Petrolea 18a

Chapter 18

“When beaten, gold shines.”

“What was that?” asked Feroza.

“I think the saying fits this place pretty well.” Victor spread his arms to indicate the cavernous space where they had slept. The whole thing, alien frescos, gargoyles, and all, had mushroomed out from their humble hut on the back of the Leviathan. Every day since they’d convinced the Dragons to fly them back up here, Victor and Chinni had found a new chamber to explore together. It was luxurious, as long as they were willing to get down on their hands and knees and crawl through the corridors built for creatures without arms or legs.

“I have an even more apropos quote,” said Feroza. “Let me see… I would build that dome in air, / That sunny dome! those caves of ice! Something, something Weave a circle round him thrice…How did the next part go?”

“Caves of ice is right,” said Victor, rubbing his forearms. Even in the thermal lining of his suit, his hands and face prickled with cold. The aliens had kept their homes above freezing, but not by much.

“Oh, yes. It goes Beware! Beware!/ His flashing eyes, his floating hair! / Weave a circle round him thrice …” Feroza rolled over, lithe as an otter in her own thermal lining. Victor was just starting to think about some creative ways to get warm when his helmet rang with an incoming message.

“The orbital station must be above the horizon,” he said.

Feroza handed the helmet to him. “And here is Al-Onazy, right on time to interrupt my recitation.”

Victor had actually had to launch one of the Rocket-seeds to get it to carry his Radio Tick into orbit. From there, he’d been able to worm his way into the communications system of the transformed orbital station. Its computers hadn’t survived the conversion from human to mechanoid, but the place had grown new instrumentation powerful enough to track down a tiny lifeboat filled with refugees and broadcast a message at them. Victor gave them the shock of their lives.

“It’s absolutely incredible,” Al-Onazy’s face appeared in the visor, freshly shaved and starry-eyed. “The creatures have actually improved the station. It’s larger, more efficiently laid-out, except for the diameter of the corridors. And there’s something generating electricity that we think is a very small fusion reactor. We have heat and light and air to last a hundred years!”

“And food. We’ll be able to send feedstock to you on the next Rocket-seed,” said Victor. “We can last until rescue comes in…what? Six years?”

“One.” The chief grinned into his camera. “The trans-Jovian liner that was going to pick us up has been outstripped by a military corvette. That remark Dr. Merchant made about building your own spaceship scared someone very badly.”

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