“I owe you an apology.” Metal fingers brushed along her side. They lingered for a fraction of a second at her words, and then continued tracing a wide circle around her wound.
“It’s healing well.”
“Accepted.” His hand dropped away, but she could still hear the humming from his chest.
“You had something important to tell me.” Murray sat up. The wound made no complaint; she felt no pain at all.
He stood so close she could see the metal irises at the back of his eyes. Each segment refracted the overhead light at a slightly different angle, sparkling like human eyes could never sparkle. Somehow that didn’t bother her one bit. When he leaned forward, she held her breath, let her lips part a tiny bit, her eyes flutter closed.
She woke to the rattling of metal. Heavy footsteps pounded in the hall outside. Murray waited for the door to open, for someone to remember she lay there. The steps continued past. She opened her eyes and frowned up at the medical bay ceiling. Her fingers found the tight, sticky patch of skin-seal covering the damage to her side. It would keep out bacteria and contaminants while the regen-gel worked its magic. The wound should be fully healed in three point five days. This morning, it would be seventy-five percent healed.
Stupid Zander. Murray tested her range of movement. She could roll onto her good side with only a twinge of pain. The seal held when she swung her legs over the side of the couch. She sat up, wincing as the muscles tugged at the material. So far so good. She’d had just about enough of the medical bay. She’d had just about enough of solitude.
They’d left another tray for her, slipping in while she slept and back out without waking her. She needed rest and quiet to heal, and her shipmates had obliged dutifully with her recovery. The bastards had completely abandoned her.
Murray used the couch for support and tested her legs. She could stand. She could walk with just a few traces of discomfort. It helped if she braced the wound with her hand. She crossed the room with only a few pauses, leaned against the door for only a few breaths.
The hall was easier. She leaned a shoulder against one wall and shuffled after the footsteps. There’d been an awful lot of traffic in this hallway today. Murray scowled as she passed the door to her room. A lot of traffic that hadn’t stopped by medical to check on her.
She stopped to rest before the hallway teed with the short passage that led to the ship’s cargo area. The seal still held, but her side ached from the effort, and for a second, she wondered if moving had been such a hot idea. If the material tore, she risked infection, further damage and even more time on the medical couch. She considered retracing her steps until the sound of voices whispered from around the corner.
“She doesn’t like him.” Zora sounded different. She’d lost her edgy tone, and sounded like Murray felt—bone tired.
It might have been Rook’s voice that answered, but the static crackled the message too much to be certain. Whoever it was, Zora talked to them over the ship’s com.
“He won’t leave her alone, though. He’s driving her nuts. Yeah. No. I know she needs to rest. No. ”
Murray shuffled to the corner and tried to spy around the edge. She leaned forward, and her side stitched. She squealed and tumbled forward into the hallway.
“Holy shit. She’s out of medical.”
Murray caught a glimpse of Zora, as she staggered into the wall. The skin-seal tore at the impact, and the stitch turned into a stab of pain. She imagined the microbes rushing for the breach and cringed.
“What are you doing?” Zora’s voice wandered closer. “You’re supposed to be sleeping.”
“Who are you talking to? Was that Rook? I think my wound just ripped open. What happened to your hair?”
“Jeeze, Mur. Slow down.” Zora tilted her head and tried to strike an indignant pose, but the slime drizzling off of her bangs ruined the effect. “You tore the seal. I’m telling Rook.”
“What happened to you?” Murray stared at the sheen encasing her sister’s hair. “You’re gooey.”
“Ugh.” Zora relaxed and shrugged. “I tried to tell you. Mur, you’re not going to believe it.”
“Tell me what?”
Zora looked past her down the hallway and then turned over her shoulder to the cargo bay door. She looked back and forth twice before answering, “Okay. I’ll show you, but tell Rook I took you right back to medical or he’ll kill me.”
Zora walked to the bay door before looking back to see if Murray had managed to follow her. She waited, one toe tapping, while Murray dragged herself along the wall. Each step tugged at the tear in her cyber bandage. Considering how many unclassified bacterium might cling to the ship’s walls, she most definitely should have stayed on the couch.
“Come on, Mur.” Zora peered around Murray at the hallway. She punched the control for the door and slid into the cargo bay.
Murray stared at the opening. She took a hesitant step in that direction, but stopped short and squinted at the floor. Viscous slime oozed around the track where the door had slid aside. It bubbled through the seam at the ceiling. She imagined the bacterium that might live quite happily in slug slime.
“Are you coming?” Zora’s head popped back into view. “Mur?”
“What’s with the goo?”
“Oh.” Zora’s hand lifted and almost brushed her hair back. It hovered a few inches away from her slimy tresses and then fell back to her side. “Right,” she said. “Neela’s been kind of agitated since we left the zoo.”
“I can show you if you’d come in.”
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea to expose…”
“Doctor Murray?” Rook’s voice rumbled down the hall. “What are you doing here?”
His tone sparked a rebellious note in her. She didn’t care to enter the slug infested cargo bay, but he sounded very close to forbidding it. He’d also taken two steps in her direction. She imagined her rising pulse had nothing to do with his proximity, but she slid through the doorway just in case.
She wished she hadn’t. Her feet sloshed through a puddle of slime just inside the entrance. She cupped one hand over her wound and scrunched up her face. Zora waited beside Neela, standing nearly knee deep in her pet’s secretions. She patted it with one hand, muttering soft reassurance to the monster.
“The male has her spooked.” Rook hummed to a stop at her side. “Your wound has not fully healed, Doctor Murray.”
“I know.” She kept her gaze riveted on her sister and the slug. Neela rippled from eye stalks to tail tip, and the slime factor on their mollusk had definitely taken a turn toward extreme. “I was beginning to feel a bit like cargo myself. Alone in medical and…the male? Did you say ‘the male?’”
His arm came up, pointing to the left in her peripheral vision. She tracked it to the far corner of the hold where a miniature, lemon yellow version of Zora’s slug had plastered itself half way up the wall. “That would be Zander’s slug,” Rook said.
“His name is Teepo,” Zora added.
Murray’s knees wobbled. She listed to one side and found herself supported by a pair of thick silver arms. She closed her eyes. She imagined she still lay in medical and none of this had actually happened. When she risked a look, a pair of articulated irises sparkled down at her. She shook her head and whispered, “Shit.”