“You promised.” Zora swung her chair away from the main screen and stuck out her lower lip. “You said as soon as we got Neela back. It’s already been four days.”
“Oh, and I don’t suppose getting injured while trying to cover your stupid ass buys me a few days in medical?” Murray leaned back in Rook’s chair and pretended to frown at her sister. She’d only been sprung from the couch that morning, and then only after a lecture from her android on the need to exercise caution. Sitting on the bridge of the Slug One arguing with Zora about a cup of coffee seemed just a little bit like heaven today.
“I want an Earth Burger.”
“Fine. How far away is it?” She stared at the controls as if she knew which one brought up a sector map, as if she might press the correct button at any moment.
“I got it,” Zora sighed. “The closest Jeb’s is only two jumps from here.”
The view screen flickered and a diagram of the sector replaced the endless star field. Jump gate symbols dotted the area, glowing blue for Gal-Fed affiliated lanes and red for those held by private corporations, or in a few cases, individuals. The ratio seemed skewed slightly toward the latter, not the norm where Murray came from.
“You really dragged us out to the edge of civilization, didn’t you, Zor?” She squinted at the route her sister highlighted. Two jumps to the nearest Jeb’s, on a space station orbiting some gas giant in the middle of freaking nowhere.
“Yeah.” Zora shrugged. “That’s where all the action is, Mur.”
The click of metal feet brought Murray’s chair around in time to see Rook step through the cockpit entrance. He ducked under the low bulkhead and froze facing the screen’s display. She heard one sharp ping before the humming in his chest resumed.
“Doctor Murray.” When he looked away from the sector map, she could have sworn his jaw tensed. “Have you experienced any discomfort?”
“She’s fine,” Zora drawled from her post. “But she could use a good cup of coffee and a burger.”
“H22-J123T?” He didn’t ping, but his humming lowered perceptibly.
“Yeah, Stud. We want to go to Jebezel’s.”
“Wait.” Murray had the sudden impression that the topic had been the source of argument between them. “I never said that.”
“You promised, Mur.”
“Doctor Murray.” Rook turned his back to Zora, faced Murray directly. His expression fixed into robotic mode—impossible to read. “Is it your wish that we proceed to H22-J123T?”
“I don’t know,” she hesitated. “It might be nice.” She couldn’t see much of Zora around Rook’s figure, but what she could make out looked threatening. “I did promise her.”
“As you wish.” He closed the gap between them, leaned across Murray and punched a sequence of keys she could only guess set their course for the space station. “I could use an Earth Burger, myself.”
He might have been joking. As far as she knew androids didn’t eat burgers. With Rook, however, Murray never felt sure of anything.
“Did he seem weird to you?” Murray eyed the cargo bay door and cringed.
“You mean weirder than normal?” Zora released the door and looked back over her shoulder. “Come on, I need your help.”
“With what?” She followed Zora into the bay and immediately had to dodge a wall of pink Space Slug. “Ahhh!”
“She hates him,” Zora said. “She won’t let Teepo anywhere near her.”
“Maybe he’s not her type.” Murray swatted away a strand of slime and hugged the wall without actually touching it. “Maybe she doesn’t like yellow.”
“Not funny, Mur.”
“I don’t get it, Zor. What’s the big deal?”
“The big deal? Jeeze, Mur. You’re supposed to be the scientist. They’re the last two. The whole species depends on this.”
“You’re trying to breed giant slugs on our space ship? Zora, think about this for a minute. Do you have any idea how many eggs a Space Slug lays?”
“Well, how many?”
“I don’t know, but the common garden slug can lay between six and eight hundred.”
“Oh.” Zora bit her lip. She gave Neela a sticky pat and frowned. “But.”
“No, Zora. Just thank your lucky stars she doesn’t fancy yellow.”
She snuck a peak around Neela, whose fat tail section stretched at least half-way across the bay. The floor gleamed with cast-off sticky, and the walls had been criss-crossed with it until they shimmered. Teepo clung to the farthest one, nearly to the roof and quivering from his stubby eyestalks to his tapered yellow tail. He rippled, swiveled his eyes back and forth and let out the most pathetic Neep ever uttered.
“He’s so sad,” Zora said. “She won’t even acknowledge that he’s there.”
“Maybe it is just the ship, Zora.” For whatever reason, possibly the forlorn sound of Teepo’s weak mating call, Murray felt she needed to say something encouraging. “Maybe on a planet, with room to move around. A lot of species won’t breed in a confined environment.”
The sight of Zora hugging her slug almost killed the urge. “Yes, Zora. Really.” Murray sighed and gave up. “Maybe if you found some record of their physiology, preferred habits, anything. I’m sure there’s a database somewhere we could access that might help.”
“Oh, Mur! Thank you!”
She drew the line when Zora dove forward to hug her. The last thing her sister had touched was thirty feet tall and covered in slime. Murray ducked the gesture and backed toward the doorway. “You’re welcome,” she said. “I’ll see what I can find, but I’m not promising anything, Zora.”
“You’ll figure it out.” Zora grinned and squelched back to Neela. “You always sort everything out, Mur.”
When she’d escaped, when the cargo bay doors slid shut and she was alone in the hallway, Murray grinned. She leaned against the wall and checked her wound, though she’d felt very little in the way of pain for days. She sorted everything out? Then how come she hadn’t apologized to her android yet?
She really needed to get around to that one. Now she added matchmaking for two giant gastropods to her to-do list. Murray had a feeling she’d just played right into Zora’s hands, but she didn’t care. She always managed to sort everything out. Zora had a point. But before she started, she intended to enjoy Jebezel’s.
Murray really did have a craving for an Earth Burger.