Petrolea 8a

Chapter 8

Petrolea spread under them, a cloth of black silk embroidered in silver, gray, and red. Windmill leaves churned beyond the wings of the Dragon they rode, creatures walked and flew and attacked each other. Victor made a nauseated swallowing noise and his arms tightened around her waist.

“If you don’t like the view,” Feroza told him, “don’t look.”

Their mount flew with outspread wings, feather-like control surfaces splayed. Every few minutes, the long body would clench and surge upward with a burst from its jet engines.

“Can’t we make this thing go any faster?” asked Victor.

“You know exactly how fast we can go,” Feroza said. This trip to Xanadu might well kill the mother Dragon and, by extension, the two Dragonlets that remained in the hangar. Perhaps, Feroza allowed herself to think, there would be time to help the mother Dragon after they had arrived at Xanadu Base. And she, Feroza, had left it.

“How many people do you think made it back from the jungle?” asked Victor.

Feroza winced. “Most, I hope. We are all trained in wilderness survival and we had enough oxygen to walk back, I made sure of that. But once you brought that harvester into the jungle and attracted all those large predators…”

“Why?” asked Victor. “I wasn’t the first person to drive a harvester into the jungle.”

“You were, however, the first to do so without any support from the biologists and our tame mechanoids to drive away the wildlife,” said Feroza. “Wildlife which has been growing steadily more aggressive since we’ve begun intruding into their habitat.”

Victor nodded grimly. “I had to overwrite the Dragons’ perceptions of us again this morning, did you know? This ‘eat humans’ command springs up whenever they look at us.”

“We are covered in slabs of delicious raw materials.” Feroza patted the thigh of her suit. “It should be no surprise when mechanoids target human equipment. We’ve been tracking that behavioral change since almost the beginning. Adopting ever-more expensive countermeasures.”

“We engineers always thought you were exaggerating about that.”

“I trust you understand better now,” said Feroza dryly. “Perhaps we should have taken more of you on field trips like this one.” Well, perhaps not exactly like this one. Feroza could hardly expect to individually seduce the entire staff of Xanadu Base.

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