Chapter 7:- The Crash
“Is she okay?”
“Shhh. Doctor Murray?”
“Don’t shush me, Stud. That’s my sister.” Zora’s voice trembled in an un-Zora like manner.
“Doctor Murray? Can you hear me?”
“Mmmmm yeah.” Murray opened her eyes and found two faces staring at her. Rook’s angular mouth folded down into a frown. Zora looked too worried for Murray’s comfort. She must be pretty bad off. There should be more pain. She grinned at her sister. “Frowning causes wrinkles,” she said.
“Right,” Zora said. She attempted a half-hearted smile that told Murray she’d really been concerned. “Can’t have that.”
“So,” Murray wiggled her fingers and toes with a sigh of relief. “Not dead, then. But how bad is it?”
“You’re such a pessimist, Mur.” Zora stood and smoothed her skirt. She patted at her immaculate hair and looked back down over one shoulder. “You’re just banged up a bit.”
“You suffered some minor lacerations,” Rook’s face blocked out the image of Zora primping. “We were concerned when you remained unconscious for so long after the crash.” So they had crashed.
“The ship?” she asked hopefully. Rook shook his head. “We’re on the planet?” He nodded. “Well, at least it seems to have a proper atmosphere.”
She sat up, and her “lacerations” sent stabs of pain through both her arms and one leg. “Ow, crap.” Bruises made purple smudges along her limbs, criss-crossed by scratches that puckered with dried blood. “I’m a mess,” she said.
Truly, her sleeveless shirt had been painted with grease marks and heavy splotches of what had to be mud. Her lab coat lay in a heap beside her, but if her arms were any indication, it was shredded. She sighed, then eyed her two companions. Zora looked like she’d just had a shower and a trip to the day spa. Murray frowned. Rook bore a few traces of dried mud, but appeared completely undamaged. What the hell?
“So, did you two just happen to land on me?”
“This body is extremely resistant to damage.”
“Neela saved me.” Zora shrugged and then scanned around to either side. “Where did she get to?”
“The slug saved her?” She turned to find Rook watching her.
“It seems that the creature enveloped her seconds before impact.”
“Enveloped? Never mind. I don’t want to know.” She shifted her weight to the other hip and toyed with the idea of standing. Rook left her, and she took a moment to survey her immediate surroundings. She wished she hadn’t.
The wreckage of their stolen ship still encased her, twisted and obviously beyond repair. A slash in the cabin over her head let in the dim light and allowed her a view of thick, shiny foliage. Not a great view; it screamed jungle.
“Mur,” Zora stepped over the ruined doorway and knelt beside her. Her voice carried the hush of conspiracy. “I have to talk to you.”
“I’m all right, Zor. Just sore and…”
“Not that.” Zora flipped her hair back. “It’s that robot.”
“Not now, Zor.”
“Listen, there’s something wonky about …”
“Yes, Rook?” Murray leaned around her sister.
The android stood just outside the wreckage. “I’ve managed to salvage a hand-held. If any of the systems survived the crash, I might be able to download some functions to the portable.”
“That’s excellent,” Murray said. She arched an eyebrow at her sister and smiled. “Thank you, Rook.”
“If you’re feeling up to it, I believe our next move should be to secure…”
“Food, shelter, water?” Murray put a hand on Zora’s shoulder and pulled herself into a standing position. “Good idea.”
“Mur,” Zora hissed in her ear.
“Have you two scouted around at all?” Murray leaned against Zora, but ignored her whispers for attention. “If you can possibly download a scanning program, basic medical database, any data on the location...”
She let go of Zora and heaved a leg over the ships’ hull. It felt good to be discussing the situation rationally, logically. Her foot came down on the other side, and she felt it sink into something soft. Mud, she thought, right. She looked down at the splatter of wet, reddish soil marking her pants and pressed her lips tightly. How was it that Zora…she examined her sister again. Had Rook said, engulfed?
“Why aren’t you all sticky?” Murray demanded.
“I’m serious. Rook said that thing enveloped you. Why aren’t you covered in slime?”
“Murray, we’ve got bigger things to worry about.”
“Why aren’t you dirty? Your hair isn’t mussed. Your clothes have no wrinkles.” The more she thought about it, the weirder is seemed. And Zora looked guilty—even more so than usual.
“It’s the Nanites,” Rook said. He stopped next to Murray without looking at either of them, his gaze held by the portable, hand-held unit he carried. “They’re constantly grooming her.”
Murray bounced a look back and forth between them. Rook continued to fiddle with the module, while Zora stared daggers at him.
“Nanites?” Murray’s hands rested on her hips. “When did you go cybernetic?”
“They’re not cybernetic.” Zora pouted and tapped her foot. “And they’re very rare proto-types, thank you very much.”
“Sounds expensive. How’d you do it? Or should I say who’d you…”
“Watch it.” Zora glared at Murray now, then nodded toward Rook and widened her eyes. “Say, stud,” she said, still staring meaningfully at Mur. “How’d you know about the Nanites?”
“I can hear them,” Rook said. Finally, he looked up at them. “I’ve managed to download the contents of the ships files, and most of the programs,” he said.
“That’s great,” Murray said.
“Yeah, great.” Zora stretched her eyes until they watered. “I’d even say it’s pretty amazing, wouldn’t you, Mur?”
“About as amazing as those micro groomers,” Murray said. “How’d you get ‘em, Zor?”
“Okay, fine. Let’s focus on Zora. I get it.”
“Doctor Murray, I’ve found the location information.”
“Thanks, Rook.” Murray turned away from Zora’s pout and leaned closer to the android and his hand-held. “You dated someone from I.R.C?”
“No,” Zora said. “Wait, the what?”
“The Institute for Robotics and Cybernetics,” Rook said.
“I knew it,” Murray said. She didn’t look up, but let the silence build around them instead, and waited. Zora couldn’t stand quiet for long. In the meantime, Murray examined the planetary data that Rook had salvaged. Habitable, it said, but not Gal-fed. Population centers: unknown.
“If you must know,” Zora said. “I’m participating in a scientific study.”
“You’re what?” Murray couldn’t help but turn back to her. “A what?”
“She’s a test subject,” Rook said.
Both women spun on him. He didn’t look up, didn’t alter his facial mask in the slightest. His expression remained fixed—intense, focused. Murray looked at Zora, who made the wide-eyed face again and tilted her head in Rook’s direction. Murray sighed. It had sounded a little bit like humor. But the idea seemed ridiculous, even in her mind. She shrugged and went back to the data.
“Fine,” Zora said. “Fine. How about you two put all that brain power to use for once and help me find Neela.”
“The slug is missing?” Murray asked.
“She wandered off, Mur.” Zora’s eyes misted again, and Murray considered to odds that the emotion might be genuine. “She might have gotten lost, or something could have happened to her.”
“The slug? Zora, she’s a wild animal, an enormous wild animal. I’m sure she’s fine.”
“But what if she’s not?”
“All right, Zor.” Murray caved. They needed to get their bearings anyway. “We’ll look for her.” In the jungle, she thought--traipsing through an alien jungle looking for their lost space slug.
“It shouldn’t be difficult to locate,” Rook added. His gleaming arm pointed to the edge of the foliage across from the swath their impact had demolished. Murray narrowed her eyes and tried to see what he indicated. If she tilted her head just a little, a section of jungle shone in the wan light. The leaves of the plants in that area glistened with a thin layer of slime.
“So we just follow the sticky stuff?” Murray asked.
“It should lead us to the creature.”
“Yay!” Zora clapped her hands and danced in place. “Let’s go.”
Murray hesitated. An unknown jungle spread in all directions. It was dark in there, and full of who knew what.
“Doctor Murray,” Rook said. “I believe the portable unit is ready for use.” He held out the metal unit, offered it to her.
“Thanks.” She wrapped her fingers around it. He might have kept it; she’d thought he intended to. The gesture conveyed more than control over the unit, and Murray knew it. She knew he knew it too. She tapped the palm sized screen and pulled up the scanning function, pointed the forward sensors at the slime trail and heard a reassuring bleep. She had no idea what it meant.
“Well then,” she said, standing taller and pressing her shoulders back. “We go that way.”