Chapter 19:- Reconnaissance
Zora took the apology a lot better than she’d expected. Murray nodded and watched the station’s departure board scroll past. The shuttle they needed ran every twenty minutes, carrying visitors to Zander’s slightly-less-than-legal attraction. The line, that continued to grow as she waited next to her sister, said the bastard was doing a pretty good business despite the zoo’s status.
“He must pay the station a pretty penny to look the other way,” she whispered in Zora’s direction. “This isn’t exactly covert.”
“Neither are you.” Zor had miraculously changed back into “tart mode.” She wore a metallic mini-dress, and her hair looked immaculate despite the lack of nanites. She frowned at Murray’s clothes. “You should have worn what I picked out for you.”
“That outfit, was definitely NOT covert.”
“Yeah, but nobody would have ever guessed it was you.” Zora gave her a wicked look, one that dared her sister to argue. When Murray didn’t take the bait, she switched her attention to the wall beside them and moaned. “Man, I could use an Earth Burger about now.”
Murray tugged the wide-brimmed hat lower over her face before turning to catch the billboard Zora examined. The restaurant ad flickered and an IRC banner replaced it. The company’s slogan scrolled across the bottom of the frame in large, metallic letters: building you, a new future. Murray snorted. Right, unless you’re one of their cast-off clones.
“What do you say, Mur?” Zora continued.
“Lunch at Jeb’s.”
“Zor, we’re nowhere near Jebezel’s.” Murray folded the over sized jacket across her chest and tried to disappear inside it. The crowd waiting to visit Zander’s Xeno-Zoological Adventure just kept expanding around them. She shifted her weight to the other foot and scanned the milling aliens. “And we’re sort of in the middle of something, remember?”
“Duh, Mur. I meant after.” Zora tossed her hair in a gesture that put Murray at ease. Ever since they’d patched things up, the old, familiar Zora had reared her head again. “I’m guessing we may want to get as far away from here as possible, anyway.”
“Good point. Fine. I’m sure I’ll be ready for a lousy cup of coffee by then.”
“Yeah, and maybe you can do something about Rook while we’ve got some down time.”
“What?” Murray cringed. She hadn’t quite found the opportunity to apologize to her android yet.
“You know what . He’s sweet on you.”
“You’re delusional,” Murray said. She looked around the crowd again. Maybe the guard would spot them before they got to the shuttle bay. Maybe they’d get arrested and put in separate cells. “I don’t know…”
“Yes you do,” Zora said.
“I don’t want to discuss this.”
“Fine. But discuss it with him, okay? I’m getting sick of listening to his moping.”
“I’m sure he’s not. Wait, what?”
“Did he say something to you?”
“Thought you didn’t want to talk about it?”
“Zora.” Murray tapped her foot and tried to adopt an intimidating stance, but the huge coat muffled the effect. “Tell me what he said.”
“Hey,” Zora said. “We’re next. Come on.”
She might have argued, but the line surged forward, pushing them along toward the tall shuttle bay doors. They flowed through the gap in the thick steel, washed along with the other anxious zoo patrons, and stumbled to a halt beside the ramshackle vehicle waiting inside.
“I thought they retired that model,” Murray said. She brushed at the debris clinging to her jacket hem. “Zora?”
Her sister stood frozen and staring at the zoo shuttle. The hull looked like paper that had been wadded up and then smoothed out again. Permanent creases laced across the metal between obvious scorch marks. She shivered, but knew it wasn’t the condition of the craft that held Zora’s attention.
“Murray?” Zora spoke without moving her mouth, and her eyes never left the vehicle’s side where someone with little talent had slapped a painting of Neela directly under the words: The Galaxy’s Last Living Space Slugs.
“It says slugs.”
“With an ess, Mur. It says slugs with an ess.”
“Maybe we should get on.” They were holding up the line for real now, and the grumbles behind them drifted rapidly away from civil. “Keep moving.”
Zora moved, climbed the loading ramp and took a seat near the doors. Murray settled into the padded couch beside her and immediately searched for the passenger restraints.
“You knew about this?” Zora’s whisper managed to sound like a snarl.
“My restraints are broken,” Murray said.
“Did you know he had another slug, Mur?”
“He might have mentioned it. Do you have a lap restraint?”
“You didn’t think to tell me?”
“You haven’t exactly been talking to me. I’m surprised Rook didn’t…”
“The android knew about it?”
“And since you two are so chatty now, I figured he’d have…”
“What’s the matter, Mur.” Zora secured her own, fully functioning restraints and made an evil face at Murray. “Are you jealous?”
“This thing is a death trap.” Murray gave up on her belt and pulled the shoulder harness lower over her coat. Without the lap strap the thing might as well have been around her throat. As she reached up to unsnap it, the shuttle engines hummed to life and the bench tilted sharply to the side. “They can’t have a license to fly this heap.”
“I doubt they’re worried about that,” Zora said.
Her restraints held her in the upright position. Murray, on the other hand, nearly fell off the bench as the thrusters groaned and lifted the shuttle off the pad. She used the loose lap strap for leverage and just managed not to choke on her shoulder harness.
This wasn’t going to work. She pulled on the frayed strap and tried to get upright again. They’d never get in and out of this place without getting killed—even without a giant mollusk up their sleeve. They’d get shot. They’d get caught. She frowned. Shot would be better. The last thing she wanted was to see the Martian Fox again.
She contemplated bailing. They’d visit the zoo, and Zora would see how impossible it was. She could convince her to let him keep Neela. Maybe Neela was happier here, anyway. Maybe she’d rather stay with another Space Slug. It had to be better for the species, right? That was the angle to use, the welfare of the creature. She’d just have to show Zora how happy her pet was here--with the other slugs, with Zander.
The ship lurched to the side again, and she glanced over to where Zora stared out the nearest window. Please, Murray prayed, let the bloody slug be happier here.