Chapter 10:- The Bob Army
“You completely broke character,” One of Bob’s many twins accused.
“In emergency situations the protocol clearly states…” Bob said.
“I know what is says.”
Murray sat in the grass massaging her wrists and watching the debate between the two clones. Rook stood to the side, alert and on guard for any more aggression from the surrounding throng of Bob doubles.
“Rook,” Murray frowned and stared out across the lake. “Do you think Zora’s all right?”
“Yes,” he said. “The slug has quieted down, but I can still hear it.”
Zor had insisted on seeing “Neela,” before the Bob army attempted to restrain her. Despite Zora’s assurance that her gigantic pet wouldn’t hurt them, the Bobs had been inflexible about the sonic emitter. It was, Bob said with a shrug, “standard procedure.” At least they’d been untied.
Murray tilted her head and squinted at the lake. A tiny, dark triangle slid across the mirrored surface. She watched it double in size. The two clones still faced off on the shore, long-fingered, tan hands resting on their barely covered hips. She cleared her throat.
“Bob?” she said. The hunk on the right turned in her direction. “Is that a ship coming?” Both clones’ heads swiveled to stare across the water.
“Yes,” Rook answered for them. “I believe it is a class B light cruiser. Atmospheric transport only, equipped with full scanners, two laser canons and room for six passengers at full capacity.”
“Uh, thanks, Rook,” Murray said. “Is it your ship, Bob?”
“I have no ship,” Bob said. “It belongs to the Emperor, may he thrive in glory all his days!”
“Okay. The Emperor. Of course,” Murray said. She exchanged a glance with Rook, raised her eyebrows and shrugged.
“Hey guys.” Zora called from down lake. Murray watched her approach, and the side of her face twitched. One of the clones carried her sister. He marched along the shore with Zora held out in front of him, seated across his arms.
By the time they stopped next to Murray, the incoming ship had grown to obvious proportions. “This is Joe,” Zora said. The clone set her down and she smoothed out her clothing and turned to watch the incoming cruiser. “Is that a ship?”
“Yes,” Murray said. “I believe it’s…” She got to her feet and stamped the feeling back into her calves.
“Right, hey guess what?” Zora said. “Joe knows all kinds of stuff about space slugs.”
“He’s a biologist too,” Zora said. She raised her eyebrows and nodded suggestively in Joe’s direction. “I thought you two should meet, Mur.”
“Why?” Rook asked.
“Does Joe know anything about the Emperor?” Murray said.
“Oh, yeah. They really love that guy.”
“I got that impression, too.”
“May we serve forever in the splendor of his rule,” Joe said.
“See.” Zora grinned madly. “Hey Joe, what’s with the ship?”
“They bring the sonic emitter,” he said. “So that we may restrain your honorable beast.”
“Cool,” Zora said. She plopped onto the grass and kicked her feet out in front of her. “I’m pooped.”
“You’re okay with this?” Murray asked. “You’re going to let them use that thing on her?”
“Joe said it won’t hurt her, just keep her from...you know.” She made wiggling flame motions with her fingers. “Besides, he thinks the Emperor will let her go free when we get there.” She rolled onto her stomach and rested her chin in her hands.
Murray looked at Rook. He shrugged and nodded toward Zora. “When we get there?” They said in unison. Zora flipped over and yawned.
“Yeah. They’re taking us to see the Emperor. Duh. Are you guys even trying to communicate with them?”
Murray lunged forward, but a strong silver arm appeared around her waist, foiling her intended assault. Rook sidled up next to her, and pressed her very slightly against his side.
“Excuse me,” Bob said--or his twin said; they both stood staring at their captives. “We need to clear off a ways. They’ll be landing next to the water.”
Murray let Rook steer her away from the lake. They joined the clone crowd and watched as the cruiser slowed to a hover and settled expertly onto the grassy shore. A hatch slid open near the nose, and a long ramp extended at an angle until it made abrupt contact with the planet’s surface. All of the clones clapped.
A figure appeared in the entrance, garbed from chin to toe in a skin-tight silver jumpsuit. He waved and started down the ramp.
“Oh, look,” Murray said. “It’s Bob.” She could have sworn the rumble of a well-hidden laugh shook through Rook’s metal chest.
“Perhaps we can negotiate transportation,” he said.
“Hey,” Zora said. “I lost Joe.” She turned her head left and right. “Do you remember which one he is?”
“I suspect it’s likely he’s the one accepting the sonic transmitter,” Rook said. He nodded to the ship,where three “native” clones met with “spacer” clone at the foot of the ramp. Spacer clone handed a metal case to one of the natives.
“Hey, Joe!” Zora yelled. She took off at a trot toward the ship.
Murray sighed. “We should probably go talk to them.”
Rook’s arm released her, and she took a step sideways before starting after Zora. The clone from the ship was already turning back toward the ramp.
“Wait!” Murray scrambled to reach them just as the gangway began to retract. “Wait,” she said. “Why is the ship leaving?”
“It returns to the city,” one of the clones said.
“But, can’t we…I mean, aren’t we going there too?”
“We shall walk,” the clone said.
Murray wanted to argue, her feet wanted to argue, but the ship’s engines already roared to life. The hatch slid closed, and clones and prisoners alike scrambled to clear the area. She watched the take-off sandwiched between Zora and Rook, trying desperately not to scream. She kept watching as the ship shrank. She stood there, long after Zora and Joe took the sonic emitter away, and stared at the water.
“Doctor Murray?” Rook said softly.
“But why do we have to walk?” she asked.
“It is standard protocol.”
Murray rounded on the clone. She shook her fist at him. “Which one are you?” she demanded.
“I’m Bob,” he said.
“Well, Bob, what the hell is the matter with you?”
“No. I’m serious. Protocol my ass. I just crashed here, remember? I’m injured! I’m filthy, and my feet are killing me!”
Bob’s mouth hung open. When she took a step in his direction, it snapped shut. “The walk,” he stammered. “The walk is necessary for the proper atmosphere.”
Rook almost didn’t catch her in time. He lifted her off her feet, both arms swinging wildly in Bob’s direction. The clone gaped for a second more, then cleared his throat and snapped to attention.
“I will carry you,” he said.
“Like hell you will,” Rook answered. His arms tightened around Murray’s middle. She struggled until he placed her back on her feet.
“Shit,” she said. She didn’t know which one of them was crazier. “Somebody better damn well carry me, ‘cause I’m not taking another step.”
Before either one could answer, the air burst into sound. A whine surrounded them, humming, buzzing like a million bees. Over the thrumming, Murray heard one deep, unhappy “Neep.”