Chapter 40:- Body Shop
Two giant slugs undulated beneath the amber dome. Their bodies rippled neon pink and yellow. Their antennae waved and twisted together, and the sticky swath they trailed across the grass glinted in the sunlight filtering through the barrier overhead. Slug sex, under glass.
Murray leaned an elbow against the balcony railing and smiled down at the scene. Her other arm curled protectively around a small, portable computer.
“You’re holding that thing like it’s a teddy bear.” Zora’s clipping footsteps echoed her words. She sauntered up to the rail and nodded at the hand-held.
From its speaker, Rook’s new voice answered, “I find the term ‘that thing’ highly offensive.”
“How about teddy bear?” Zora leaned her hip against the railing and made a suggestive face. Thankfully, Rook’s new body didn’t come with eyes.
“That one, I can live with,” he answered.
Murray hugged him closer and stuck her tongue out at Zora. They’d only been on the planet for two days, and she already felt relaxed, almost stress-free. Something about the champagne light, she figured. That and the luxury the Emperor’s clone devotees provided. He’d assigned at least four attendants to her alone.
“How is your slug?” She waved an arm out at the garden Ignatius designated a Space Slug preserve. “Aside from the obvious, that is.”
“I know!” Zora rolled her eyes and grinned. “They’ve found three nests already. They’re worse than--.”
“You?” Rook’s electronic voice didn’t convey humor as well as his android one, but the point hit its mark.
“Ha ha.” Zora glared at her, as if she’d done it. “Hurry up and get your boyfriend a new body so I can punch it in the face.”
“We’re working on that.” They’d been browsing clone catalogs for two days, in fact. The Emperor’s bio-engineers could do wonders with aesthetic options. So far, Rook hadn’t found one he felt would be just right. “Ignatius is giving us a tour of the cloning facility today.”
Murray didn’t miss her sister’s flinch at the mention of the Emperor.
“Good.” Zora sniffed and turned back to the view and her enamored mollusks. “It’s creepy watching you lug him around with you.”
She let it go. Zora’s weird behavior in reference to Ignatius had resurfaced the second they landed. Of course, she was also pregnant, and allowed to be a little bit off center. Either way, Murray figured things would sort themselves out. The Emperor had certainly afforded them a warm enough welcome. Besides, she had her hands full helping Rook decide on a permanent home. She’d sit Zora down for a good talk once they’d settled their own little dilemma.
“We should go now,” she said. “It’s almost time.”
“Whatever.” Zora continued to stare at the far shimmer of dome. “Good luck.”
“They all look the same.” Rook’s voice answered yet another scan with a negative. “They all look like Bob.”
“They’re clones.” Murray lowered the hand-held and shrugged apologetically at Ignatius. “The hair is different. And there’s the tattoo.”
“I’d feel like you were with Bob.”
She turned to Ignatius, who did a decent job of not looking embarrassed. “Can we have a minute alone?”
“Of course.” He didn’t manage to mask his relief, however.
Murray waited for him to step outside, taking the usual clone escort with him. When they were alone aside from the row upon row of suspended clone bodies, she tried her best to reassure him. “It will be you, Rook. It doesn’t matter what body you pick.”
“Even if it’s an android body?”
She didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely.” Leer had offered, now that his position as Chairman had been ratified and Rook’s pardon was official. “We can wait for a Damascan body, if that’s what you want.”
The green glow emanated from the suspension tubes. It cast the room into an eerie light, punctuated by the soft bubbling of distant liquid. Murray stared at the nearest Bob and shook her head. She couldn’t imagine it as Rook. It just didn’t seem right. Maybe this whole thing was a bad idea?
“Do you?” The hand-held brattled and she barely caught the question.
“Do I what?”
“Prefer an android body.”
Murray rolled her eyes, grateful that the portable version of her boyfriend needed a scanner to see her. She turned away from Bob-in-a-tube and sought out the nearest curving desk. “I don’t.” His insecure side was something new to her. He’d managed to mask it fairly well while playing android. “I don’t care what body you have, Rook. It won’t make any difference. Metal, flesh, you could stay in the hand-held if you like, so long as we’re together.”
“Yes.” It wasn’t like they’d had much physical contact anyway.
“I think I prefer the humanoid solution.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’d like to finish that massage at some point.”
She smiled and sat down, tapping the controls and bringing up the catalog display. “We can look through the options again.”
“Are you blushing, Murray?”
“Now, how would you know that?”
“Your body temperature fluctuated.”
“Hmmm. Where did we leave off? Hair? Body ornament? Cybernetics?”
“A compromise?” She flicked her fingers over the buttons and the screen shifted to a menu. “Plug in?”
Murray aligned the hand-held port with an orifice on the desk. She slid the two together and felt the connection click into place. Rook did his best to moan electronically--a new joke, and one he hadn’t tired of yet. “Oh, stop it.” She still giggled.
“You want to drive?” He didn’t answer, but the screen shifted to a display of the first Bob in the sequence. The cybernetic modifications scrolled down the left side of the page. Rook beeped and the next Bob replaced the first. He beeped again and the clone modifications flickered, flew by as he rejected one after the other at a speed her eyes couldn’t hope to keep up with.
She leaned back in the chair and watched him shop. What would it be like to have him in a Bob costume? It would certainly take some getting used to, but the Bob’s weren’t exactly unattractive. It worried her, though she’d managed to keep it to herself. She wanted to believe it would still seem like Rook, still feel like him. So far, however, she agreed with his assessment. None of the options seemed to fit.
He’d slowed his scan to a rate she could almost follow. The Bob’s still passed in a blur, but she could make out the silver flicker of metal at various limb locations.
“How about this one?” He stopped on a particularly enhanced model.
“Uh. No. But I think we need to watch Ignatius a little more closely in the future.” Murray averted her gaze and chuckled. The Bob’s flickered again, one, two, four. “Wait!” She leaned forward and squinted at the screen. “Go back.”
Rook scanned back slowly. “That one?”
“What do you think?” She stared at the modified Bob. It just might work, if he liked it.
“I think it’s perfect, Murray. Subtle, but distinct. What about you?”
“I think it suits you. I love it.”
“Then we’d better get the Emperor back in here.”
She nodded, even though he couldn’t see it. The image on the screen did suit him. Subtle, but distinct. “Perfect.”