Petrolea 16a

“Okay, I have an idea. You don’t have to go to jail if we save the solar system.” Victor hugged Feroza as she scanned the jungle below.

“Well, I’m glad we got that problem dealt with,” Feroza twisted the projection she called “the horn” and Victor thought of as “the joystick.” The mother Dragon executed a lazy dive, tame as a well-trained horse. “Now, what’s for lunch?”

“No, I’m serious,” he said. “And I mean ‘save from Petrolea’ and ‘save for the future.'”

Feroza waggled her head. “If there is a Rocket-seed growing out there, if we can find it, and if I can determine whether it’s slated for launch into space rather than merely the upper atmosphere, then we can launch your communication satellite.”

Victor brushed his fingers across the surface of the mechanoid clasped around his chest. The creature he privately referred to as his “slave mechanoid” was a much-modified former parasite, a giant tick, which had now become a powerful transmitter on legs. Dropped onto a Rocket-seed, the creature should be able to attach itself firmly enough to survive the trip into orbit. There, it would begin transmitting.

Victor’s reverse-engineered alien commands would wash this moon, convincing its wayward mechanoids that their rightful masters had returned at last.

“Or,” he completed his thought out loud, “if we don’t manage to domesticate Petrolea, we can at least send out a warning of the sporulation we will have triggered.”

“We will domesticate Petrolea,” Feroza said. “In fact, we are already doing so. Look!”

Victor followed her pointing finger. So did Mr. Biggles. The little Dragon zipped up behind them like a jet-powered seal and playfully tried to bite Feroza’s hand off.

“They really don’t like arms,” Victor said. “We’ll have to add more spoofing.”

“Never mind that. We’re passing the aerie where we stayed. Do you see it?”

The formerly pointed tip of the Berg where the mother Dragon had built her nest was nearly unrecognizable, buried inside a segmented globe like a skewered tangerine. Lights dotted the equator of the metal balloon, and a steady stream of mechanoids flew in and out from the window where the stem would be.

“Is it…” Victor squinted. “Is it spinning?”

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