Chapter 21:- Operation Macro-Plankton
“You think you can modify it?” Murray poked at the silver device and frowned.
“It’s a simple design,” Rook said. He leaned over the narrow table, bringing his shoulder into light contact with hers. “I believe I can manage it.”
“I suspected as much.” The ship’s common room didn’t exactly qualify as expansive, but she was pretty sure the walls used to be farther apart. Someone may have turned up the temperature as well. “Did your scans pick up the emitters?”
“No.” He reached across the table and tugged at the paper schematic that Iggy’s men had provided. “This is the best we have, I’m afraid. And most of the sheds you indicated are listed as maintenance facilities.” He tapped the place Murray knew now housed their stolen Space Slug. The schematic, however, labeled the enclosure as containing Sand Bears.
“I’m sure the Emperor’s data was correct at the time of the scan.” Murray tilted her head a fraction to watch his expression. His metal lips pressed into a serious line, and he nodded.
“And I figure the sonic emitters have to be in one of these three.” She tapped the likely sheds with one finger. “So we’ll just have to check them all.”
“Yes. Unfortunately.” His silver fingers tapped a little rhythm on the table, sending vibrations across to her palms, up her arms. “I don’t like this plan,” he said. “You know that, right?”
“Yeah.” Murray smiled down at the map. “But we need you in the ship,” she said. “Someone has to get our asses out of there once we’ve sprung Neela.”
He didn’t answer, but the whirring in his chest intensified.
“Are you sure you can get past the…”
“I’ll get in,” he said. “That part doesn’t worry me.”
It didn’t worry Murray either. The android had managed to pull off one miracle after another, and she took his success at this little adventure as a given. She doubted very much that he’d disappoint her. “What about this?” She picked up her hand-held computer. “Can you tweak this as well?”
“You sure you want to go through with that part?”
“I’m sure. You should have seen it in there.” She scowled at the memory of filthy cages, skin stretched too tightly over rib cages. “Besides, it might provide enough of a distraction to help you get past any planetary defenses.”
“If they respond to your broadcast.”
“Right.” Murray held the computer out for him. “If.” They had to respond. Some of the macro-plankton species in that wing were not only protected, they were full-out classified.
“About the scanners,” Rook started. His hand closed around the device, but as he took it from Murray’s grip, his other arm slid up, his other hand settled against the small of her back. “Are you sure about the plankton’s field?”
“Y-yeah.” Murray found the edge of the table and drove her fingers against the plastic. “They’ll block the scanners. The bio-electric interference in a cloud that size can’t…be…”
“Doctor Murray?” He whispered in a tone that did not come with standard programming.
“Hmm?” She stared holes in the table.
Murray’s head snapped up almost as quickly as Rook’s hand fell away from her waist. Zora stood in the common room doorway. She had one hand on the wall, the other on her hip and an expression on her face that Murray really didn’t care for.
“Whatcha doin’?” Her eyebrows raised even higher. Her smile twisted.
Murray was vaguely aware that she should be speaking, but her throat suddenly clenched against her. A wash of panic shivered through her mind. The silence seemed fairly damning, even to her ears.
“Did you get the explosives sorted out?” Rook said. It sounded harsh, blurted, ringing against the metal walls.
“Yeah,” Zora said. “I’m all packed.” Her grin never faltered.
“Well,” Rook shifted beside Murray, he raised the hand-held and brandished it a little too enthusiastically. “I’ll get right on this, then.”
“Thank you,” Murray managed. When he took a step away, her spine relaxed. “That will be a big help,” she said.
“Great,” he said. He rounded the table and headed for the door. “Good. No problem.”
Murray watched him leave. When he reached the doorway, Zora slid aside and stepped further into the room. She never glanced in his direction. The look was all for Murray’s benefit.
When Rook vanished into the hallway, Murray dropped her eyes pointedly back to the schematic. She tapped at the sheds and squinted at the labels. Zora cleared her throat, and Murray ran a finger across the pathway that led to the Aquatics wing. Zora’s steps clicked across the room, stopping opposite Murray. A well manicured hand appeared against the schematic, the crimson fingers tapping out a different rhythm. Murray sighed and looked up.
“Whoa,” Zora said.
“Shut up, Zor.”
“Were you two just…”
“Are you sure?”
Murray sighed again. She stared at Zora, at the red hair pulled into a tight updo, at the makeup, the tight black jumpsuit. Even incognito, Zora looked like a starlet. “I’m sure,” she said.
“Because it might be good for…”
“I’m just saying. You’ve been really tense lately.”
“He’s an android, Zor.”
“So what? Everybody’s doing it these days.”
Murray frowned. “What?” she said. “Have you?”
“God no.” Zora grinned. “I have some standards.”
Murray growled and pressed her palm against her forehead where a tiny throbbing had set up roost. She imagined the steady stream of aliens that qualified as “standards” in Zora’s book—no androids though, that would just be weird.
“Listen,” she snarled without meaning to. “We need to go over this again.”
“Good,” Zora said. “We don’t have time to fart around with your sex life, Mur. “Neela needs us.”
“The plan,” Murray said through her teeth. “Is all set.”
“I’m still a little fuzzy on the beginning,” Zora said. She turned and rested one hip on the table, lifted her hand and examined the painted nails. “I don’t get how your water bugs are going to keep us from showing up on the scans.”
“The bio-electricity will mask out signatures,” Murray said. She’d been intentionally vague about the details as far as the macro-plankton went.
“But how?” Zora frowned and looked across the table at her.
She wasn’t going to like it. Murray’s smile stretched wider. She stifled it just short of a smirk, folded her hands together and stared back at her sister.
“I’ve got it handled,” she said. Her plan was brilliant in that respect, and Zora wasn’t going to like it one bit.