Chapter 39:- The Hand-held
“Zora, what have you done?” Murray clung to the door frame and fought off the urge to vomit. She dragged her eyes across the carnage inside her sister’s room. The wad of bedcovers tossed in one corner left the cot’s mattress exposed, and the bare material lay under a small mountain of Earth Burger wrappers. She didn’t linger too long on the grease stains seeping from the mess. No wonder Zora had been sick.
The bed and sea of clutter, however, hadn’t set her stomach clenching. The sight of a familiar duffle bag had. The duffle bag and the glinting row of vials lined up on the floor beside it. Each one encased a pulsing blue sphere. Her fingers did their best to dig into the metal bulkhead. The floor tilted sharply under her quaking legs. “Did you steal them?”
“No.” Zora brushed past her and kicked aside a pile of clothing. “God, Mur.” She settled on the floor cross-legged and leaned back against her cot. Her hand slid into the crack under the bad and pulled out Murray’s hand-held. “Leer gave them to me. We needed the blanks for decoys when we pulled off the switch. Except, I kind of got them mixed up and now I can’t figure out which one’s which.”
“I knew you had my computer. Zora how could you---what? You did what?”
“It’s not my fault.” Zora’s bottom lip extended. “They all look the same, and everyone was pushing, and the freaking lights were out, Mur. I mean, who could expect me to keep them straight?” She shrugged and picked up one of the vials, held it up to the room’s overheads and peered in at the Damascan inside.
“Zora.” Murray’s throat closed on the word. Her stomach rolled and she felt her legs give out. She landed hard on one hip in the doorway and never took her gaze off the vials. “Zora!”
Zora looked away from the Damascan and blinked at her.
“You said you pulled off the switch?”
“Oh. Right. Well we only really needed a minute, you know. Just to get him away from the cameras long enough to swap for the blank Leer had programmed.”
“Programmed?” She felt her chest squeeze and pushed the patter of hope away. It wasn’t possible. But the row of vials held her attention, took her breath completely away.
“With Leer’s speech. Mur, they wouldn’t let me tell you. They said if it didn’t work, you know?”
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“Then I got them all mixed up and now I can’t remember which one is, is--.”
“Oh, God, Zora.” Murray crawled closer. The guilty look on her sister’s face barely registered through the fog around her. Six blue spheres registered. A seventh hovered like a brand in front of Zora’s face. “You mean one of these is Rook?”
The blurry face nodded. “I tried them all in here.” Zora flipped over the hand-held computer. The back compartment gaped open, and someone had modified the machine’s internal structure.
Murray guessed Leer had. Leer, who’d programmed a blank clone to deliver a speech he’d written, to play out the martyr’s role, to play Rook’s part so they could spare his life.
“But I may have gotten confused,” Zora continued. “I lined them all up, and I think I started from this end, but maybe I didn’t put them all in.”
“You mean it didn’t work?” The nausea washed back to the surface. Of course it hadn’t worked. Rook was dead, and this was impossible.
“I’m just not sure.” Zora hung her head. She set the vial back into the line. Seven spheres glowed against the steel flooring. “I’m sorry.”
“We have to be sure.” She had to be sure. Enough hope clawed at her heart. She couldn’t give up until she had no doubt left. “We’ll try them all again.”
Zora nodded and picked up a vial from the farthest end of the line. She pried up the lid and rolled the Damascan sphere into her palm. The glow didn’t change. The light didn’t even flicker when Zora rested the ball inside the hand-held.
Murray leaned forward. She couldn’t help it. She stared at the familiar image, a knot of blue surrounded by circuits and remembered that first touch, the tendrils of light snaking out into the back of Rook’s head, his initial words. Greetings…
Nothing happened. Zora shrugged as if the world didn’t depend on her actions and used her finger to pop the sphere back out of the computer. She set it back in line and picked up the vial beside it.
“It took awhile.” Murray scooted even closer. The floor tiles pressed a pattern into her hands. “When we found him, it took longer than that to see anything.”
“He was dormant.” Zora tossed out the answer as if she knew all about it, as if she’d always known. Leer again. “The vials keep them in stasis. Leer said it should only take a few seconds.”
“Maybe we should give it more time, just to be sure.”
Zora popped the second Damascan out of the hand-held and set it back in line. She reached for a third.
“That’s the one you just tried.” Murray frowned at the row.
“I just did this one.” Zora pointed to the end of the line.
“But you started with that one.”
“I started over there.”
“Yes, but you put it back there.”
They stared at each other. Murray could see the argument behind Zora’s tight lips. She waited, but Zora slumped forward in defeat. “See what I mean. It’s confusing.”
“Why don’t you just set the ones you’ve tried somewhere else?” Murray reached out to pick up the one she KNEW Zora had just removed, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to touch it. Her hand hovered over the row, and she closed her eyes willed away the building pressure. It should be freaking simple to keep track of seven little vials.
She felt the tingle before she heard Zora’s gasp. Her hand warmed on one side. Little jolts darted across her palm. She opened her eyes slowly.
The third sphere from the end had sprouted tendrils. They packed the inside of the vial, twisted and pressed against the clear sides. Murray felt them reaching. She moved her hand closer and they flared and undulated around their core. She let out a rush of breath and smiled. “Let’s try this one.”
“Uh. Right.” Zora passed her the hand-held.
Her hands trembled, but she managed to pop the vial open. The Damascan sphere crawled into her palm. The tingles shot past her elbow as the tendrils explored her hand. She nudged it into the compartment and they released her, winding about their task, connecting to the machine’s matrix and taking control of the little computer.
She knew it was him before the thing beeped. She’d known it the minute she touched the sphere. It didn’t make her heart dance any less when the unfamiliar, digital voice spoke her name.
“Rook.” She pulled her hand-held onto her lap, leaned over it and shook.
“Greetings, Doctor Murray.”