Sweat squished around his shaking hands as he typed commands. What was wrong with him? Victor had never been exactly suave, but he hadn’t made this much of a fool of himself since he was ten and had pissed himself when a girl made him laugh. Although, given the number of times he’d peed into his catheter in Feroza’s presence…ah, good. Something else to be embarrassed about.
The recipe he selected from the still’s menu was a different polymer than the scab-insulation of the walls and ceiling. Rather than plaster-like paste, his new order was extruded in the shape and consistency of spaghetti. Victor’s gloved hands had no hope of weaving the noodly stuff into a sheet, but it was self-adherent enough to stick together into a more-or-less flat shape when he mashed it.
Victor was trying to unstick the stuff from his gloves when the floor vibrated and shadows leapt from his hands. His helmet darkened against the sudden glare of the twin spotlights that had kindled behind him and his earphones filled with a whistling, static-filled growl.
Victor looked around at the Dragons. The exhausted mother had curled around its remaining young, one of which was awake and looking at him. The giant metal maggot crawled over its mother and approached on its caterpillar tread, the fat cylinders of its jet engines ratcheting up its back. The neck narrowed, lengthened. The head stretched toward him, mouthparts gliding open.
Only then did the alarms he’d installed go off.
Cursing, Victor began pulling stringy sheet-material off his gloves, but then his other safe-guards executed and red indicators turned green as his slave factors reprogrammed the Dragons, yet again, to reclassify him as “friend” rather than “food.” The baby’s mandibles closed and its whiskers and antenna extended. It gave him a sniff before turning around and trundling back to its mother.
What had he been thinking about surviving a day with the Dragons? What had he been thinking about Feroza? With a sigh, Victor turned back to his work. The spaghetti clump was as sheet-like as it would ever be, and there was still a little feedstock left…He paused for a moment, thinking. Then fantasizing. Then anticipating. He typed in his last order: a spongy blob of insulation, another plastic bag, and a powder that would become soap when mixed with warm water.
Feroza wasn’t surprised to see the bath implements. Victor could tell because he could see her face.
“You took off your helmet,” he said and the sponge inflated in his gloves.