Feroza decided it was time to let the argument go.
Not so Victor, it seemed. “I still don’t understand why you have to be down there. We should stay here and let the Dragon hunt for us.”
Feroza watched the Dragon settle onto her landing gear. A healthy mechanoid would have immediately re-formed the factors of her body into their non-flying conformation. This exhausted creature simply slumped to the ground, factors sloughing from her superstructures like shed feathers.
“I am not sure you understand the extent of the…” suffering, Feroza thought, “…stress we have caused the mother Dragon. We have added ourselves to her responsibilities and removed her mate, who might otherwise have helped her hunt. If we do not do something to redress the balance, she might simply give up on this nest and fly away to mate again.”
“So you have to give her enough food to convince her to stay here,” but the confidence in Toledo’s voice didn’t last. “Um. Can you?”
“Yes.” Feroza said with rather more confidence than she felt. She’d collected her share of specimens and could have bagged any number of small mechanoids for Toledo to feed to his blasphemous life support engine. She was less certain she could fuel the metabolism of an adult Dragon as well.
“It’s only that this…what we’re doing here is very important,” said Toledo. “For our survival. Since we’re stranded in the wilderness.”
Stranded in someone else’s home, he meant. Toledo just took what he wanted and demanded more.
“Okay,” his voice intruded. “How about this? You ride that thing back up here, we’ll process one of the juveniles into feedstock for her–“
“You want to force the mother Dragon to eat one of her Dragonlets?”
“Well, why not? They’re both machines. If our shuttle broke, wouldn’t we cannibalize the harvester for parts?”
Cannibalize? Feroza felt ill. “She is not flying anywhere.”
That was a statement of fact. The mother Dragon sprawled across the uneven ground, wings shuddering, dead factors dropping off her body. Feroza’s first priority must be to feed the poor creature.
Of course Toledo had different priorities. “Okay. How about this?” he said again. “I don’t have many slave factors left, but if I use the ones I have to make one of the juveniles fly down to you–“
“The big Dragon doesn’t have to eat it.” Victor cleared his throat. “You can place those slave factors on the adult.”
“But I am offering to give you my last slave factors,” he said.
“No,” Feroza said again. “No more slavery.”
“You just said,” grated Toledo, “that it might just fly off and strand me at the top of a damn mountain with no way down. Plus, you’re lost in the jungle with no way back up.”