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Chapter 23:- Stunning
Getting stunned hurt. Murray made a mental note. Of course, the subsequent falling to the asphalt may have had something to do with the pain. Either way, little daggers pinched up and down her body each time the bot jiggled her.

She’d had no idea the things were so strong. Its spindly, articulated limbs had no problem hoisting her into the air. She eyed the nearest segment and tried scowling at it. Her frozen facial muscles failed to obey the order.

“I really think there’s been a mistake,” she said. It came out somewhat garbled. Her lips had only just started working again. A trail of spittle fell toward the passing sidewalk when she opened her mouth. “I am here on business.” It sounded like a weak argument, even to her. “Important business,” she added.

It beeped twice. A series of red lights flared in an esoteric sequence beside her ear. From her angle—face down and hovering four feet above the ground—that pretty much summed up the bot’s reaction. She did catch the faint humming of circuitry inside its metal case. The sound brought Rook to mind, Rook, who orbited the planet at that very moment, who might already be organizing a rescue if Zora had pulled off her end of the plan.

Considering Murray hadn’t heard a single explosion, it seemed like a thin thread to hang her hopes on.

“I insist on speaking to your boss.” She tried again. The drool dribbled in a squiggle across the sidewalk and onto a smartly polished pair of boots. “I want to see Zander!” Murray demanded. She stared at the boots. Where the hell did they come from? The bot stopped moving.

Murray tried to struggle, to twist in its infuriating grip, but her body felt like a wad of tingling jello. The boot’s owner took matters into his own hands. He leaned down, bringing the cocky, smart-ass grin directly into her line of sight. His dark hair fell down in a stylish wave, even upside down.

“Doctor Murray!” The bastard said. “To what do I owe this pleasure?” His eyes narrowed on the last syllable, made it perfectly clear he found nothing pleasurable about the encounter—and neither would she.

Zander, you son-of-a...”

“Drop her.”

The impact pushed the air out of her lungs. The tingling intensified. She could almost feel her limbs responding to the command to throttle the life out of him. The fingers on her left hand bent a fraction in response.

“She’ll be mobile in a few minutes,” he said. “Bring her to my office as soon as she can walk.”
Murray felt the toe of his boot nudge her side. He rolled her less than gently onto her back and stood grinning down at her. “I know I’m irresistible,” he said. “But you’re going to wish you hadn’t come within light-years of this place.”

“Arrogant jack-aaaaah!”

He kicked her in the side. Murray groaned and forced her mushy body to curl around the pain. She watched his boot heels click away. The silence still didn’t fill with the sound of things blowing up. She closed her eyes against a spasm and wished, just for a second, that the stunner had frozen her voice as well.

When his boots had long since disappeared, and the ache in her middle had dulled a bit, she rolled back onto her side and tested her range of movement. The tingles faded, and she managed to push up into a sitting position. “What an asshole,” she said.

The bot beeped a warning. It hummed closer and an artificial voice commanded, “Get up.” She’d heard it once before, when she chose to ignore its “Halt,” and ended up face down with a splitting headache. This time she obeyed. Fast.

Her legs wobbled, but she managed to remain “up.”

“Walk,” it ordered.

Murray did as she was told. She let the bot direct her up the path. While she walked, she listened to the night that insisted on remaining quiet. They passed the aquatics wing. They took the fork that led to the shuttle bays. They reached a pair of peeling metal doors labeled: employees only. Nothing exploded whatsoever.

“Damn it.”

“Quiet!”

The doors slid open for them, and Murray stepped into a narrow hall. It smelled worse than the animal enclosures. She tried to hold her breath and shuffle forward at the same time. They took a right turn, passed a few closed doors and took three rickety stairs down. Zander’s office door boasted an L.E.D. plague that scrolled “Zoo CEO, president, head honcho, owner, chief and dictator--keep your opinions to yourself.”

“Nice,” Murray said. The robot only hummed in response, and the message started again. “Do we knock?” she asked.

“Open the door.”

The bot, apparently, didn’t do standard door knobs. Murray sighed and pushed open the door.
“Doctor Murray,” Zander snarled. “Come in.”

His office looked like it had been a storage room at one time. Metal shelving lined the walls, but the wide floor lay empty except for a big desk, behind which sat an office chair with more attachments than the bot had. Zander reclined in it. He waved her forward until she stood opposite him. The bot waited by the door, effectively blocking any chance of flight.

“Whatever are you doing here, Doctor?” He practically purred at her, had changed his entire demeanor. Murray guessed why. Her handheld computer lay on the desk in front of him. The bloody bot must have picked it up when it zapped her.

“We have business to discuss,” Murray said. She tried not to let her knees knock together outright. Instead, she forced herself to straighten, and to look him in the eye. “I’m afraid there’s been a mistake concerning…”

“What do you want with my plankton?”

“What?” She stared at him.

“You have been photographing my plankton,” he said. A shiver of fear raced through her. Had he checked the transmission records? Murray had the feeling that if Zander knew who she’d contacted she’d be swimming with a different sort of fish in no time.

“This isn’t about plankton,” she said. “You have erroneously taken our Space Slug…”

“You signed it over to me. The thing is legally mine.”

“No. Actually, I did. But you see, it never really belonged to me. She’s my sister’s, and Zora really wants her back. She practically killed me when she found out. So if you could just consider for a minute...”

Zander blinked at her. He shook his head and tapped the portable computer. “Why did you take pictures of my plankton, Doctor Murray?”

The bastard knew they were restricted. He knew exactly what he had down here, and he knew why she’d be interested. Murray shook her head and shrugged. “I like plankton,” she tried.

He reached into the desk drawer. The weapon he pulled out looked illegal. It looked home-made and dangerous as hell. Murray guessed it wasn’t a stunner.

“You have one minute, Doctor Murray,” he said. “To explain to me exactly why I shouldn’t shoot you and feed your body to the Sand Bears.”

“Sand Bears don’t require protein in their diet and…”

He flipped a switch on the weapon’s side and it hummed erratically to life. Murray’s jaw snapped shut. She held her breath. She thought about Rook and Zora and laughed. She’d always assumed it would be Zora that killed her.

Zander stood up and aimed the weapon at her head.

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