
“Dr. Merchant,” he said as the creature advanced on him, “what should I do?”
There were no recriminations. Not even a scornful tone to her voice as she said, “Puppetry.”
“Do you still have the father’s head?”
“Yes,” Victor hoisted it and dangling mandibles clacked.
“Use it to trick the baby. Make it think you’re its father.”
“Oh…kay?” Cameras tracked Victor as he held out the skull. “There, there,” he bounced the bulky machine up and down. “Nice little…larva.”
“Stroke it with the nose,” said Dr. Merchant, “nuzzle it.”
Victor flinched back from the humping round monster. “What does ‘nuzzle’ mean?”
“Like what fathers do with Dragonlets.”
“I don’t have any children. I’m not married.”
“Thank you for telling me.”
Victor concentrated on petting the Dragonlet, cheeks hot. “Um. Should I feed it? Is it hungry?”
“It’s an infant predator,” she said. “Of course it’s hungry.”
“I don’t have any raw petroleum left. I converted it all into food for us or damn bug repellant.”
The Dragonlet wasn’t looking at the puppet-head any more. Its cameras were focused on Victor’s arm. Its whiskers and antennae withdrew into their sockets.
“That might be a problem,” said Dr. Merchant.
The Dragon lunged. It couldn’t flame and Victor dodged before it pinned him, but he felt like his arm had been shot. Pain, a red smear, and cold.
“Oh,” said Victor, “oh, miércoles.“