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Chapter 16:- The Hangover
The wind rushed through her head, beating at her eardrums and singing.

“Doctor Murray?”

She groaned and swatted it away.

“Doctor Murray.” It sounded a lot like her android.

Bwa?” She opened her eyes on a field of green velvet. Soft…pillow…Zander’s room. She lifted her head.

“Doctor?”

“Rook?” A blur of metal slid past her as the room tilted. She pressed her eyes tight again and concentrated on the wind. Her temples throbbed.

“Doctor Murray, are you feeling all right?”

“No. No, I feel pretty liquid at the moment.” When she opened her eyes the second time, things solidified. His metal features stared down at her in an expression that definitely didn’t come with standard programming. “What?”

“It is very difficult for me to provide adequate protection when I’m not apprised of your location,” he said.

“Apprised of…” she blinked and the wind hushed. “Protection?” She tried to sit up, but her spine still felt like gelatin. “I…ungh.” Movement causes nausea--good to know.

“I believe that you’ve been poisoned,” Rook said. If he sounded glad about the fact, she had to be imagining it. “The secondary cartridge in this vaporizer contains a chemical that is known to produce…”

“Drugged?” Murray sat up and clenched her jaw against the urge to vomit. “He drugged me? That son of a…”

“It would appear he hasn’t violated your person,” Rook continued. “Or do you…”

“Don’t,” Murray snapped. “Not violated.”

“Good.”

She pressed her palms into her eye sockets and pushed back against the headache. As the loopy feeling subsided, her brain shifted gears, tossing fragments of memory her direction. They’d been talking about something for a long time. “Why drug me?” She glanced around the mound of pillows. She knew what he hadn’t been after, at least. She’d been more than willing. “What’s the point?”

“I suspect he was after something,” Rook said. He raised one silver eyebrow at her. “You can’t think of anything that he may have wanted? He didn’t mention anything?

Murray shook her head. The whole evening seemed like a floral smelling blur. She let Rook help her to her feet and leaned against his thick arm for support when the room bobbed and threatened to slide away again. She remembered vaping. Zander had added something—drugs, in hindsight—to the mix. They’d snuggled into the pillow nest and talked and talked.

“Have you seen him, then?” Murray tried to sound nonchalant. “This morning?”

“Who?”

“Never mind.” They climbed out of the pit and made their way toward the room’s door, Rook serving as a crutch when her legs failed to cooperate. “How did you find me, then?” She asked him as the panel slid open and he shuffled her out into the hallway.

“I scanned several sections of the palace before I recognized your vital signs,” Rook answered. “When you are feeling more like yourself, I’d like to make a more detailed identification record.”

“Right. Sure.” She frowned and walked beside him. How the hell did he scan for her vital signs?

“And his ship departed just before sunrise,” Rook said.

“Huh? Who?”

“The Emperor’s cousin.”

“Oh.”

His chest hummed quietly as they wound through the palace toward their own room. He might be scanning her right now. What else could he do? She frowned and tried to lean on him a little less, but the drug still lingered in her nervous system, and she had little choice but to use Rook for balance. Zander left in the middle of the night. She’d probably said something stupid. She’d probably told him some long, boring story about macro-plankton. She laughed and then cringed when Rook looked sharply at her. His mood hadn’t improved since dinner, apparently.

What had they talked about? She could almost see Zander’s lips moving. He had nice, thin, expressive lips. He’d been asking her questions about…

She stopped walking, but Rook’s forward progress drug her a few more feet before he realized it. His head swiveled around to face her.

“What is it?”

“Nothing. I think.” She could almost hear the conversation now, and she had the oddest feeling it had something to do with…

“You think?”

“It’s just that, I almost think he wanted…” Murray closed her eyes and tried harder. Zander had been intent on something, had stuck to the topic when she’d tried to change it. “I don’t know for sure,” she said. “But I’m thinking he kept asking about the slug.”

Neela,” Rook said. “Her name is Neela.”

“Right. But he said…” She laughed out loud again. “I think he said he had one too.”

“The Emperor’s cousin has his own Space Slug?” It did sound ridiculous when he said it like that.

“Right. I know. Forget it.” Murray sighed and started walking again. “I mean, she’s the last one, right? And wouldn’t the Emperor know if his own…”

A squeal from the hallway ahead broke her train of thought and sent little daggers of pain through her brain. Murray groaned and leaned into her android again. Damn chemicals.

“Murray!” Zora’s voice hit a pitch somewhere near excruciating. “Oh thank GOD, Mur!” Zora came running toward them, a shimmery wave of red hair and silver fabric. Her arms gestured in wild patterns that made Murray close her eyes again for a second. When she opened them her sister stood within arm’s reach.

She wore a metallic miniskirt and top that barely kept her anatomy restrained. In keeping with the local custom, she’d donned a pair of orange, feathery wings and a tiara. Somehow, Zora made it look good.

“Listen, Zor.” Murray started. She didn’t need drama at the moment. She needed a nap, and a bath followed by another nap.

“Where have you been?” Zora grabbed her by the shoulders. “We didn’t know where you were.”

“I’m fine, Zor. I just…”

“Whatever.” Zora waved a hand in Murray’s face. She rolled her eyes before shifting immediately into a full blown pout that obviously had nothing to do with concern for her sister’s welfare.

“Fine,” Murray said. “I’m going back to the room.”

“No! Murray,” Zora whined. Her voice threatened to pitch upwards again. “It’s horrible!”

“What, Zora? What’s the matter now?” She tried to push past her, but between Rook’s bicep and one arching orange wing, she couldn’t move in either direction.

“She’s gone!” Zora howled.

A tiny knot of dread settled in Murray’s stomach. She peeked toward Rook, but didn’t quite meet his gaze. The sound of Zora sniffling sent little shivers along the back of her neck. She had to ask, didn’t she?

“Who’s gone?” she whispered.

Neela!” Zora bawled. Her eyes stretched into giant saucers and big tears pooled in their wells. “Someone’s stolen my Slug!”

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