“Do you think he wanted to come?” Murray stared across the diner, over the packed tables and a sea of sentient species. “It’s not really fair to make him stay with the ship.”
“He’s an android, Mur.” Zora blinked at her over the top of her menu. It flashed and scrolled today’s special across the front for the hundredth time. “I doubt he could enjoy the food, and someone needed to keep an eye on our cargo.”
“But, maybe he wanted to come along.” Babysitting the slug duo didn’t count for much of a break in Murray’s book.
“I doubt it. He’s been trying to wiggle out of coming here for days.”
“He’s your android, Mur. If you ask me acting weird seems to be part of its programming.” Zora shrugged and turned back to the menu. “What are you having?”
“I don’t know. Horrible coffee and a burger the size of my head?”
“You know what I think?” Zora put down her menu and leaned back against the squishy, metallic booth. “I think you wish he’d come along.”
“Don’t be stupid, Zor.” Murray hid behind her own menu. “What are you having?”
“Earth burger.” Zora grinned maniacally over the electronic plastic. “And a fry weave, a thunder shake and a side of Martian holo-relish.”
“Is that all?”
They stared at each other. Jebezel’s hover bubbles danced their light show overhead, casting kaleidoscopic patterns across the diners’ features. The background music whined and thumped until the gelatinous furniture bounced them gently up and down. The conversation, in several dozen different languages, drowned most of it out, but the patrons could feel the tunes literally vibrating through the restaurant.
“Did he tell you why he didn’t want to come?” Murray narrowed her eyes and tried to stare down her bobbing sister. “Or not?”
“Not.” Zora frowned and looked past Murray to the crowd. “Why don’t you just sleep with the metal man and get it over with, Mur. This crap is getting old.”
Before she could scramble up a retort, the bot arrived to take their order. It floated just above her shoulder, humming faintly and blinking its friendly green smile at them. Aside from the light show, it looked exactly like a miniature version of the beer keg that had stunned her.
“Have you decided?” It purred at them, and Murray flinched.
Zora rattled off her order, the bot recording every word, and then turned back to people watching while Murray ordered her Earth burger and coffee. She sighed, and rolled her eyes, but kept her mouth shut. The bot hummed off toward the kitchen, and Zora didn’t speak.
Murray waited. She didn’t want to talk about Rook. Still, Zora just stared out across the room and said nothing. It was an old game, and one Murray rarely won. She drummed her fingers on the table and tried to ignore Zora ignoring her.
The lights danced overhead. The furniture bounced and hummed, and the restaurant’s customers babbled in every language under the nearest sun. Her sister’s lips pressed together as if glued. Murray caved, “I just don’t know.”
Zora raised an eyebrow and made a clueless face—as if she had no idea what Murray meant, as if she hadn’t started it.
Murray leaned forward and whispered, “I can’t.” She looked to either side of the table, scanned the crowd for signs that anyone nearby might be listening. “Can I?”
Zora didn’t flinch. Her expression didn’t even crack. She leaned forward until their noses almost touched. Her exaggerated whisper echoed around the tables, “Yes!”
“Shhh! Jeeze, Zor. Keep it down.”
“Sleep with the android, and I’ll shut up about it, Mur. I can’t live with you two like this anymore.”
Murray sat back and frowned. “You don’t think it will be a mistake, you know, afterwards?”
“Of course it’s a mistake, Mur.” Zora shrugged off the repercussions, the potential awkwardness, and the moral implications like she shrugged off everything else. “I’ll tell you a secret, Mur. Most of the fun in this universe is a mistake afterwards. You should learn to make a few from time to time.”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, I do. Shit!” Zora ducked down and threw one of the menus up in front of her face. “Mur, quick, hide me.”
“What?” She turned around, twisted to see the restaurant entrance. The alien standing there, scanning for an empty table, gave her nerves a terrified little jolt. “Oh!” She ducked down in her own seat and grabbed for her menu. “I thought your slug, you know.”
“It’s his brother,” Zora whispered. This time, she got the volume right.
Murray snuck another peek around the side of her chair. The four-armed sibling to Zora’s last fiancé wandered between the tables. He headed for a far corner. “It’s all right.” She sat up just as the bot returned with their tray. “I don’t think he saw you.”
“Good.” Zora tossed her hair and reached for the towering fry weave.
“Do you think he’s looking for us?”
“Because we killed his brother, maybe?”
“Uh-uh. He hated Crantok.”
“So, why are you hiding from him, then?” Murray watched her unthread a fry and stuff it down. She sipped her coffee and waited while Zora took a slurp of her shake.
“It’s a long story,” Zora said when she came up for air. She waved her hand around and rolled her eyes. “You know.”
Murray could have sworn she blushed a little. “Never mind, Zor.” Anything that could make Zora blush was too much for her. “I don’t want to know.”
She paced across the carpet for the tenth time. What did Zora know? She turned on a heel and crossed the room again. Her room, she tried not to note that Zora had her own, that it would take the press of one button to contact the ship docked a few levels down.
Damn it, she knew a mistake when she stared down the barrel of one. Zora might be able to handle more than her share of morning-after guilt, but Murray doubted her own tolerance for it. She could use to check on the slugs, though. It might even be wise to just go on down there and…
“Stupid, stupid, stupid.” Murray stomped her foot at herself and flopped down on the bed just as the door buzzed. With a groan, she heaved back to her feet and stalked to the wall panel. “Go away, Zora.” She pressed the door release. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
The door slid open, revealing a wall of gleaming, silver muscle. Murray took a step back. She stuffed her hands into her robe pockets and dug her nails into her palms.
“Doctor Murray?” Rook took her retreat as an invitation and stepped into the room. “I thought we might have that talk now.”