Petrolea 1d

Back, First

“If you directed that Gob to attack us, you are putting in danger the lives of yourselves and others,” Victor spoke into whatever feeds back to Earth’s media-sphere the strikers had running. “Now please – Al-Waheed, are you going to get rid of that Gob or what?”

“I’m trying, sir.” The biologist’s tame Punisher spread four wings like helicopter rotors and launched itself. Its body shifted, streamlining as the factors that made up its skin and muscles tightened their grip on each other. A device like an eagle-taloned harpoon swung into position.

The Punisher’s helicopter blades sprayed gasoline rain as it fired its claw into the hungry Gob-swarm. Factors scattered, but the talons closed around the walnut-sized behavioral-somatic processors at the swarm’s core. Static swept the comms net as the Punisher hacked into the Gob’s brain. As if hypnotized, the factors emerged from their hiding places and marched onto the predator, adding themselves to its own swarm. The creature’s silhouette visibly swelled.

The Gob died, but not before Victor saw another squid-like flash, and another. The harvester rang with the impacts of more flying parasites. Facrots flowed over the harvester, too many for the Punisher or even Victor’s gauntlets to deal with.

“Stop attacking us!” Victor winced at the shrill register of his voice. There were larger creatures down there now, scuttling up from the mud to gnaw apart his vehicle. Something like a metal caterpillar with dragonfly wings wrapped around his wrist, but the slave-factors in Victor’s gauntlet severed a couple of the creature’s legs before Victor hurled it away.

“You’re attracting them,” came Merchant’s voice over the electronic death scream of the mechanoid. “Listen to me, Toledo. You must leave immediately before something worse comes.”

Victor scraped bits caterpillar off his gauntlet, fighting to bring his voice back down. “Are you threatening us, Dr. Merchant?”

“No, you ass. The jungle’s more dangerous than it’s ever been, and we’re a crowd of humans with floodlights making a bloody ruckus in it!”

Certainty trickled down Victor’s back, cold and viscous as crude oil: someone had screwed up here, and it was probably him. His ears pricked, as if that would do any good in his suit. And anyway that vibration wasn’t coming from his helmet speakers. It tunneled up from his feet. A low rumble, almost like the harvester’s engine. Except the harvester wasn’t moving.

They had to get out of here. “The faster you cooperate,” said Victor, “the faster we’re all back safe in Xanadu Base.”

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