Petrolea 14a

Chapter 14

“Petrolea shot them?”

“It makes sense,” said Feroza.

“No, it doesn’t,” said Victor. “It doesn’t make any sense at all! Petrolea shot them. With a rocket. ¡Pucha!

Feroza sucked in a breath and for a second, Victor wondered if he’d slipped and said puta. But his eyes resolved the shapes moving in the visor of her helmet and he knew she wasn’t reacting to him at all. Feroza was watching the footage from the orbital station again. Blurry and reversed though the footage was, Victor needed only a little prompting to remember what it showed.

The video was garbled and full of the off-center focus and jerky jump-cuts of an AI editor, but the dreadful course of events was clear. Most of the crew of Xanadu Base had escaped to the orbital station, but then…

The plume of gas rising above Titan, the speck growing in the feed from the station’s external cameras. The impact.

Victor had nearly vomited at the sight of the horizontal tornado of air rushing out of what must have been an enormous hull breach. Next came images of people running, fighting, lying motionless on the floor. The lifeboat detaching, just ahead of the tide of little metallic bodies sweeping down the corridor. Then nothing but mechanoids picking their way through the desolation. The camera obediently tracking the helmet of a suited body as it was lifted and peeled apart by frost-rimed pincers.

The mechanoid’s own cameras had focused on the head in its clutches, mouthparts drumming as if wondering what the tough, glassy globe might have once been. Tiny torches ignited, delicate saws spun, and the creature nibbled, scored, and cut the human artifact into something it might use.

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