“I’m sorry.” The secretary managed to translate snide and derisive into her stiff, metal expression. “Only one visitor at a time.”
“Well, who’s in there?” Murray scowled across the desk at her nemesis. She’d clashed with the woman like a Centarian Cymbal in heavy gravity.
“I’m not authorized to give that information to just anyone.” The secretary dragged her eyes from Murray’s toes, thrust into a pair of dingy slip-ons, to the hair escaping from her half hazard bun and smiled. “You seem to be in a hurry, or I’d suggest you could wait and see for yourself.”
Murray brushed off a surge of insecurity and stood up tall. Visitors only got fifteen minutes. She could use the time to straighten up a bit. “I’ll be back.”
“I can’t wait.”
She swallowed a snarling response and spun around, nearly dislodging one of the flip-flops. With less grace than she’d hoped, she managed to exit and hobble toward the nearest ladies’ room where she discovered the Damascans rated mirrors somewhere around the level of food. Murray settled for squinting into a shiny stall door to fix her hair.
The toilet’s, she assumed, had been installed for guests. Necessities but no comforts, little luxury—the Damscan existence bordered on Spartan from an out-worlder standpoint. No wonder they wanted to leave, to live a little.
“I sound like Zora.” She snorted and tugged at a loose strand.
“Mur?” Zora’s voice whispered from one of the stalls. “Is that you?”
“What are you doing here?” Zora emerged from the furthest stall. She wore a familiar black jumpsuit and had her hair pulled back tight. “You should go, Mur. Quick.”
“Yeah. Come on.” Zora grabbed her elbow and tugged.
“What is going on? Zora, what are you up to?
“It’s best if you don’t know anything, Mur. Leer said—.”
“Oh god. Not Leer again.”
“Mur, I’m serious. You need to get out of here.” Zora let go of her arm and tapped at her right ear. A tiny wire wrapped around her earring and disappeared into her hair. “Mm Hm. Yeah. Hang on a sec.” She turned an overly wide grin on Murray. “Now would be good.”
“Listen, Zora. I don’t know what you’re doing, but those guys you’re messed up with are criminals.”
“No!” Zora turned away and grabbed her ear. “Not you, now. Murray now. Shit.”
“I think they messed with my hand-held too. Did you let anyone into my room?”
Zora pushed her toward the door. She stumbled under the sudden assault and grabbed for the handle, barely wrenching her way into the hall before she was shoved again. “Get out of the building, Mur.”
“Don’t do this, Zora. Whatever this is. Those guys--.”
“They didn’t touch your hand-held, Mur. Okay?”
“Okay, Mur. I’ll see what I can do. Where is it?”
“I left it at Bull’s.”
“Will you get out if I promise to fix it?”
“They did mess with it, didn’t they?”
“Fine. I want it back to normal, Zora.”
“Fine. Just promise me you’re leaving.”
“Come with me.” Murray put her hands on her hips. “Zora, what if you get in trouble? What if you go to jail too? What are you doing?”
“I’m tasing you, Mur.” Zora shrugged and poked her. A flare of pain arched up her side. She heard Zora’s whispered, “sorry” before the world blacked out.
Murray heard sirens. They throbbed against her temples and blurred out the gravely voice.
“Lady, this is your stop.”
She blinked, and her head stopped spinning. Her right side ached from shoulder to knee, and all she could see was yellow. The color, the particular shade and the little rusty scratches seemed all too familiar. “Am I in a cab?”
“Good. You’re alive.” A bumpy, glistening toad head slid across her vision. “Your stop, Lady, and you owe me for the fare.”
“What?” Zora hadn’t paid him. Murray groaned and sat up. She’d dumped her in a cab and hadn’t even paid the driver. “How much?” As her thoughts clarified, it occurred to her that her sister had also assaulted her. She’d shocked her and stuffed her, unconscious, into a cab. “Where are we?”
“3541 Bangle Street.” The toad lipped.
“Bull’s place.” Murray sighed and gave the driver her ID. She authorized the credits and waited while he thumbed the door controls. “The woman that flagged you down.” She slid her legs out onto firm ground and felt the hover cab bob softly. “Did she say anything else?”
The toad hesitated. He rolled his bulging eyes and pretended to have forgotten.
“I’ll double your fare.” Murray watched his memory return in a rush.
“She said to bring you here, but to take the long way round.”
“It’s been close to an hour.”
“Damn it!” Murray rubbed her temples and waited for the cabbie to extract the rest of his fee. Her head hurt, but the sirens had faded into the distance. She looked up. She really could hear sirens. “What’s that? Do you hear that?”
The cabbie handed off her ID and shrugged again. “Something going on up town. Explosion. Marbles rioting in the streets.”
She stepped out of the cab and stared down the street. A line of columns marched in orderly fashion in front of the buildings. Bull lived in a high rise in the middle of taller high rises. She couldn’t see a damn thing. “Can you take me downtown?” She leaned down and tapped on the door panel, but it had closed up tight. “Hello?”
She spun around, forgot for a moment and let her imagination get the upper hand. Her pulse reved to full tilt before she grappled it back under control. She smiled tightly at the android. “Bull.”
“Thank god you’re all right. I feared you’d been caught in the mess.”
“What happened, Bull?”
He stared at her, his metal face expressionless. His chest pinged and she dug her nails into her palms.
“You haven’t heard anything?” he asked. “The news?”
“Come inside.” The wide back turned on her. He stepped toward the building before glancing over his shoulder. Murray’s heart sunk. That posture, his expression said nothing but defeat. “You’d better see this for yourself.”