Petrolea 15b

“It’s what?” said Victor. “What are you saying? Did you find the other–“

“Victor,” she said, “look at the other Dragons. Do you see rust on them?”

“No,” he said, then after a pause. “Yes. I do. Ah. They must have breached the environment I made back in the aerie. Damn. It’s not as if I wanted to go back there, but they’ve probably wrecked everything. Chewed through the damn walls, and then, as you say ‘poosh.'”

A wave of warm, wet oxygenated air flowing over the helpless mechanoids…Feroza felt as nauseated as she had seeing the image of the space station being digested.

“Aha,” said Victor, “there go the slave factors. Sit, boy. Stay.” He shuffled around the habitat and back into Feroza’s line of sight. “Odd. Are you hearing the signals the mother Dragon is transmitting at us?”

Feroza tuned into the radio frequency the Dragons used for their short-range communication. The pattern of squeals and hisses she heard didn’t sound like the “feed me” or “help” calls the babies used.

Feroza stroked the side of the rusty Dragon, which shuddered. “Perhaps she is asking us to help her.”

“And how the hell are we going to do that?”

“With your slave factors gathering resources and facilitating repairs on these creatures.”

Victor spread his arms. “Dio, Feroza. Just a minute ago you were–¡Miércoles!

The Dragonlet, diseased and rotten though it was, lunged at him. A single working mandible pawed ineffectually at his stomach as it humped its way up his body, shedding flakes of rust. Victor raised his arms and the Dragon humped harder.

Feroza reached out to the grievously wounded Dragon, which shuddered and spread mangled mouthparts at her. “Don’t hurt it.”

“I wasn’t planning to.” Victor stepped back, allowing the rusty Dragon to slump back into resting position. “That’s interesting.”

“What is?”

“I may be learning how you behaviorists work your magic. Watch this.” Victor slowly raised his arms. The Dragonlet’s buzz saw spun up. When he lowered his arms, the saw wound down. “I think they hate arms.”

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