Petrolea 5b

BackFirst

Victor chewed his lower lip. “Don’t worry, we will not have to live on paste for long. Once both of us are fed, we can go back to Xanadu, right?”

“You can go back to Xanadu.”

Victor snorted. “And you will go where? To the jungle castle of the Princess of Petrolea? You will die out here.”

“I ‘ll be arrested if I go back there.”

Victor frowned. “No,” he said, “they wouldn’t do that. Well. They might. But if they blame you, they blame me too. Then we’re both in jail together,” he looked around at the rusty hangar, “and not much has changed, hey?”

She grunted and killed something down on the slopes of the mountain.

One of the Dragonlets twitched and broadcast a radio signal Victor had come to recognize meant “feed me.” He tossed one of its father’s vertebrae at it, and it quieted down.

He wanted to hear Dr. Merchant speak more. She had an attractive voice. “All right,” he said. “What would you do if you were in charge? What do you actually want from people?”

“Aside from there being fewer of them?”

“When people say we should reduce the human population, they never volunteer to be the part of the population that gets reduced.” Too late, Victor remembered he wanted her to like him. “Um, I mean we’re in space now. We have the resources to support a growing population.”

“Unfortunately. We’ll just be going faster when we hit the Malthusian wall.” And before he could ask her what the hell that meant. “And now we have a whole new biome to bring down with us.”

“You act like we’re all doomed.” Victor grinned as he worked. “If Mumbai is really so bad, you come live in Lima with me, he? Thanks to the space industry, it’s a cleaner and more beautiful place.”

“Only at the expense of a dirty and ugly Petrolea,” said Dr. Merchant. “You drove through the clear-cut area around Xanadu Base. Didn’t it sicken you?”

“No? What do I care about the Petrolean jungle? I don’t have to live there.”

Dr. Merchant paused for a moment, panting. “Clearly, you do.”

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