“He’s not an android.” She stared at the screen.
“I thought you might latch onto that part.” Zora’s voice didn’t say what she had to be thinking, what Murray herself was thinking.
Not an android. She watched the station’s docking clamps release the ship. How could he not be an android? The docking bay slid by while Zora nudged the controls, easing them past the last ring pilings and into a sweep of star field. The auto pilot could take over from there, would deliver them safely through the few jumps it took to reach Damascus.
“It doesn’t say much about their physiology.”
“Their what?” Zora spun the pilot’s chair, Rook’s chair, around to face her.
“Never mind, Zor. Maybe you should check on the mollusks?”
Murray waited for her to go. She stared out at the view until the sound of Zora’s heels faded. Then her fingers twitched, brought up the file she had waiting in the console data banks. She wasn’t in love with an android. Fine. If she’d latched on to that fact, it was primarily to distract herself from the more disturbing one. He was gone, already to Damascus by now, and then what?
She read the file again. The station’s records on the Damascans covered little of their biology. She’d filtered through the cultural slant, the obvious distaste, to learn what she could. She gathered what she’d originally taken for an artificial brain had, in fact, been the sentient life form. Murray shied away from the term “Marble,” even though the report used it freely. She’d heard the bounty hunter spit the word out. Not a complimentary term, in any case. A sentient species, capable of feeling, of humanoid sentiment.
Rook. She tapped at the console absently and stared back at the stars. She’d seen him wake, take over the metal body she’d repaired. He’d even tried to tell her…I’m not. Her brow came down slightly. He might have taken over any body, as could any of his kind. Who could help but fear that kind of power? Even the Damascans feared it, eventually, once they’d evolved from dominating lower life forms, once they’d assimilated at a humanoid level, a level with a conscience.
But they’d signed the bloody treaty. Murray tapped the file shut and stood up. They’d traded their freedom for the technology to create cybernetic bodies, bodies that would expunge their parasitic existence. It had to count for something, prove something about their intentions.
She paced across the bridge to the pilot’s chair, ran a hand across the back rest. It hadn’t, of course. The rest of the galaxy remained petrified of the Damascans' abilities even centuries after the stupid treaty imprisoned the entire race on their home planet. Which was another problem. They’d discovered Rook on a Crag. He’d been taken into custody on the space station. He was guilty as all sin.
Murray smiled and bit back another flutter of excitement. She didn’t care—not if he was guilty, not if he might be classifiable as a parasite. Rook was no machine. The implications of that single fact continued to swirl through her nervous system along with the memory of an interrupted massage.
She pressed the central communications panel and waited for an answer from cargo. She could live on one planet quite happily. She’d had just about enough of adventure, anyway, enough of exotic worlds and alien assholes.
“Mur?” Zora’s voice crackled through the bridge.
“No, it’s your fairy godmother.”
“How’s our sticky cargo faring?”
“Same as before. Poor Teepo.”
“We’ll sort it out.” Maybe Damascus had its share of open spaces. “Don’t worry, Zor.”
“I was thinking something, Mur.”
“That blue sphere thing.”
“His name is Rook, Zora.”
“Right, but I mean…”
“You don’t think it’s a little bit weird? Even weirder than the android thing?”
“Okay, but what about that treaty thingy?”
“What about it?”
“He sort of broke it.”
“I’m not worrying about it.” She spun the chair around and settled in, leaned back against the padding and closed her eyes. “The Damascans have an open culture, aside from allowing their own people off world, that is. They don’t get a lot of tourism, but we shouldn’t have any trouble getting clearance to land.”
“And then what?”
“I’m going to contact his defense.”
“Do you think they’ll let you see him?”
“I hope so.” Her hands tightened around the chair arms. They had to let her see him. “Zor, we found Rook in Crantok’s dungeon, right?”
“So, how do we know Cran didn’t kidnap him?”
“Then violating the treaty wouldn’t be his fault.”
“You think it’ll get him off?”
“That depends on the Damascan justice system. If not, maybe we can at least get him a gentler sentence.” How bad could the punishment be? Murray imagined young Damascans in the past had certainly been tempted to sneak a little adventure off-world. It probably happened all the time. For a second, the com stayed silent. Murray could almost hear the slime drizzling over the static. If Crantok stole Rook from Damascus--and it wasn’t like she’d put it past him--they’d have to drop the charges, wouldn’t they?
“It’s a good plan, Mur.” Zora laughed, and the sound echoed in the huge bay. “Even if it’s not true, who’s going to argue with it?”
Murray snorted. Certainly not Crantok--maybe his brother--she didn’t care. There had to be an explanation behind the crime, and that one fit. She’d get in to see Rook, and he’d tell her what happened, and then things would be fine, even with the treaty. They’d sort it out.
If she had a whisper of doubt, if a tiny shred of worry nagged at her, she was damn sure going to ignore it.