“What do you want, Feroza?” Victor asked. “To become a martyr for the anti-exploiters? To be eaten by the mechanical rainforest? To be one with nature? To stay out of prison? To save Petrolea? Or just prevent the deaths of the next idiots who come here?”
“Yes,” said Feroza. “There’s no reason I can’t do all of those things. Just some of them…later than others. We will have some time to decide.” She put her arms around him, rested her head against his chest. “It will be alright.”
He shifted against her, hugging back. “What if I think we can do more good for Petrolea up there than down here?”
“I don’t know. Telling people what we know. Going on the media. Lobbying.”
“What on Earth do you know about lobbying?”
“Well,” said Victor. “We’ll be in a position to save people’s lives at least. Tell them about the tripwire program buried in the brains of every Petrolean creature.”
“Now that they’re sensitized to humans and human technology, extraction will become much more difficult,” mused Feroza.
“So maybe there won’t be any exploiters to lobby against at all,” said Victor. “Maybe we’ll have to find some other source of hydrocarbons in the outer system. Some other way to crack space open.”
He sounded so disappointed at the prospect. Feroza imagined factories in space, sending energy and goods down to an unpolluted Earth. Dense cities separated by vast swaths of uninhabited wilderness. In a way, Victor’s hyper-technological fantasy was a better, greener vision of the future than her own back-to-the-wilderness dream. But if her future could come about only after the deaths of nine tenths of the human population, Victor’s was dependent on technology that didn’t exist. To build an extraterrestrial industrial base, one would need…
“What?” Victor mumbled, as if woken from a doze.
“All your wilderness survival!” crowed Feroza. “It wasn’t wilderness at all! A cave-man learning how to steal food from a vending machine. Victor, that’s what the mechanoids are for!”
“What are they for?”
“Think about it,” said Feroza. “They make life-support facilities, food, radios. They build habitats. They carry people around. My goodness, they even collect metals and hydrocarbons together, pack them onto rockets, and blast them off into space! They couldn’t be more perfect for space industry if they were specifically designed for it.”
“Except for when they eat people.”
“But don’t you see?” Feroza propped herself up on his chest and turned around so she could look at him. “The tripwire program means that they are still obeying their original instructions. All of the instincts and behaviors they’ve evolved can be overridden.”
Victor slowly nodded. “What if instead of killing the mechanoids, we domesticated them?”
It was actually rather sad. The animals became equipment far more completely and fundamentally than any battery farm hen or feedlot cow. Was Feroza a fool for devoting her life to these creatures, which were really nothing but the toys of departed masters? Or had she found the solution, the compromise, that would save her life’s work?
“Just how could we go about doing that?” she asked.
“Well, the camouflage is a good start,” said Victor. “But we don’t want to hide from the old tripwires, we want to fool them. Spoof the mechanoids into thinking we’re the old masters come back. Hit the right combination of cues, and the whole place might just open up to us. Dio, what could I do with user-friendly behavioral programming.”
“What would those cues look like?” asked Feroza.
“Let’s think about that.”
They spun their castles in the air until the visor of Victor’s helmet lit up red.
SOS. The message from the orbital station scrolled down the visor. SOS. SOS.