The Alien-Human Relations department hid on the lowest level of the station that could conceivably house living creatures. Below it, the gears and mechanisms hummed. The station engines, the esoteric machines that ran things like: life support, orbital stability and sensor arrays groaned and rattled with their joint efforts until the hallways above constantly vibrated.
Murray eyed the nearest wall as if it might reach out and trip her. “They don’t exactly make access convenient, do they?”
“If they did, they might have to do paperwork.” Zora shrugged and gave her a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “We’ll find it, Mur.”
The hallway curved along with the arc of the station’s outer wall. The floor had never seen a mop, and the lighting barely counted as illumination. Each office doorway boasted a rectangular reflector that glowed pale blue--a dotted line of rooms--and each door’s designation could be read, if one squinted hard enough, below.
“Medical records.” Zora called them off as they passed. “Employee records, Accounting, Maintenance Data, Security Records.”
“That’s it.” Murray stopped and peered at the stenciled letters. “They said I could lodge a formal complaint here.” She pushed against the door with a leaden arm. They’d already gone through this three times on other levels. Three times they’d been redirected, schmoozed, sent to a different department. What were the odds she’d find out anything here?
The Alien-Human Relations department had done little to impress her so far, and she found Security Records equally predictable. The office was deserted, like the halls and the lifts that led to this part of the station. Filth and detritus lingered in the corners of the waiting area, and the pseudo-skin couches did everything but suggest you actually sit on them.
“At least they’re consistent.” Zora squished her face into a picture of disgust and slid sideways past the closest chair.
Murray watched her approach the dingy counter and suffered her tenth pang of despair. No one would give them any information, and every minute that passed meant Rook slipping further away. She’d promised Zor she wouldn’t panic, but when the woman behind the plasti-glass shook her head, it was all Murray could do not to run up and bang her fists against the window.
“Thank you,” Zora took the packet of forms the woman passed through a slot and turned back toward the door. “Come on, Mur.”
She didn’t like the look on Zora’s face or the thickness of the forms she held, but she followed her out into the hallway. What choice did she have? But when they stood in the blue glow again, she let her calm crack a little. “Well? What did she give you?”
“The run-around.” Zora started off down the hallway.
“Wait!” Murray planted her feet on the spot and crossed her arms. She ignored the pressure building behind her eyes. “What about the forms? Can’t we lodge a complaint?”
“If you want to wait three months for a response,” Zora snapped. “I’m sick of this crap. Come on.”
“Where now? They won’t even let us see him, won’t even tell me what he did.” Her voice trailed off to a whisper. Did she really want to know what he did?
“Well I’m tired of playing this their way,” Zora said. “And I’d bet my next meal the computers in these offices are all connected.”
“Ha.” Zora stuck out her hip and tossed her hair. “Just you watch.”
She took off again, using a stride that Murray labeled “full tart mode.” She didn’t care. If Zora could help her, help Rook, she’d forgive almost anything. At each doorway, they stopped while Zora snuck a peek inside. Each time she shook her head, spared Murray a flicker of a glance and then darted forward to the next in line. Murray slumped against the wall and waited for the latest result. This time, however, Zora grinned. She shut the door and adjusted the front of her shirt until her cleavage miraculously appeared.
“Just follow my lead.”
“What?” Before Murray could insist on her modesty, Zora pulled open the door, this time wide enough to admit them. A chime rang as Zora crossed the threshold.
Murray kept her shirt properly buttoned, but followed her sister into the room. If she swung her hips in a more demure imitation of Zora’s movements, it was only with the thought of helping find Rook. She squinted at the painted designation as she passed under the reflector and frowned. Intoxicant Testing? What Zora had up her sleeve, Murray could only guess, but it was definitely starting to scare her.
The room didn’t have a couch. It didn’t even have a counter. An electronic poster flashed against one wall, and a 3-D copier dominated the opposite one. The machine sported a crudely written “out of order” sign attached with enough tape to mummify a standard sized humanoid. Zora ignored both and sauntered directly to the stubby desk and its lone occupant.
“Hi.” Zora’s voice infused the word with several, naughty syllables.
“Hi,” Murray parroted without the added effect.
“Huh?” The kid looked up from his sandwich. He had a young face and a shock of scruffy hair, but the expression held too much suspicion for real youth.
“Excuse me.” Zora tried demure next. “But my sister and I need your help.”
“We need your help,” Murray said. “Help.”
“Right.” He picked up the sandwich again and wiped a smear of peanut butter from the desk top. “Wrong office.”
“You’ll have to excuse my sister.” Zora glared in her direction. “She’s emotionally distraught.”
Murray held her tongue. She understood that look just fine.
“Huh. Well, we don’t do damsels in distress here.”
“Right.” Zora sat on the edge of the desk. “I totally understand.” She nodded and smiled like a cat. Murray took a step away. “I didn’t catch your name.”
“Okay, Dylan. I understand. Wrong office, Mur.” Zora shrugged, but didn’t budge from the edge of his desk. Instead, she leaned forward until Dylan’s eyes boggled. “Maybe you could give us some advice, though, Dylan. You see we’re trying to find out what happened to a friend of ours.”
“A friend?” Dylan gulped and set the sandwich down without taking a bite.
“Do you have computer access?”
“Yeah, but we’re not authorized…”
“Mur, why don’t you wait in the hall?”
Murray didn’t argue. She didn’t lecture, or even consider it. She cast a parting look at the poor kid, hopelessly outmatched and practically drooling, and dove for the door. She trusted Zora. The woman was in her arena, and Murray felt certain of their triumph.
She waited outside, leaning against the wall between doors where the reflector’s glow didn’t reach her. She trusted Zora, but she still felt sick, still feared any answers they might get. She needed a nap. She needed a cup of black coffee, even the nasty stuff at Jebezels would work, and she needed her android back. She needed Rook.
When the door opened again, she nearly jumped out of her skin. Her heart thumped as Zora slid back into view, almost unruffled, almost buttoned up. She tossed her hair over her shoulder grinned at Murray. “I got it, Mur.” Her hand flipped up, a single data disk held between two sharp nails. “I got everything.”
Murray’s nerves danced around a wave of guilt. She couldn’t help but ask. “What did it cost you?”
“Nothing,” Zora shrugged it off. “Not much, anyway. He’s just a kid.”
“Don’t thank me, Mur.” Zora waved the disk a little, and the bottom dropped out of Murray’s victory. “You’re not going to like this one bit.”