Chapter 41:- A New Bob
Zora squealed and ducked behind her slug. She hit the grass and crawled out of sight, her short skirt revealing more of her choice in panties than Murray had ever hoped to see. She shuddered and peeked around the slimy pink wall that was Neela’s neck. “What the hell are you doing.?”
“Shhh.” Zora’s hair stuck to the side of the mollusk, gooed in place. She leaned against her pet and shook her head. “I’m not here. You haven’t seen me.”
Murray sighed and looked back toward the garden’s entrance. The force field that should have stretched between the gateposts had dropped, and Ignatius Superius I approached, trailing at least two of his wives and a half a dozen clones in various costumes.
“What is it with this guy?” Murray looked back to find Zora missing. She’d, no doubt, crawled into the nearest shrub to hide. “Damn it, Zor.”
“Doctor Livingston!” The Emperor called out to her, spooking the smaller, lemon-yellow slug. It bolted for the nearest copse of bushes, and to Murray’s delight, evoked a flurry of cussing from the shrubbery as it disappeared into the same cover her sister had chosen.
She turned to the Emperor, flashed a grin and waved. “Hello!”
“Doctor Livingston, hello!” The whole group stopped and clustered about twelve feet away from the giant pink slug. “How are our big friends this morning?”
“I should suspect, tired.” Murray shrugged. “Joe’s team has found seven egg clusters already.”
“Is your sister around?”
“I thought, perhaps, the lovely Zora might be out here with you. You haven’t seen her?” She shook her head and watched the Emperor deflate. His poor, ordinary shoulders slumped and he nodded. “Well, that’s too bad.”
“I’m sure she’s around.”
“Yes, well, I‘m sure we’ll run into each other eventually.”
Murray felt a stab of pity for him. The guy just didn’t get how outmatched he was on that front. “I had good news this morning.” She changed the subject before his disappointment could move her to rat out her sister. “The ISPCA has located several planets suitable for Slug repopulation.”
“And willing?” He’d developed quite the interest in the species’ survival.
“It seems so. I’m sure the organization pulled out a few of its more useful persuasions, but they’ll only consider governments that pass protective measures.”
“Good. And we’ll have a population here as well?”
“Thank you. If my people were discovered--.”
“I only told them that we had eggs, nothing about the breeding pair.”
“I appreciate that.” His eyes, and his whole manner, turned stoic. When it came to his people’s welfare, Ignatius didn’t muck about. Murray admired the hell out of him for it.
“I’ll tell Zor you’re looking for her.”
He smiled back and nodded, then stepped right up to Neela and gave her a sticky pat. If he seemed to glance pointedly at the bushes, Murray might have imagined it. She waited while the entourage departed, watched until the Emperor had re-activated the force field and disappeared from view before commenting.
“You slept with him, didn’t you?”
The bushes rattled fiercely in answer. Murray turned and watched Zora brushing the leaves from her hair and clothing. She waited. When Zora met her gaze, Murray gave her the old eyebrow arch.
“You said you didn’t.”
“I said I didn’t sleep with him to get the ship. I didn’t. I traded my nanites for the ship.”
“But you did sleep with him.”
Zora examined her feet and said nothing.
“Is he the father?” Murray watched Zora’s shoulders come up. An expression flirted across her face, squinting, vacillating. “You don’t know? Jeeze, Zor!”
“Well, it’s complicated.”
“I can imagine.”
They both took a deep breath and stared at one another. Zora cracked a sideways grin and Murray couldn’t help but return it.
“You know me.” Zor shrugged again.
“Yeah. I do.”
“So. What about you? When’s your boyfriend get out of the shop?”
Murray sighed and tried to ignore the terrified knot in her stomach. “They said any time today or tomorrow depending on how quickly he adapts to the new matrix.”
“Probably today, then.”
“Because I think he’s in a hurry.” Zora grinned and pointed a dagger nail back towards the gate. “And, also, there’s a funky-looking Bob heading this way.”
The knot swelled into a wave of panic. Murray’s knees turned as gelatinous as Neela, minus the goo factor. She felt sick and dizzy and considered, just for a second, bolting for the shrubbery.
“Wow. You just turned all sorts of green.” Zora put her hands on her hips and tapped one heeled foot against the sticky grass. “Are you scared?”
“No.” Murray groaned and bent over. “How close is he?”
“About half-way. Maybe it’s not even him. No, wait. That has to be him. Did you pick that?”
“I bet you did.”
She stood and glowered at her sister. If Zora hadn’t been pregnant, she’d have smacked her a good one. It must have showed. Zora took a big step backwards.
“Maybe I’ll go check on Teepo.” She knew she was out of range, or she wouldn’t have grinned quite like that. She wouldn’t have spun in so cocky a fashion before she headed back into the bushes.
Murray held her breath. She listened and counted seconds until the crunch of feet against grass sent another spasm of nerves flaring. What if it wasn’t him? What if it was? How the hell would she be certain? They should have asked Ignatius how many of that particular model might be strolling around—strolling pointedly through the exact garden where she waited. Damn it. The footsteps stopped crunching.
“Murray?” It was Bob’s voice. Had she expected different?
She turned around, didn’t quite lift her eyes--a pair of black trousers, boots against a sparkling green background. “Hmmm?”
“Doctor Murray.” The inflection almost seemed familiar.
She dragged her gaze to the white shirt, filmy and open at the front. An image of Zander flashed through her mind. Damn. Her knees quavered again. Had he worn that on purpose? He didn’t speak again, just waited for her to face him. She wasn’t sure she could do it.
The moment stretched. Her throat dried out, threatened to close. She felt asinine, standing there not looking at him. What if it was just another Bob? The idea, the embarrassment, forced her to look.
All her doubt swept aside in an instant. He didn’t even look like a Bob. “Rook.”
The nervous smile was new, but she’d seen the look smoldering in his eyes more than once. It might have been Bob’s face, but somehow Rook owned it. His cybernetic eyes glinted silver, and the chrome hair finished the trick. She knew him. She knew exactly who he was.
“What do you think?” He swept his hands out and executed a tentative half turn. His head tilted to one side. Murray heard the deeper question.
“I love you,” she said.
His head snapped up, and his eyes flashed.
“What do you think, Rook? How’s humanity?” Her voice faltered, emotions threatening to fracture her control.
“It’s scary.” He spoke softly, but he took a step closer. “I feel everything. My clothes, the air, every movement, it’s all--new.”
She could imagine. A central nervous system would be one hell of an adjustment. The constant sensory messages alone would--. He grabbed her, lightening fast and without warning. His arms came around her waist and she let out a tiny, terribly cliché, “eek.”
Her body recovered fast enough. He pressed her closer and leaned into her neck, breathed across her skin and sent her arms grabbing for his shirt, neck, any part of him. He whispered, “I love you,” and they were kissing—free, unfettered and unhurried kissing.
She pulled away, laughed softly at the look on his face, Rook’s expression, unmistakable. “What? What is it?”
“It’s so fast.” He shook his head. “The sensations register too quickly to process a suitable reaction.”
“I love it when you talk android.”
“I’m serious.” He frowned, and the spot between his eyes crinkled. She’d never noticed that on Bob either. “What if I make an incorrect movement?”
Murray sighed and ran a finger along his jaw. The small muscle there contracted, tensed in an involuntary reflex. Behind him, the Emperor’s city sparkled in the sunlight. Behind her, a giant slug nibbled at the foliage where her sister hid, possibly carrying the Emperor’s illegitimate child. He was worried about making a mistake. She felt a bubble of hysteria, pushed it firmly aside and kissed him instead.
“Oh Rook.” She tucked her head under his chin and felt his arms lock around her. “This is going to be so much fun.”