“They’re really serious.” Zora knelt on the bench and peeked through the slat blinds at the scene in the street. “I mean—really serious.”
Bull snorted and refused to look. He leaned against the counter where a secretary had, moments before, taken their names and vanished through a sliding security panel. Murray paced in front of him, stealing nervous peeks at the panel with each pass. She’d had about enough Bull for one day.
She stalked across the room and joined Zora at the window.
“It shouldn’t be long, now.” Bull shifted his tie and stared at the place they’d last seen the secretary. “Protocol, you know.”
“More like bureaucracy.” Murray doubted her nerves could handle much more of either. Her blood pressure had reached critical mass.
Before she could explode, the panel slid aside again. The secretary addressed Bull, handing him a familiar device and glancing over his shoulder at Murray.
“No physical contact whatsoever.”
The female Damascans wore bodies to indicate their difference. Murray didn’t know if it was by choice, or a product of dealing with the IRC designers, but the humanoid housings were built to accommodate two genders. The secretary had a slightly golden tint and curved where Bull and Rook angled.
Bull muttered something in response before turning back to them. He waved Rook’s remote control toward the panel and nodded for Murray to join him. “Only one visitor at a time, I’m afraid. Aside from counsel.”
“No worries.” Zora tore her gaze from the window long enough to wave them on. “I’ll wait here.”
Murray followed Bull through the security panel. She didn’t miss the micro-scanners that subtly frisked them as they passed or the superior expression on the secretary’s face when she thought they were out of sight. She ground her teeth together and ignored both.
The second scan was overt. The short hall ended in a guard station, and a series of large infrared eyes that combed over every inch of her. When they passed, another panel opened, and Bull led her into a perpendicular hallway lined with numbered doors.
When they stopped outside of one, her pulse stuttered. She had no idea what type of reception waited for her, hadn’t had time to decide exactly what she intended to say. Was she angry or just terrified? The door slid away and Bull led her inside.
She never saw the room. A table and two chairs sat in the center. She focused on the man waiting there, slid into the empty seat and stared across at him. He wore a gray jumpsuit and the same body the majority of his people wore. Yet Murray didn’t doubt his identity for a second.
“Doctor Murray.” He folded his hands together on the table and stared down at them.
Murray reached out on reflex. Her hand hovered over the table when Bull cleared his throat in warning. She let it drop inches from a silver finger.
“I’m not to allow any contact.” Bull did a decent job of sounding apologetic.
“Why didn’t you stay on the ship?” She frowned at their hands. Her brain couldn’t think of anything else to say. She sounded pathetic, desperate and she knew it.
“It was worth it.”
“No it wasn’t.” Her anger surged in to uncork her tongue. “It wasn’t at all. It might have been, if you’d told me—if you’d said anything—if.”
“If you’d known I wasn’t an android?”
Their eyes lifted at the same time. Murray inhaled and held his gaze. What would have happened, if she’d known then? If she’d known from the beginning?
“Maybe. Yes. It definitely would have helped.”
“My kind are not well thought of.” His finger twitched toward her hand, stopped just short of touching. “When we first met, I couldn’t be sure you wouldn’t turn me in. Then I decided to explain and--.”
“And I never gave you a chance.” Murray sighed. They’d made quite a mess of things.
“I had plenty of chances. I could have found time.”
Murray slid her hand over his and held her breath. Rook’s chest pinged softly, and his hands turned over, his fingers wove between hers. Either Bull didn’t notice, or he pretended not to, Murray didn’t care to guess which.
“We both screwed up.” She shook her head. “Now we just need to sort out how to fix it.”
“I broke the treaty intentionally.”
“I was hoping you’d been kidnapped.”
“Bull told me.” His thumb brushed across her palm, and his fingers slipped along hers in a secret caress. “I don’t believe in the treaty. I think we should be free to come and go, to see the whole universe of things we’re missing out on just because the rest of the galaxy fears our differences.”
“I agree.” Murray traced his fingers with her own and sighed. Their hands danced together, sending little sparks through her nervous system. “I don’t think it’s right to keep your people hostage on their home world.”
“Good. I’m glad you agree.” The hum in his chest pitched a fraction higher. “I’d hate to die for a cause the woman I love didn’t believe in.”
“I don’t know which part of that sentence to deal with first.” Her hands trembled, and she felt pressure building behind her eyes. “I love you.”
“They’re going to execute me, Murray.”
She shook her head. He loved her, fine. He called her by name, finally. He had no intention of defending himself. He meant to die.
“Well,” She took a deep breath. “I have a real problem with that.”
His hand tightened. She heard his chest ping and leaned forward to meet him. His free arm reached for her, tried to pull her into the embrace, but it froze a good six inches from her shoulder. His whole body froze. The gaze still burned, and Murray stared into it.
“Really, Bull?” She tried not to snarl.
“I’m sorry. They monitor the room.” He stepped around the table and placed a hand on Rook’s back. “I am sorry.”
“Sorry?” Murray laughed. “If you’re sorry, then defend him.” She lunged forward and pressed her lips against Rook’s. It wasn’t a proper kiss, and he couldn’t return it. But his chest pinged, and her resolve flared.
“I can’t allow--.”
She sat back and waved Bull to silence. “I don’t care. Not about the stupid rules and not about the treaty or the cause or the stupid activists. I’m not allowing either one of you to give up.”
“We have no case.” Bull argued.
Murray stood up. She turned on the lawyer and brought out her best no-nonsense, all business, attitude. “Well,” She set her shoulders and stared him down. “Then I suppose you and I had better get to work.”