Petrolea 11b

¡Hurra! Except that Victor’s suit was still compromised, they still had no way to contact the orbital station and call for help, and Feroza might actually be suicidal. “We can do this, right?” Victor said. “We can survive, right?”

“Probably.” Feroza had tiptoed around a lobster-sized parasite and was examining its pincers while it tried to slice her feet off. “The Dragon thinks we’re her children. She’ll continue to protect us even after she’s replenished her fuel.”

“That’s a lot of trust to place on a creature that tries to eat you every chance it gets.”

Feroza threw the parasite to the Dragon, which snapped it up. “She saved me when I jumped. As flying animals with high parental investment, they have an instinct for rescuing falling young.”

Victor wasn’t so sure. What if he had been the one who jumped?

The Dragon had herded the humans into the cover of an overhang dug into the carapace by the roots of a small windmill-tree and was now busily establishing a perimeter of dismembered robots around them. Periodically, she would nudge a partially cooked mechanic toward Feroza as if trying to feed her. Or teach her to hunt?

Victor felt he could move down his catastrophe list. Since he was unlikely to find a patch-kit or interplanetary communications equipment on the back of a flying metal whale-grub, that left psychological problems.

“So you’re saying the Dragon loves you like a baby.”

“I am saying that I’m not just useful to her,” said Feroza, accepting a charred, twitching lump from the Dragon with a bow of gratitude. “I’m valuable. I’m precious to her.”

“Doesn’t that bother you?” he said. “I mean you’re using her. I mean you’re using it.” He meant using me. “The Dragon.”

She smiled at him. “The term is ‘brood parasite,’ and it would only bother me if I didn’t return that love, Victor.”

“You mean you think the Dragon is your mother?”

“No,” said Feroza, “but I also value her beyond what I can get out of her.”

What the hell did that mean? If the Dragon wasn’t Feroza’s mother or her pet or her car, what was it? And what did that make Victor? The Dragon’s son-in-law?

“That’s an odd philosophy for a biologist, isn’t it?” he said.

“On the contrary,” said Feroza. “Unlike many people, I don’t mistake animals for stupid humans or for disobedient machines. They do not exist for or against us. They just are. Complete, without need for any human reference points.”

Victor tried unsuccessfully to find a parallel between that statement and his and Feroza’s relationship. How could he make it clear that their night in the reverse-igloo hadn’t just been a last-people-on-the-planet act of desperation? “I am glad she saved you.”

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