All three mechanoids had all benefited from Victor’s ministrations. The mother and Mr. Biggles positively gleamed, and Rusty was more new material than old. The little Dragon stretched, flaking off the last of his rust, and Feroza hissed in surprise.
“What?” Victor’s head turned in his helmet. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, yes,” she said, “but Rusty isn’t. Look. The factors are repairing him wrong.” She tried to shoo the creatures away from the tumorous mound they were constructing on the baby’s back. “There must be something wrong with their programming.”
Victor shuffled toward her. “There can’t be anything wrong with their programming. They’re plugged straight into his somatic processor.”
“Then the processor must be damaged. Its blueprint is corrupted,” said Feroza.
Rusty’s back, formerly a smooth tube of articulated iron, bulged up grotesquely. Even as Feroza watched, the repair factors added yet more material to the hump, extruding a weird, rounded protuberance like a horn behind a metal frill. Knobbed lumps of metal marched down the creature’s flanks, too symmetrical to be any kind of Petrolean cancer.
“Some kind of parasite in the code, maybe?” Feroza searched for analogies. “A mechanoid virus?”
“I’m looking at the runtime environment,” said Victor, “but there’s nothing…huh. There’s nothing new, but a whole new bunch of tags…miércoles. Tripwires.”
They both slid back from the baby. “What is the code doing?” asked Feroza. Was Rusty gestating some horrible weapon of the mechanoids’ alien masters? Would the lump on the Dragon’s back sprout claws and fangs and attack them?
But no. “It’s just shaped metal,” Feroza reassured Victor along with herself. “There’s no internal structure.”
“Well, the aliens definitely wanted their mechanoids to grow these things.” Victor turned in a slow circle. “Look. You can see lumps on the other baby and the mother too, just not as big yet.”
“They haven’t had to rebuild their entire chassis.” Feroza stared at the Dragons, which rolled on their sides to present their new growths to their…masters?
“Good God,” Feroza said. “I think they are growing saddles for us.”