Petrolea 11d

Victor didn’t understand any of that, but he knew what would happen if she covered herself in foreign factors. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Do you want those things to chew through your suit?”

“They will rather repair my suit.” Feroza pulled the parasite’s corpse apart, discarding miniature forges and fabricators until she had a skeleton of metallic strut-work. “I do have some experience with these matters, remember. Now, give me your hand.”

Victor jerked back when she tried to thrust the corpse over his left glove. “What are you doing?”

“Fixing your suit,” she said, “and giving you some camouflage at the same time.”

“Oh I see,” said Victor as she worked the cage up his arm. “You left the somatic processor intact. When you give it a power supply…”

Roach-sized factors scuttled up Victor’s boots, climbed onto the skeleton, and proceeded to weld it to Victor’s suit.

Feroza searched for another corpse to glue onto his suit. “It’s a trick we started using in the field when the mechanoids got too aggressive. I think it’s less about blending into the environment than masking our human nature. Endoparasites camouflage themselves with your own body’s proteins against your immune system in the same way.”

Victor frowned, and not only because of the metal tentacle she was wrapping around his arm. “Is that what you think is going on with these mechanoids that attacked us? Are they like the immune system?”

“No,” Feroza said to herself, or maybe to the buzzing thing she held up to her visor. “An ecosystem is a balance of competitors. Your body is composed of genetically identical cells that cooperate and sacrifice themselves for the sake of the whole.”

Feroza, he wanted to tell her, you jumped off a damn Dragon! You fell away from me! Don’t do that. Don’t ever do that.

Instead he said, “But these little creatures certainly act like cells in the body of the Leviathan.”

Feroza persuaded the wild factors to glue another metallic skeleton to his shoulder. “You’re trying to map these creatures and their behavior onto Terran biology, and you are doomed to failure.”

“But the same thing happened in the jungle when everything attacked us. And we know that Bounders and Dragons and Gobs are all different species, right?”

“Different morphotypes, yes. Their somatic code is incompatible.”

“Alright. So what happened in the jungle wasn’t some kind of immune reaction, and neither was what happened to Xanadu Base. You don’t see an Amazon research stations leveled by jaguars and sloths or something.”

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